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There aren’t enough words to describe what I experienced in Africa nor to express my gratitude for the experience. Project Orphans brought healthcare to a community that never would have had any otherwise. We were able to treat close to a thousand people. The people there were so strong and so happy, despite having literally nothing. I am forever expanded and greatly inspired.
I love how beautiful everything can unfold. I feel like everything I have been wishing for: inspiration, travel, seeing new places, having new experiences, being of service to and helping others, has come into fruition in ways I never could have imagined. At the same time I was given the opportunity for so much growth and expansion.
As we set out on our adventure, our plane leaving Tulsa was delayed, which caused us to miss our connecting flight in Atlanta. After a huge lesson in patience, we arrived in Kampala fifty-four hours later and twenty-four hours behind schedule. On the first day I awoke and climbed down from my bunk. As soon as my feet hit the floor, a young girl named Gloria ran and wrapped her arms around me. It was incredibly heartwarming and such a wonderful way to be welcomed to their home. Several orphaned girls, along with their caretakers live at the Suubi home where we were staying. Suubi: it means house of hope. The women there would make our beds for us every day and cook our food. For our first breakfast we had these egg, banana- crepe burritos that were unique and scrumptious, along with watermelon, pineapple, and mango. Almost every day we had fruit for breakfast, which I loved because I have been eating mostly fruits and vegetables lately. For dinner we would usually have a meat in a sort-of stew, rice, vegetables, and their version of potatoes. They were more plantain-like. Everything tasted so fresh.
On the first day, we set out on our mission to help the people in Pearl Village, where the Cura Medical Clinic was opened. I observed a lot on the hour-and a half bus ride there. The traffic was insane; I could never drive there. Not only was there the whole opposite-side-of-the-road thing, but there were very few lights or signs. There were mopeds, buses, cars, and people walking, all mixed together in what felt more like fish in a stream, just finding the perfect opening or space in the traffic to be able to move forward. I even saw an enclosed wire trailer full of dead chickens! The vegetation was different than expected...it reminded me of Costa Rica, close to the equator so it was more jungle-like. It was warm and humid, but not quite as hot as I had anticipated. I heard it was cooler in May because it is their rainy season. The community of Kampala could be seen as the bus was driving down the barely paved road. Anything unpaved was red dirt. It reminded me of some parts of Oklahoma, if there were no grass. The homes were mostly brick walls that looked to be adobe-like, held together with mud instead of cement, topped with a metal sheet for the roof, with decorative sheets in the doorways. There were shoes at the entryways and clothes hanging on clotheslines. I saw some people carrying bowls and bags atop their heads, like we learned in elementary school. The shops were packed closely together, each offering clothing items, furniture, or beds, basically the necessities. I saw a lot of metal doors and metal bunk beds. They were so creatively beautiful and different from ours. There were tiny stands where people were making and serving food such as chicken or some crepe or pita-looking things. There were little fruit markets with watermelons, mangos, pineapples, bananas, plantains, all neatly aligned in rows on top of a blankets on the ground.
When we got to pearl village, all the people were gathered under the tents. We set up stations to gather all the information needed for the doctor to diagnose them. At first I helped get their weight and height. There were three of us doing this with two scales and one of those tape measures used for sewing. I thought it might be faster and easier if I could attach the tape measure to the pole of the tent. I used the elastic part of some plastic gloves and some stickers to make it work. This eliminated the need for 3 people and freed my hands to help elsewhere. I then took blood pressure and temperature, which really made me feel like a nurse. Very few in the village spoke English. Looking in their eyes I could see their joy for what we were doing for them and their pain and suffering for how they were feeling. Many had high temperatures due to Malaria. Their beautiful smiles next to their dark skin will forever be a part of my memory. The children were so sweet. Some would bow their heads down and act shy when I talked to them. When music would come on, I would start dancing and it seemed to tickle them to death. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and even though I didn't get to teach, I feel I served a good purpose. My heart was filled with so much joy and my cheeks hurt from smiling. There were times I wanted to cry, but I held back my tears. It was such a beautiful opportunity to make a difference in the quality of life for those people! We helped over 400 people that day.
On day two, we went to the “Slums” as it was called. It was where a lot of the refugees were. They were homeless, hungry, and sick. The founders of Project Orphans told us this is where we had to be more careful. We couldn’t even take our phones for fear of them getting snached out of our pockets. We set up inside of a church. It went a little more smoothly, as we found our groove and a more effective and organized way to do the clinic. I loved interacting with the people; I just can’t say it enough. I felt so much joy playing with the children. There was one little girl in particular that I could have just bundled up and brought home with me! I couldn’t get enough of her. Even after she and her mother moved along in the line, we were still playing. Her mother grabbed her arm, smiled really big and tossed her back over to me. She could see how much I was enjoying her. Though our verbal communication was limited, I felt it in my heart and soul. I could see their gratitude. We helped over 600 people get treatment that day, putting us over a thousand for our trip. At the end of the day, though I was so grateful for my experience, I couldn’t help but feel saddened as I realized I wasn’t going to teach. I think because we were so behind schedule, along with some other unforscene instances, and the need for a translator, it made it too difficult to orchestrate.
On day 3 we went on a Safari. We stopped at the equator along the way. It is pretty cool to say I have been to the equator! It was completely different, and in my opinion, so much better than a zoo. It was a drive-through safari, so we rode in a jeep with the roof popped up, where there were metal rods on top for seating. I rode most of the way on the top front-half. It was exhilarating and freeing getting to ride the dirt trails with the wind in my face and the beautiful, green, mountainous views all around me. It was amazing to get to see zebras, giraffes, warthogs, water-buffalo and so much more, all in their natural habitat. After the drive-through, we arrived at the boat-site where we were to take a tour on the lake. However, the boat wasn’t ready so we were sent to the restaurant to order our food. This is where we got our second
lesson in patience. I love how no one was worried about time or in a hurry to do anything. I wish we could be less time-restricted. So, because they still had to make our food; It isn’t just ready to go like our restaurant here, it would take a while. After an hour or so, we got to hungrily go on our boat ride. It was really fun and I learned a lot about hippos that I didn’t know. When we returned we got to enjoy our dinner, and it was very much worth the wait! I had vegetable stew with rice. Delicious!
Our last day was the most emotional day for me. We went to Sanyu Baby’s Home, where they homed abandoned babies until they were three or four years old. They would then try to find homes for them. There were rows and rows of babies in baby beds. There were so many and they weren't even crying. It was like they knew there weren't enough hands to hold them. There were so many toddlers, too many to count. We got to sit in on one of their classes and sing songs with them. When the class was over, we got to love on them, hold them, hug them, and read stories to them. I had a pair of sunglasses on my head and they thought they were the coolest thing. They were all taking turns trying them on. There was one, I would say six or seven year old boy reading aloud from a book. I went and sat next to him and asked him to read to me. I could see his eyes light up. He was so proud and such a good reader. Whenever he got stuck he would look up at me for assistance. I got to teach, not in the way I had imagined, and in a small, subtle way, but still fulfilling nonetheless. We then went outside and played with them. The playground was set up on hill that overlooked the city. It was so surreal to feel so much joy, beauty, and pain all at the same time. I will never forget my experience there.
I should mention, that even though I didn’t get to teach mindfulness, which was my whole motivation for going; It was the reason I diligently planned my lessons and raised the money to go; I realized on the way to the babies home that this experience was meant to teach me. It opened my eyes to new possibilities and gave me the desire to do more. I had the vision of possibly creating a non-profit to help aged-out foster kids, ages 18-25. Anyone who knows me well, knows my story. My mom left me and my sister when I was 16. I was lucky enough to have two amazing people to not only support me, but to teach me and encourage me to move forward in life. They helped me get enrolled in school, picked up the phone every time I called in tears, and are still to this day a special part of my heart and my life. I want to be that for others.