Friday, December 26, 2014

Ready For Africa

One night, when I was younger, my mom let me stay up past my bedtime to watch a special on TV that documented a celebrity (possibly Orpah, this part I can't remember) as they started a school in Africa for girls. I remember watching the TV transfixed by these young girls in uniforms - like me - as they excitedly attended school for the first time. I had always loved school. Typically, at night, I spent my time playing memory games with my Mom or practicing math excessively on my chalk board easel.  These girls were attending a school that was simple in compared to what I was accustomed to. For the first time, there were multiple classrooms but no Library or Computer Lab. No Art Room. No Music Room. I was baffled by the disparity yet felt a connection to these young girls and our similar passions for our educations. After watching the program, I asked my mom if I could go to Africa to visit these girls and see their school. She said that was unlikely but possibly one day I could visit Africa. I went to bed thinking about this possibility and decided that one day, I would go to Africa and I too would start my own school. The next day, I started collecting coins in my piggy bank to save for my school in Africa.


Over the years, I slowly added coins and bills into my "Little Princess" piggy bank. I'm not sure if the picture really does her justice. She's a big pig. (Yes, I still have her and yes, she is full!) One day during my junior year of high school, a travel abroad program had an information station set up in our lunch room. I thought, this was it. This is going to my chance to go to Africa. I eagerly spoke with them and took home every brochure they offered. Once home, I realized how quickly this dream was going fizzle. Unless my piggy was holding about $5,000, I was not going to Africa. I continued flipping through their book hoping to find a more affordable program, and I did, Fiji. After much deliberation, I decided to speak to my parents about going on a trip to Fiji instead of Africa since it would only cost about $3,000. (Only - HA!) Since I was already going to Europe that summer with my school, my lofty request was denied. However, my parents said that if I could come up with half of the cost on my own, they would fund the other half. I am sure they found this all to be highly unlikely because how would I at seventeen come up with $1,500 while going to school? Well, I did. Through countless hours of babysitting and handwriting fundraising requests (pre email familiarity) I successfully raised the funds I needed to embark on my travel experience to Fiji. 


At seventeen, I packed up my superwoman cape and flew to the other side of the world by myself. After meeting up with the group, we arrived in Fiji and rode in the bed of a truck, with our luggage, to the village where we would stay for the next two weeks. At the time, I was unaware of voluntourism and was eager to start saving lives. I met my "family" from the village and spent time trying to understand their customs and culture - all the while with my digital camera in their faces like a paparazzi. My project while I was there - the one that was going to change their lives- was to repaint the school and construct a concrete walkway from the village to the school. I quickly donned my cape and was eager to work. Retrospectively, I am sure the school was repainted three times that summer and the concrete path I was so proud of, probably didn't survive one rainy reason. Despite my naive superwoman thoughts, I was still touched by the people and the changed by the experience. I remained in contact with my Fijian family for the next year through letters until eventually their village was developed by a resort and we lost touch. 


Not too long later, during my freshman year of college, I signed up to go on the FCA Spring Break Mission Trip to New Orleans. While still pretty far from Africa, I was excited about the opportunity to give back and eager to have a meaningful spring break. Unfortunately, the trip left from Clemson on the Saturday morning of Spring Break. Which meant, that I spent Friday watching everyone leave to go home to their families. So despite the fact that I already dropped off my luggage for my paid trip and had spent weeks preparing spiritually, I called my Dad crying about homesick I was and he let me come home instead. 

A few years later, I thought it was finally my time. I had made an agreement with my parents that I would graduate early from Clemson and they would fund the volunteer trip I've always wanted to go anywhere in the world. I was so overwhelmed with possibility. Thailand? China? Back to Fiji? South America? The possibilities were endless but my mind kept going back to the idea of Africa. I started reaching out to organizations I knew and had connections as through my work with FeelGood, I had become invested in idea of empowerment and sustainability and didn't want to be another white girl who had put on her superwoman cape to come help the poorer people. 

My mom put me in contact with one of my second cousins (I think, I honestly am not too sure of how we are related) who had recently started an orphanage in Uganda. I was hopeful. This was it. I was finally going to go to Africa. I eagerly sent him a lengthy Facebook message and we set up a time to chat. I had already started to tell all of my friends that I was going to be in Africa next spring. It was happening. Once we got on the phone, he mentioned that they didn't really have a need in Africa and I wouldn't be able to go alone. However, they recently opened a foster care home in Montana and they really needed a woman to go live in the house so that little girls could come to the house and they could take in more children. HA! I can go anywhere in the world and he wants me to go to Montana? I pretended to be interested on the phone but was already thinking in my head of ways for me to get to Africa. 

Despite my searches, I kept coming back to Montana. I've never had that experience before of something weighing so heavily on my heart and really feeling compelled to go somewhere. After much thought and prayer, I decided, I would go to Montana. I could have gone anywhere in the world and I chose to go to Montana during the coldest months of the year. 


Montana ended up being the most difficult journey I had ever taken. Overnight, I went from recent college graduate to being Mom to an eighteen month old baby girl and four boys ranging from four to sixteen. It was difficult. It was tiring. The kids would get sick. They would misbehave. The house was a mess. They didn't like their dinner. I didn't like the dinner. I didn't sleep through the night for over a month straight. To say it was freezing, was an understatement. I felt like I had been pushed to every possible limit I had. Then, one day at the park while trying to hide from one of the boys, the youngest boy grabbed my tightly and said "Mom, protect me!" From that moment, my heart changed. I don't think I've ever loved anyone as much as I loved that sweet little boy. In my perfect world, I would have stayed in Montana forever. I would have found a way to adopt him and be his mom permanently. But God had a greater plan and anticipated this event so He had already committed me to being in Charlotte that summer to start Teach For America. While leaving that house was heartbreaking, I have thought of and prayed for that little boy every day since. 


Once I started teaching, it seemed my dreams of Africa were farther away than ever. I could barely pay all of my bills and I wasn't quite understanding the concept of my credit card just yet, how was I going to afford a trip to Africa? This past Spring, after one of my former campers interned with Sozo, the same organization I was with in Montana, in Africa, I decided I had put this dream off for too long. I was going to go to Africa. Specifically, Uganda. 

I started saving this past summer and made my commitment to go to Uganda. Despite the Ebola outbreak, vaccinations, allergic reactions to said vaccinations, bacterial infections from the vaccinations, very few supporters of this trip, and the need to purchase an entire new wardrobe for the trip (yoga pants are sadly not allowed), I am going to Africa. Tomorrow. 

I will fly from Charlotte to Detroit to Amsterdam to Rwanda to Uganda. I've had friends, family, and strangers criticize and say, just give money. You aren't going to change anyone's life while you are there. This, I know. This time, I am not packing my superwoman cape and I realize that I am not going to be changing the trajectory of anyone's life during my eight days in Uganda. 

I am excited that this dream of mine, to go to Africa, is finally coming true. Probably twenty years after watching that television program with my mom. I don't know what to expect and I don't know what is expected of me. I do know, I will do my best. While I may not change their lives, I will be able to build a connection with my brothers and sisters in this global community in which we all live. I will be able to love on the children who truly need love. And I am sure, my life will be positively impacted. 

If you know me, you know that I am extremely anxious so I have been praying in preparation for this trip for so long. Despite my uncertainties, I have faith that He will take care of me while I am there and allow me to serve Him to the best of my ability. 

While, I will have occasional access to the internet, I am going to use this time to unplug and be present in Uganda. I want to focus on my trip and my time there and not the temptations of social media, emails, and iMessage. If you would like to check in on my trip, check out the Sozo Children Facebook page for occasional updates. 

Please pray for safe travels of our team and I promise a lengthy post recapping the trip upon my return. 

Happy New Year! See you in 2015!

With love, 

Danielle


2 comments:

  1. Danielle,

    Your conviction and perseverance is inspirational. I am in awe at how selfless you are, to help others less fortunate. If everyone had an ounce of what you are, this world would be a much better place. You will be in my thoughts and prayers. Remember, no act of kindness goes unnoticed and although this will be by far the most difficult, heart wrenching experience you will probably ever endure, it will be worth it. You are so special.

    Lucy

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    1. Lucy,

      Thank you so much for your kind words of encouragement. I could definitely feel them while I was there. It was difficult for sure, but every minute was absolutely worth it. :)

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