Lessons in joy and kindness in Uganda | AspenTimes.com

Lessons in joy and kindness in Uganda

Mike Schwartz
Special to The Aspen Times

The sharp crow of the rooster marked the start of a new day, as the hot African sun shook off the crust of sleep and began to rise. It was day one in the east African country of Uganda, and I welcomed it with open arms. We were residing in the little town of Bbira outside of the capital, Kampala. I knew it would be a day that would change my life forever.

After a traditional Ugandan breakfast of fried bananas, the group of eight Aspen High School students led by Lance Finkbeiner and Leandra Sivess began their march toward St. Johnson’s primary school, the place that the Action in Africa club had donated nearly $30,000. We walked along the dirt road, our hearts heavy with the anxiety of meeting the children whose lives we had changed. My thoughts raced faster than an antelope being chased by a lion. I walked with an extra bounce in my step, for every house we passed was met by the screams of a dozen children, eager just to catch a glimpse of the “Mizungus,” or white people.

“Mizungus,” they cried, their smiles bright enough to light the darkness of poverty. People in America often view Africa as cold and harsh, a place where we are unwelcome, yet when we walked into the school for the first time those stereotypes were shattered quicker than a glass of honey in the hands of a bear. We were welcomed with the friendliest outburst of song and dance upon our arrival at the school, a sight that will be branded into our souls forever.

We were mauled by children, as if we were celebrities in Hollywood, every one of them smiling and laughing. I gazed at their faces, the knowledge that I had brought joy to them overpowering any fear imaginable. My hands, arms, and clothes were covered by little hands of kids. They fought like hyenas over a scrap of meat over the chance to hold our attention, a moment I will never forget.

Poverty, a word often associated with sub-Saharan Africa that one can never understand until they have witnessed it first hand. Poverty is protruding ribs and a pot belly. It is the fact of not knowing if you’re going to have food on your plate the next day, or a scrap of clothing on your back. It is having nowhere to go, and fearing that each day may be your last. Uganda has a history of being riddled with poverty, its shadow casting a never-ending darkness over the country. However, there is hope in the souls of these children. Their hearts are the candles lighting a path to freedom through the darkness of poverty. It is our obligation to provide the flame to light their candles. On my trip to Uganda I discovered what it was to be that flame.

On the fourth day of our trip we took four of the top students of St. Johnson’s to Kampala for a day of fun. On the bus ride, one student, Shafiek, received a coin only worth about 50 cents from Lance Finkbeiner. It was the first Ugandan Shilling Shafiek had ever received, and he cherished the coin. Throughout the bus ride he remained busy polishing it until it shone brighter than any night star. When we entered the city our jubilance quickly turned into sorrow. Homeless children lined the streets begging for money. They banged on our bus and pleaded for spare coins and bills. When we got off the bus we noticed one little girl sitting cross-legged with her hands cupped in the middle of the sidewalk. Shafeik looked at her and frowned. He looked at his precious coin, sighed, and walked over to her. She stared straight at him. He stared at his coin for a moment. He then kissed it and dropped it into her hands. She smiled at him and ran away with the coin. He knew that she needed the money more than he did.

Shafeik displayed an extraordinary act of courage and generosity, a clear analogy of the people of Africa. When I applied for the trip I assumed that I would be doing the teaching, but 10-year-old Shafeik taught me a lesson I will never forget. He taught me about true kindness, for he put life into perspective. We take for granted the many things we are blessed with, and sometimes turn to greed and selfishness to get what we want. It is when we step into the shoes of others and decide that we are going to do what is right, that we can demonstrate a just life geared towards bettering the lives of others. By helping others we are bringing happiness to them, and ourselves.

The trip to Uganda was a great example of the caring heart of Aspen High School students, for we are a school that is very involved and concerned with world affairs. I was lucky enough to be on the trip, so I was able to see exactly where our money went. Our trip to Uganda paired with the money that we raised changed the lives of 200 poor kids by bringing them joy and a sense of security, two much-needed aspects of life that they had been deprived of.

We did many amazing activities, such as a trip to an IDP camp in Soroti. We dug the foundation for the library and girls dormitory that our money was paying for, a meaningful adventure in itself. Not only have we brought joy to these children, but we have given them the greatest gift of all, a future. The people of Africa have courage stronger than any soldier. Their hearts are richer than any business tycoon, and their friendliness is overwhelming. Many children in Uganda cannot afford schooling, and by donating to Action in Africa, you are joining the battle waged for their freedom. For it is our duty to free the children.

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