Wow. Where do I begin to tell my story? How every April my brother and I cried for hours every night because our dad was in Uganda and would only sleep when mom let us (and the dogs) sleep in her bed? My first trip to Africa at age 8, when I hid behind my mom because the drums and singing scared me? The second trip in 2005, when I earned the nicknames Akambuzi Mbuzi, Mzungu, and The Solider? Or the third trip with my mom in 8th grade when we taught sewing at the Kampala School for the Physically Handicapped and I learned that Rihanna’s “Umbrella” had crossed oceans? Or the fourth trip, the summer before I started college when I got to prove that girls could play soccer?
Actually, that’s a pretty good summary right there. Let’s cut to the chase and talk about why I am so excited to finally be able to return to Uganda this summer. Although it’s only been three years, to me it’s felt like a lifetime. Whatsmore, I didn’t think I would get the opportunity for another few years – I would have to finish my undergraduate degree and if I continued to grad school I couldn’t take April off, but if I finished school in 2017 I would be starting my first big job and who knew if I would have the time or the money to return!
With the environment I was brought up in, it’s little wonder that I love Uganda this much. My mom always tells me that I have a “Servant’s Heart” or a passion for helping others. Although I realize that now, I didn’t always. When I was in high school and trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, I went through many career options. Sophomore year I decided I wanted to be a doctor and I would certainly be working with Doctors Without Borders. When I discovered that I lacked any real passion for science, that fell by the wayside. As I excelled in math, I seriously considered becoming a teacher for a period – but I made the condition that I would be sure to work in low-income schools where I could make the biggest impact. But the thought of doing math for the rest of my life seemed rather bland; the part that I enjoyed the most was the problem-solving and the process of finding a solution.
Eventually, I made my way to college where I frantically searched for a major that was practical, well-paid, and would allow me an avenue for service. I felt myself drawn to the History Department here at Ursinus College, but I had more than my fair-share of doubts. What could I possibly do with a history major? I enjoy reading and researching, but that’s not helping anyone! How am I supposed to balance what I want – to be in this department and study this material – with what I need – to be of service to others? It was in the midst of this internal crisis that I had The Great Epiphany, as I like to call it. Every time a career possibility came before me, I would evaluate it based on it’s ability to benefit others. Why then, couldn’t service be my profession? Growing up alongside a nonprofit, I really should have come to this conclusion sooner.
Even with The Great Epiphany underway, I was still at war with myself. I hesitantly declared my history major, but I was wracked with guilt. Surely I couldn’t be this lucky, to be able to pursue what I love! It was eating me up inside. Then, I got some much needed reassurance from a very unlikely source. That semester, I taking a class that doubled as my training to work in Ursinus’ Center for Writing and Speaking; a component of the course was to volunteer and I had been placed in an after-school program for middle schoolers. One afternoon, I was working with the coordinator, Miss Rae, on a computer in the backroom. At first we were discussing the kids, the skills they were learning, and how they would succeed in the long-run, but the conversation turned to something much more abstract.
All of a sudden, Miss Rae was telling me about how I needed to follow my heart and that everything would work out. I shouldn’t worry about money or what anyone else was telling me. If I felt like it was the right choice and what I should pursue, then I couldn’t let my doubts keep me back. I needed to go full-steam ahead. In that dirty little closet with two ancient desktop computers, I broke down and started crying. Miss Rae simply looked at me and said, “Well, I guess you needed to hear that today.” I told her all about how I had been questioning my chosen path and was at war with myself. She looked me dead in the eye, put her hand on my shoulder and told me that I had no need to be afraid. This was what I was born to do. I could have it all.
Obviously, my family’s involvement with Uganda affected my life. There is something very special about the country and her people. They’ve taught me to be selfless, to always think of others, and above all else to value my education. Not everyone can switch schools when they’re not being challenged intellectually. Not everyone can justify a private high school. Not everyone goes to college. Not everyone gets to do their own original research. Not every girl knows that she can succeed, despite what others tell her. Not everyone has had a caring, supportive community constantly pushing them to achieve more.
Uganda is like a second home to me. But what makes the country so special are the lessons it’s taught me and the passion it has given me for education. It’s my goal to use the gifts that I have been given to constantly lift others up so that in turn, they may do the same.