My time spent here in Uganda has been filled with new cultural experiences that, have helped to change my worldview and provide an ultimate sense of humility and appreciation for my life and the lives of others. While here, I have had the opportunity to visit a number of youth development centers that provide social, psychosocial, physical, and vocational support for local impoverished youth all for free. These organizations have played an integral role in shaping my view of the world outside of the United States, and in particularly Africa. Centers like Somero Uganda, UYDEL, and the Twekembe Slum Project have really showcased the impact of community outreach within the “Pearl of Africa”, as well as the power of international partnership.
I have no doubt, that these visiting experiences have helped me to grow as an individual; however, no self-development is complete without its fair share of discomforts to facilitate that growth. When visiting with these centers, the group often found ourselves at the center of attention—receiving love and care that, at least in my opinion, we did not deserve. Immediately in these environments, I began to fill a whirlwind of emotions. I was grateful for the hospitality but upset with the fact that these individuals, who had so little, were giving us so much. I was amazed at the level of development and skill that these children possessed, but saddened by the environments with which they were forced to live in. Eventually, these emotions hit a peak when we visited Somero Uganda.
From the moment that we stepped foot on the Somero grounds, the staff and beneficiaries were so warm and inviting. The festivities started with a brief introduction and welcome from the entire Somero crew, with us front and center, and was followed by an exciting icebreaker that can best be described as the Ugandan version of dodgeball. From the beginning, it was evident that everyone was excited to have us on campus as the beneficiaries filled the atmosphere with screams and applause while we all gave our own set of introductions. After dodgeball, we again gathered, with the GSUganda crew front and center, and prepared ourselves for an international cooking and dressing experience. This is where the emotions really started to fly around; I was excited and grateful to be able to share in the Bugandan culture but began to feel more and more discomfort and frustration as the day went on. Why did I deserve to show off these beautiful garments in front of a large audience who knew nothing about me or where I was from? Why were we receiving so much admiration from individuals who are just like us? Why was I, an individual with more resources, receiving so much from those who have less? A whirlwind of questions began to circle through my mind but ultimately, I was uncomfortable being a privileged guest who could not give.
Looking back on these experiences, I have learned valuable lessons about myself and about the Ugandan people. After some reflection, I was able to deconstruct some of the cultural barriers leading to my frustration and realize that my biases had a lot to do with my issues. I did not like being in a situation that I felt was inappropriate and had little control over. I was unsettled by the idea of being a privileged guest because I had not initially taken a second to step back and disregard my own assumptions of what it meant to be a guest in another country with a separate culture. Eventually, my contemplation led me to understand that by honoring these people, taking part in their culture, and enjoying their hospitality, I was actually giving them one of the best gifts that I could: respect. Respect in the sense of participating in their activities, but also respect in showing that my time is worth no more than theirs and showing that I was a human just like them with faults and shortcomings. In this sense, I feel that myself and my colleagues gained much more from the Somero crew than just a cultural experience, we gained humility and a new perspective on what it means to give and receive.