We’re celebrating our return!
We’re celebrating our return!
As I mentioned elsewhere, it’s been hard to upload videos given the internet connection in Jinja. So, better late than never, here is MG’s reflection.
The internet on my phone (no wifi) hasn’t been good enough to upload any videos, so enjoy these episodes as we board our plane from Uganda to Amsterdam.
All of our heads are filled with ideas on what to do moving forward. Going back, I fear I won’t do this trip justice when all my friends ask about how it went. Possibly, no words can do it justice. As we ride back to Entebbe, I’m starting to feel the exhaustion of the constant shedding of the old me and creation of the new me. My heart now contains pieces of the genuine seminarians, dedicated students, and good-hearted individuals that will stay with me forever. I hope the next phase of my life makes them proud, as I proceed through life as a young individual living for more than just myself now. Only time will tell whether out impact on the world is big or small, but there is no question if there will or will not be an impact.
It’s my last full day in Africa, and unfortunately I do not yet have a grand unified theory of the Uganda trip. I think that’s where I’m supposed to be right now.
This is going to be a little rambly, because I’m clarifying my thoughts as I’m writing them. I’ve dealt with more surprising, challenging, and confusing experiences that I can really handle right now, so I’m going to start with some concrete points in time order, and I’ll do the abstractions and applications later.
-The kindness and hospitality that the Ugandan people displayed to our group is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.
-Many of our interactions with the people of Uganda have had some musical component, and the display of broad musical competence (in Church or school assemblies) blows away anything I’ve seen in America.
-The students at St. Ursula’s (a school for the disabled) were loving and lovable in way that was seriously powerful and completely unfamiliar to me.
-Lake View (the Holy Cross secondary school we visited) gave a mix of impressions on me and my fellow students. The children at this school have a shocking amount of focus and dedication, which was impressive despite what appeared to us to be poor working and living conditions. However, relative to the Ugandan standard, these students were very well off, and it’s not totally clear that the support provided to this school would be the most effective for Uganda as a whole.
-I’m grateful to my friend Robby Gipson for pointing out very well what was off about our trip to the Benedictine primary school. Something felt strange about a group of mostly white people being paraded around the school and serenaded by well-behaved groups of Ugandan students with well-prepared “visitor” songs, while doing little or nothing to better understand or interact with the students in any meaningful way. This was not the type of encounter that we needed to have.
This should give you the gist of at least one dimension of what I’m feeling here. I clearly understand that there is good work to be done here, but it’s so not clear the best way of going about this. Also, I’m rather unsettled by the possibility of a “white savior complex” and well intentioned problem solution attempts that completely miss the heart of the issue.
I’m most concerned, however, that these emotions will rise and fade and inertia will make all the time, money, and energy that has gone into this trip an essential waste. If you’d tell me that “having an experience” and “touching others” through small interactions make some kind of big difference, I’d gladly call you out on your bullshit.
For me, this means that I am now very seriously considering spending a year after graduation working to serve these communities, understand their needs, and maintain a connection between Dunne and Lake View. I have a whole host of reasons why I think that this is a very good idea that I can’t totally explain right now, but if I’ve learned anything from this trip, it’s that any attempts for change are ineffective without time, energy, and financial resources directed both at understanding problems and implementing the best possible solution.
Notre Dame has a reputation for providing students a unique combination of both stellar academics and value education that prepares them very well to make a serious positive difference in the world. This is deserved if and only if we do the work to make it so.
PS- We are missing some really important perspectives here in Uganda. No African Americans applied to go on this trip, and I seriously wish they had. We all had our own reactions to children on the street gathering to happily sing their prepared Muzungu (white person) songs to us as we walked by. I don’t know how an African American student would have seen this, but I believe that this would have been a powerful teaching and learning experience for everyone involved.
While Thursday was filled with plenty of meaningful experiences, my favorite part of the day was our return to Holy Cross Lakeview Secondary School to play sports with the students. We started our field day throwing around an American football, teaching the students the technique of how to hold and throw the football. After doing that for a short while, we transitioned to Ugandan football, or as we Americans know it, soccer. To say the least, the members of Lakeview are incredibly good at football and I was admittedly a bit intimidated. We joined the faculty team and played some of the students.
While football was clearly not my game, I had such an incredible time playing with my Ugandan friends. They were incredibly welcoming and encouraging despite my lack of ability. I felt like in a lot of ways this game was representative of our experience here. While in many ways I am a stranger here and a stranger to the game of football, I could not have felt more at home playing alongside these guys. For our entire stay I have felt welcomed and celebrated. And when I scored the winning goal of our football match, I was certainly made to feel celebrated. In just a single 90 minute match, I had an experience that I will forever remember as a symbol of what these people have come to mean to me. For that, I will be forever grateful.
On Thursday we visited St. Benjamin’s, which has both a health clinic and a school component. I was particularly struck by the health clinic. On the one hand, I was very impressed by the selflessness of its workers, many of whom did not have formal medical educations (at least by American standards). On the other hand, the facilities were not particularly clean and, for example, the clinic was unable to perform c-sections. So while I was struck by the good work the clinic does, I can only hope that they continue to improve their capabilities so they can continue the amazing service they do.
On a lighter note, we also had the opportunity to play sports with students from Lakeview. It was a great way to get to interact with the students in laid-back setting. They were all very talented and athletic, and despite being competitive, they were also incredibly inviting, so I (as well as everyone else) had a lot of fun.
Finally, we had a walking tour of Bugembe at night, which was somewhat overwhelming but fun at the same time. There’s no real distinction between vehicle traffic and pedestrian traffic, so you had to be constantly alert. It was a very hectic environment, but it was great one to be able to experience.
Today, we woke up bright and early for our visit to Lakeview. We have been hearing so much about this school that I couldn’t wait to finally see it and meet all the students and teachers we had heard so much about. When we finally arrived at the school, the view was incredible!! We were all blown away by how beautiful the city looked from so high up. We were so warmly welcomed and were taken on a tour of the school. The students were so friendly and everyone was waving as we walked by. We then joined the students for their assembly in their temporary main hall outside. It was interesting to hear all the announcements and the news that they shared with the students. We were also able to introduce ourselves to the students and it was also interesting to see their reactions to certain majors and names as we went through our introductions.
After assembly, we were able to tour the girl’s dorm, and it definitely made us appreciate Cav (and it’s lack of air conditioning) more considering these girls not only had no running water but also were sharing rooms with up to 11 other girls. After our tour, we continued to meet other people in the adminstration and hear more about the school and its students. We then were allowed to sit in on a class.
I was in one of the English classes with Father Matt (which I think really amused the students) and 2 others. I sat with a group of four girls who were eager to show me their books and the work they were going over in class. The class was really fun because the teacher was joking around with the students as they went over their problem sets. She was very obviously passionate about being a teacher and the students responded well to that. She also made sure we were involved in the class and even had father Matt explain the story of Adam and Eve to the students at one point. The girls I was sitting with were also very curious about life at Notre Dame and just America in general. I also asked them about their school work and what life in Uganda was like. Even after class was over and it was break time, we continued chatting. They wanted something Notre Dame related and I ended up giving them some cav stickers which they exciting placed on their calculators and notebooks and proudly showed off to me. Then it was time to go and have a snack and talk to some more teachers.
I really enjoyed talking to the teachers and hearing the different backgrounds they were all from, and why they decided to go into teaching in the first place. It was evident that there was a lot of pride in their culture and that they were incredibly welcoming to guests. However, I think being able to talk with some of the students one on one was my favorite part. They were so hardworking and put so much dedication into their work. It was incredibly to see such passion in the students, passion that I don’t see in American students at times. It was definitely disheartening however to hear some of the students say they were limited in their students due to funding. We have so many opportunities in America that some people definitely take for granted. So it’s sad to see such passion being shut down due to lack of resources.
After this, we had lunch and then were able to do another class observation. I chose Swahili and once more it was nice to see the teacher be so passionate in what he does. He also quizzed us at the end and we suprisingly remembered the meanings to some of the words.
At the end of the School day we were able to attend Mass with the students. It was probably my favorite Mass I have been to because of how beautiful it all was. The students were singing their hearts out and dancing along. We followed along as best as we could. It was such a great time and we were all enjoying ourselves.
After Mass, we came back and had a break before our dinner. Now, since it had been such a long day, some of us ended up napping. However, me and Allison ended up sleeping through game night with the seminarians and then most of dinner. We joined at the end, and were able to see the dance the seminarians were preparing for us. After this we did reflection amongst our dorm groups which helped us to really understand what was going on in our minds and see what everyone was thinking.
After reflection, me and Allison came to get some water from the dining area and we ran into the seminarians who were practicing their dance moves and invited us to join. We ultimately did and it was a lot of fun. They walked us through some of their main moves. We were definitely not as good as them but were enjoying ourselves and it made up for missing game night. It was a beautiful day overall and I can’t believe we’re already halfway through our trip.