Over my five week stay in Bulenga, Uganda, I volunteered at two orphanages where I spent time with and taught English to kids-most of whom have lost their parents to HIV/AIDS. I also did some community projects, one of which included distributing portable, solar energy lights to villagers in a very rural and poor area of Uganda. It was a tremendous privilege to be a part of something that gave much happiness to a community that severely lacks clean energy, let alone just running water and electricity.
In addition to all of the children, I met and made friends with some wonderful people: the gentlemen who run the organization I worked for, the girls who cared for me at the volunteer house, the orphanage's teachers, and even locals in the village. I didn't expect to connect with and learn so much from people who differ from me in many ways. They have all endured many hardships in their lives, yet none of them seem to show anything short of happiness- I've never seen so many smiles or felt so much love. I've learned from them and their stories about how fortunate I am in my own life. The entire experience was truly humbling, and it gave me the opportunity to look at myself and reflect on my life. The trip also helped spark my interest in international service, particularly in human development, and I look forward to using my new interest towards my studies and career. And even if this doesn't work out, I will still take the lessons and memories I made with me wherever I go.
The accommodations were all fantastic- I do not have a single complaint. The food was fresh and well-balanced (meat, veggies, fruit, and starches). Sleeping arrangement (bunk beds) was comfortable and all set up with a mosquito net, pillow, and sheets. There is running water (hot water for bathing) and electricity. No wifi but internet is sometimes available on the house's computer. I felt very safe at the house which sits inside a compound that is all locked up and guarded by security at night.
I returned home with countless good memories, so to choose a favorite is difficult. Here is one: It was a dark and rainy Saturday, and I had plans to go spend time with the kids that afternoon. I put on my raincoat and began the 30 minute walk to the orphanage. On the way, many shops were closed and what usually are busy roads were all quiet and empty. For most of the way, it was a slip and slide on the muddy roads, and I would catch myself from a fall only to look up and not find anyone who witnessed my clumsy stumbling. It was so deserted in the village that I began to think that the kids would not be around that day. I continued anyway and finally reached the bottom of the last hill which leads to the kids' home. I was then surprised to hear the high-pitched screams of seven kids who were all drenched in rain and came running down the hill at lightning speed, having no regard for the slick, uneven, and steep path. Three of them fell down but got up, smiles and all, and ran down to join the other four who all jumped into my arms to say hello. We were all soaked in rain and mud but were as happy as we would be on a dry, sunny day. I was overwhelmed by their love but more so by the fact that they had waited outside in the rain for me--someone they had only met three weeks before. As simple and "uneventful" it is, this story represents what it was like for my entire experience.