The first time I learnt of Uganda was through a documentary, ‘Kony 2012’ created by Invisible Children to expose Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a guerrilla group that is known for human trafficking and several others crimes.
A friend introduced me to the organization AIESEC, which recruits volunteers globally. The organization advertised an opportunity in Uganda and I knew that was a call to me. I do not know what particularly attracted me to that country, perhaps it was my infatuation to help the suffering who had endured pain because of Kony’s cruel acts or my attempt to have a clearer picture of my African continent.
Either way, I wanted to visit Uganda and I chose to take part in a women empowerment project and AIESEC linked me to KIFAD, a Ugandan community organisation.
1.There are good people in this world!
I really wish I could talk about media, journalism and other related issues, however when I arrived there, the journalist in me was forgotten. Out came an individual who was seeking answers from this personal journey. Later I learnt that whatever profession one is in, it is important to do some soul searching.
As a writer, I often talk about depression, emotional abuse and lack of self-esteem because I have spent much of my life seeking validation. I then made it my mission to make myself rise and feel important, which I managed to do. I was ‘invisible’ in Uganda. No one could point a finger at me or pinpoint my mistakes and this felt great.
Do you know of those high school bullies who made you lose your sense of humanity? Those people who even though you have not seen them in years still show up in your nightmares? People that made me push myself to my limit whenever I was working on something because I wanted to please them. Those people vanished from my mind. I was free.
I was finally able to see my potential, without those voices trying to tear me down. I did not have to try to please Ugandans. I was just myself and the people I met loved me. I spent my birthday with Ugandans who organised a party and baked a cake for me. Not for one second did I feel alone nor homesick. At that moment I never felt so loved and welcomed in this world by people who were going through hardship.
For the first time, after visiting a foreign country, I did not come back with new clothes, accessories and shoes to make myself feel good. I came back with a bag full of compliments, from people who called me fearless for visiting their country, for accepting them into my life and for my eagerness to learn. I can confirm that I saw a lot of poverty, which I had not come across before, but I also can tell you that despite poverty, people in Ugandan society have strong characters.
I have been studying communication and media for years but I never read newspapers. I do not want to know what is happening out in the world because it hurts me. I rather isolate myself and live in my own bubble. In Angola, my country of origin, I see what I want to see and I chose to see only the pleasant things. My parents invested their whole lives on protecting me from everything and I am thankful. I lived a happy life knowing that my family is stable and that was always enough for me. However, sometimes we need to experience the life of those who are less privileged to appreciate the life we have.
Unfortunately, in my efforts to protect my inner peace, I discovered I was preventing myself from becoming a good world citizen, which is why I decided to volunteer. In Uganda, I stayed in a village called Wakiso. I did not know that people still live under horrific conditions. I always thought everyone’s parents were able to give them a good life and that others were given the same opportunities I had, but that is not the case. Life has many twists and turns – a result of various circumstances.
It was a wakeup call to see the real world out there which showed me how blessed I have been. My friends always said I have a white soul, referring to my unawareness of the African world. Whatever soul I have, either black or white soul, it was impacted by these people’s poverty.
3.To live in misery is a choice
I have been to beautiful places and seen amazing views but what amazed me about Uganda was not the leisure or the entertainment that the country offered; it was the people. I have never witnessed real resilience in this lifetime and I can say that to live in misery is a choice. I did not see poverty in their eyes, I saw hope and gratitude. The people were very welcoming, telling jokes, always cleaning and setting up a comfortable place for us – the volunteers to relax at their homes.
I did not understand the national language but through their smiles I could see they were happy, unlike some of us who complain or think our lives are mediocre. For them, it is everything. The people were all keen to be interviewed and take pictures because they understood that we could help somehow. In Angola, people always question good actions and they would never open up or share so much about their personal life but in Uganda it was different. Angolans never allow their poverty to make them vulnerable but Ugandans wanted to be heard.
4.Do what you want to do
I was running away from journalism all my life and I wanted to hide my passion somewhere but I guess it was meant to be. When I was 17, I wanted to study journalism but society told me I could not because it was not financially rewarding and I would always have to question my morals and ethics. Some say journalism’s duty is to expose those who should be accountable and seek change and justice. Whoever came up with this definition of the practice should have mentioned that they are not applicable in African nations. In Angola, those in power fail to enrich the poor and those in positions to expose them, the journalists, only see what they too want to see.
Even though my country’s ‘weak’ public institutions wanted to discourage me from following my dreams, looking back, if I really had the courage I would have pursued it. I realized I did not want to have that weight on my shoulder and responsibility to fight for my people.
Today, I understand the power of media and how it is influential to fight any social injustice. I realised that Uganda gave me the opportunity to embrace my passion. I was given the task to write success stories about the people of the villages of Bbanda, Katubwe, Ssesiriba and Kiwazzi. I thought it was finally the opportunity for me to help the next person and expose the truth. I could not disappoint the Ugandans. They were counting on me to tell their stories. KIFAD has been an instrumental tool on my personal development and it allowed me to finally explore my natural talent and work in the field of study I was always destined for.
5. Be grateful
There is always a reason for everything that happens in our lives. Life is a journey full of self-discoveries and learning experiences.
I have done volunteering in the United Kingdom before. I volunteered for almost two years and it revolved around organising events for the community and spending time with elders or children living with disabilities. This Ugandan experience was completely different; it was more than helping the community but centred around creating relationships and understanding people.
During this experience, I had a lot of questions because my mind could not process why they did not eat meat, why their toilets were holes (blair toilets) and how their main public mode of transportation was always motorcycles. I had to challenge myself and look for a place of understanding within me.
It was difficult to differentiate social classes in Uganda. From my perspection, they all looked like they struggled somehow. I thought to myself that houses which could afford TV were middle class, and those who could not were low class.
TV might be a luxury for some people but as a media student I can say that broadcasting can be the best medium for information and education. The same way I was unaware of their living conditions in this century, they were unaware of how the world has changed because they do not have TV.
The village residents were stuck in the past, living under strict traditional values and still following the mentality of procreation. I think traditional values were created by people who lived 100 years ago and they were applicable to that specific time. I can argue legends are lessons and they rule the truth but legends also prevent you from developing. I would say we have to abolish tradition but that is an unfair assessment; rather I believe tradition should be dynamic and should always evolve with the times. We have to move forward, change our mindset and realise that sometimes tradition is un-progressive.
On my part, I can say that coming from a nation where capitalism thrives at the expense of the poor, it was inspirational to see people who have less but freely giving more to others.
Although communities were stuck in the past, they were not living in poverty. I have various interpretations of poverty but I will not dwell on them, save to say the Ugandans are making the most of what they have.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.
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