My Experience during Exploration 2012

Amy, Volunteer with Oysters & PearlsIt is extremely difficult to sum up such a rich experience on one page. This trip changed my life! I slowly sank deeper and deeper into Uganda and the wonderful relationships I formed there, that by the time I had to leave it felt like I was leaving my true home.

Arriving in Uganda I had no clue what to expect. I went there with apassport, some clothes, art supplies and nerves. Though a little nervous, I was more eager and excited to meet the students. I had heard so many wonderful things about the place and the people. I also could not wait to get started and learn about the extraordinary country. Upon arrival I met up with Sandra Washburn and the rest of our small but mighty group. I was deeply moved by everyoneʼs attitude in the group, how dedicated and determined they all were and it made me proud to be joining a team of such extraordinary, unique individuals with good hearts. We were all very different people, and different from the students as well. But, those differences turned out to also be the muscle of program, and made the experience all the more amazing and powerful.

When it came to teaching, I had an idea of what it might be like in Uganda, but no real knowledge of what would actually come to fruition, I was apprehensive and overwhelmed, but upon meeting the students that quickly vanished…the students at Gulu High are incredible people with big hearts and open minds. They are so eager to learn about everything and share stories with you once everything has settled in and they get to know a little bit about you, see that you are there because you care and want to share experiences. They are just as excited to meet you as you are to meet them, so much so that language barriers don’t matter as much when you start hanging out. A strong sense of friendship and camaraderie quickly grew. An unbreakable bond was formed through sharing, even if it was unfamiliar and in bits and pieces.

The art supplies and everything else was so limited so we made do with what we had which made us more creative. We gathered local clay from a nearby village and worked with that for the ceramics section. It made it so much more fun because it was using something that they already had there and not imported. It was such a joyfully messy day where all the students made animals out of local earth. We then dug a fire pit and fired them in the traditional Gulu potting style.

Teaching started after our introduction of the program to the student body which was very busy and flooded with eager students waiting to learn. It took about a week to get into full swing, but then everyone really took off with flying colors regarding creativity and engagement in the course. We worked with music, ceramics, writing, environmental/animal studies, and had a sensational adventure as a group.

Working with blind students was a little challenging at first because I had never worked with seeing impaired before. And, I didnʼt know how they learned best and how to effectively/accurately translate visual experiences into words. It turned out to be more difficult than it sounded. But, the students were so wonderful and honest, they taught me as much as I taught them, perhaps even more. The things I didnʼt know about blind people they explained to me openly, and participated just as much as the sighted students. They are immensely intelligent and kind. Something that one of the students said that moved me was “I see spiritually.” I will never forget that.

After a couple of weeks into the trip we took a select few students to Murchison Falls National Park to see the Nile, and all of the animals in the game park that we as a group had been learning about. That experience was priceless. The things that they had learned about the animals they got to experience them first hand, the sounds, smells, the feel of the cool mist from the falls on their faces, and all of the glory of Africaʼs natural landscape that unfortunately is seldom seen/experienced by locals. The students were so excited and got very involved. We had a genuinely special night at the park with a campfire, and T.J., one of the other teachers. He brought along his guitar and we all sang under the stars, ate a delicious meal of grains and goat meat, mac ‘n’ cheese, all together and celebrated the new formed connections and journey. There was so much love that night, respect and beauty. That is the true magic of Africa, the soul.

Overall, the trip was nothing less than completely inspiring and mind-opening. An experience to build your life on. There were tough times of course like anywhere else, but those tough times taught me a great deal, everything in Uganda is really in your face, including yourself. Harsh realities that test who you are and what you think you know. I would do it again in a heartbeat. I formed friendships that are woven into my core forever, that I will never forget, and learned first hand that what is going on in Africa is not just Africaʼs problem it is the worldʼs problem and it is vital that we support our fellow humans as much as we can so that peace, sustainability, and healthcare are dominant aspects of every country. It ispossible to help out little by little until things are a little brighter, the gap is bridged, fear is eliminated and compassion and understanding augmented… that is what the trip was all about. Overall I would say it was asmall, huge ongoing success.