Lessons Learned From Africa

It has been a month since I returned from my Farmer-to-Farmer assignment in Kiboga, Uganda.  Those early days back in America were spent recuperating from my travel and re-establishing my schedule at home and at the office…it left little time to process all that I had experienced.  However, now that things have settled down, I find myself thinking about my journey and all the wonderful people that I encountered while in Uganda.  I may have been sent there to teach farm business skills to the Kiboga District Farmers’ Association, but this experience taught me so much more in return. 

  • The first steps in any journey are often the most difficult. 

    Last family picture before I boarded the plane for Uganda

    Last family picture before I boarded the plane for Uganda

For this middle-aged mama, walking away from my husband and children at the airport was one of the hardest things I have ever done.  I was aware of all the risks of being a female traveling alone to such a remote location…the “what if’s” consumed my every thought.

  • God uses ordinary people for super-ordinary purposes.

As only God could arrange, a childhood friend that I had not spoken to in years was on my first flight from Raleigh to Atlanta.  She waited for me as we exited the plane and escorted me to the international terminal.  Sensing my fears, this precious friend grabbed my hands and prayed the most beautiful prayer with me before saying our good-byes.  Everything inside of me was screaming to turn around and come back home, but God sent an ordinary person to bring me peace and remind me that He was still in control.

  • God is always with you. 

    The airport was a little overwhelming to this NC mama!

    The airport was a little overwhelming to this NC mama!

Unfortunately, human error occurs in every business and in every part of the world.  Despite thorough planning and detailed information from my hosts, I was left stranded at the airport with no hotel shuttle, no working cell phone, no money, no translator, and several very disgruntled armed police officers.  As the tears rolled down my face, there was nothing I could do but pray and trust that the same God who sent an angel to me in Atlanta was with me in Uganda…and He was!

  • Motherhood is a universal language. 

    Motherhood is a universal language!

    Motherhood is a universal language!

Of all the people that I encountered in Uganda, it was the mothers who captured my heart my most.  Whether it was Maria, my host from Catholic Relief Services, advising me on what foods to avoid and how to properly tuck in my mosquito net to prevent bug bites, or my new friend Agnes who brought her children to work with her during their break from school, I saw a little of myself in every mother I encountered.    These African women have very little money or resources, but all of them desire so much more for their children.

  • Material things are temporary.

    It was a blessing to give these children much needed shoes and clothing, but the need is so much greater my suitcase could contain.

    It was a blessing to give these children much needed shoes and clothing, but the need is so much greater my suitcase could contain.

Thanks to many generous friends, I traveled to Uganda with suitcases full of shoes, clothing, pencils, jump ropes, and other gifts.  However, for every one pair of shoes that I distributed, there were ten more barefoot children waiting in line…there was simply not enough.  Many days I came back from those school and orphanage visits feeling sad and overwhelmed about what I could not give instead of joyful over what I helped to provide.

  • Education is the greatest investment. 

    A random chalkboard from one of the schools I visited

    A random chalkboard from one of the schools I visited

While free, public education is available in some parts of Uganda, many of these classrooms have over 50 students, limited resources, and only one poorly paid (and trained) teacher.  In order to ensure their children receive a good, quality education even the poorest of families make the sacrifice to send their children to private schools so they can learn to read and write in English.  As a mama who values education, I would rather spend $10 for a book instead of $2 on a plastic toy for my own children, and it was humbling to acknowledge that these African children deserve the same.

  • Technology is amazing.

Despite being across the world from my family, I was able to communicate with them daily.  It was such a blessing to see the faces of my beautiful children each evening through Skype and to share my husband’s carpool struggles through Facebook.   By African standards, the amount of money I spent on internet was outrageous (about $40 a week), but the ability to connect with family – and stay connected with my new friends in Uganda – is priceless.

  • They don’t know unless we tell them. 

    People walked for miles to attend our training sessions under the trees

    People walked for miles to attend our training sessions under the trees

In America, I am often overwhelmed by information thanks to the constant stream of news, radio, and social media flowing through my brain.  However, that is not the case in Uganda and other remote parts of the world.  They still need interactions from real people to inform and educate them on the basic things we take for granted.  By simply going – or providing support so that others can go – to these remote locations we truly have the power to change the world.

  • Love has no boarders. Kids

Giving and serving within our local communities is very important, but so is giving and serving globally.  Without question, we have hungry children in our backyards who need assistance and families who need encouragement.  However, love has no boarders and neither should our giving.  Sacrificing one Starbucks coffee and donating that $5 to directly to the farmers who produced it can make a huge impact within their community.  Instead of buying our children a new video game to combat summer boredom, teach them to draft an email to the children at Orphans Hope Center (http://orphanshopecentre.com), Pauline Juliet (http://www.youcaring.com/nonprofits/pauline-juliet/239565#.VL7snn9aKeU.facebook) , or Starlight Family (http://www.friendsofstarlightfamily.org/about) and donate that $30 to support their new pen-pal’s education.  Everyone may not be able to travel to Uganda for 3 weeks like I did, but everyone still has the opportunity to make a huge impact in these communities.

Visiting Africa changed me…it challenged me…it empowered me.  I will never forget the things I learned through this experience, and I pray that you won’t either!   

These smiles forever changed my life.

These smiles forever changed my life.

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