Why did you decide to volunteer abroad with IVHQ in the Uganda?
Alyssa: I have always had a passion for volunteer work. It has been a dream of mine to go on a mission trip to a developing country for as long as I can remember. I have been given a job offer to start a full-time position in my chosen field upon completion of my masters in May. After signing this offer of intent, I knew I had to plan the trip and make it happen while I was still in school and had the chance.
I have always been very intrigued by the rich culture and traditions of the African countries, particularly in East Africa, which is how I settled on going to Uganda. In addition, I intentionally chose to go for Christmas. Although my family would have preferred I chose a different time, I wanted to experience this holiday with children who would not be focused on the material aspect of the holiday. I have always had wonderful Christmases full of love and happiness, and felt it was time I share.
Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.
Alyssa: While I was there, I lived at the orphanage in volunteer housing with a number of other volunteers from around the world. The man who set up the orphanage wanted to create a home for the children, rather than it having an institutional feeling to it. As time went on, the orphanage grounds became more of a village. There were about 10 houses built for women and their children, who after losing their husbands, could not afford to feed them. There are currently 3 dormitory buildings housing around 100 children. Most of these children were picked up from the streets after losing their parents to AIDS.
Our volunteer jobs varied on a day to day basis. We would assist the children with laundry and bathing, as needed. A few of the women in the village, along with the older girls, would cook for the kids. We helped here as well with everything from carrying water jugs from the well to sorting beans. During my time there, two girls got sick with malaria. We brought them to the hospital for treatment and continued care upon their return to the orphanage. We took on the responsibility to ensure they received proper medication and nutrition until they were better.
We did a lot of work on a schoolhouse, which is also on the orphanage grounds, and fixed up the classrooms. The school was in terrible shape when I arrived. A few of the volunteers had just begun working on it. We cleaned and painted the rooms, fixed up the windows, made posters for the classrooms, and worked on the outside of the building. By the time I left, everything was just about complete and ready for the start of the new school year. This school teaches English to students of all ages. The hope is that if the school gets fixed up, parents from surrounding villages would be attracted and pay to send their children there. Additional funds would help support both the school and orphanage operations.
Aside from all the hard work, the most important thing I could have given these children is love. It is amazing how quickly bonds form and how strong they become, even over a short time. All these kids want is love. Our hugs and attention means more to them than anything money can buy. Sitting there, just talking to them about their hopes and dreams is so important to them. These children need people to listen to them and believe in them. Words of encouragement are invaluable to them. Other volunteers can help take care of the kids and schoolhouse will need repair again… I can only hope that they will remember the love I came to share, and that this memory will never leave them.
How has this experience helped you grow personally and professionally?
Alyssa: I stumbled across a quote that sums it all up: “Often we set out to make a difference in the lives of others, only to realize we have made a difference in our own.”
The lessons I have learned from my time in Uganda go beyond what words can even explain. As I was sitting in the Entebbe airport, heartbroken and about to leave, I wrote down some of the lessons these children have taught me. This is what I wrote in my travel journal...
These kids taught me the power of love and the ability it has to overcome the most difficult of situations. The family feel of the village gives these kids support and a sense of belonging. Their clothes may be dirty and falling apart, their stomachs may be empty, and those around may be sick, but to them, there is always more of a reason to smile than to be sad. They have another day to live, and that is more than enough of a reason to be happy.
These kids taught me simplicity. It never mattered how torn their clothes were or if the boys wore pink. They didn’t need toys and could be perfectly content with an old tire and a stick to wheel it around with. Not once did I see greed or envy, but only excitement if another experienced an added bonus.
These kids taught me the value of hard work. Nothing was an easy task. All of them took responsibility for themselves and any younger siblings who were not yet able. If anyone needed help, there was no hesitation; someone would be right next to them ready to lend a helping hand. It amazed me to see 3 and 4 year olds carrying water jugs to the kitchen or to bathe.
Most importantly, these kids taught me the value of life and the power of having a dream. Just listening to where these kids come from, if they knew their history, and where they saw their lives going was amazing. Many of these kids know they were abandoned or left by AIDS stricken parents, yet this is no excuse to not set the bar high for themselves. They recognize the value of each day and the opportunity it presents to take another step forward in the direction of their dreams. Nothing, especially circumstance, is going to kill their spirit.