A summer in Uganda

After traveling to Tororo, Uganda in the summer of 2006, senior Emily Roth became so attached to the benevolent people, the simple, nonmaterialistic culture and joyous atmosphere that she longed to come back in 2007. Reliving some memories and creating new ones, this summer’s trip to M’bale left her with a deeper, more emotional impression. Returning in the advanced group, Roth and co. stayed at the home of Edith and David Wakumire. Edith, a biological and foster mother of 11, is the founder of the Ugandan Women’s Concern Ministry – a center to house impoverished and ill people without a home. Run entirely by Edith and other volunteers, their goal is to help the sick heal and the poor to get back on their feet. Roth, along with her group, helped build more guesthouses as an addition to the center. “This trip was a lot different than the last,” Roth said. “Last year, my group stayed in a hotel, where we had showers and a pool and could step out into the modern world any time. This year, I was immersed in Ugandan culture completely.” Most days the group worked on construction and visited different families in the district, having tea breaks several times daily. One family in particular made a strong impression on Roth, however. “We helped mud a house that belonged to a woman named Beatrice who lives with 10 children,” Roth said. Once that was done, the group stuck around and played with Beatrice’s children. “They all got down on their knees, happily thanking us for spending time with them when we didn’t feel like we’d done anything,” Roth said. What really surprised Roth was the general attitude and outlook on life of the locals. “They had so little, yet all the families we visited and spoke with offered us gifts such as eggs and mangoes,” she said. Generally men work as boda boda drivers, typical bike taxis, earning about 50 cents per day. Consequently, children as young as two or three years old are often expected to be off on their own. “They’re surprisingly mature for their age,” said Roth about them. Roth revealed her admiration towards her influential hostess, Edith. “She’s the most amazing person I’ve ever met. Edith is one of the many selfless and determined African women who aren’t recognized by their society,” she said. David, Edith’s husband, showed compassion towards his visitors by playing joyful, religious songs on his guitar. With a smile across her face, Emily reminisces on the intimate nights spent sitting in a circle around David and said, “even though he couldn’t sing well and the guitar was out of tune, we still danced and enjoyed each other’s company very much.” The trip also granted Emily the opportunity to get to know the classmates she traveled with and otherwise might never spoken to. “Every night, we would all talk. About everything,” she said. “Everyone was so different and had clashing perspectives – it really showed how a small group of people can bond in a strange situation such as this.” The first thing Roth noticed once back in the U.S. airport was the rudeness of many American passersby. “I became very bitter afterwards. I was so used to the everyday interaction in Uganda – how strangers would greet you with the biggest smile, yet be wearing rags!” She emphasized on the close friendships she made with people she barely knew. “For the first time in my life, I learned the importance of sitting with someone who’s alone and just listening to them. That really inspired me.” The selflessness of the Ugandans Roth met was evident in the way they appreciated the few things they owned along with the willingness to give them away. “Americans, on the other hand,” she said, “feed on material objects, yet are never pleased.” Leaving Uganda the second time was even more heartbreaking than the first. “David sang us a farewell song on the bus and as we pulled away, everyone who came to see us off waved. Everyone cried,” Roth said with a gleam in her eyes. After such a rewarding adventure, she looks back with content and knows she is a better person.