Uganda By: Jessica Speakman

I went to Africa with a very clear goal in mind: teach these kids something valuable. Instead, I was taught lessons I will never forget. Months of planning went into creative writing workshops, researching fables, coming up with activities, developing interactive games, and creating an energetic music playlist suited for 8-12 year olds. Nothing could have prepared me for the abundance of strength, pride, and dedication these kids showed me.

We began our journey across the world with ten volunteers, a suitcase full of supplies, and roughly twenty hours of flying. Upon arriving in Kampala, Uganda, we were greeted with an overwhelming sea of smiling faces. I was instantly surrounded by children, they were so excited and filled with love for people they had never met before. Each one had a unique story to tell, but they were all connected by their academic perseverance in the extremely competitive educational environment of Uganda. They were chosen to be candidates in the African Dream Initiative’s program due to their ability to overcome circumstances that would originally render them unable to thrive in their academics.

Getting to know each one of the kids was probably the most amazing experience of the entire trip. Jemima is a spunky little girl who can out-dance anyone, Frank is quiet but can write advanced poetry that will move you to tears, Joseph is a natural leader who inspires and guides the younger kids through their experiences. Each child had a story to tell, they had their own background that shaped and molded them into the people they are today. They all wanted one thing, just to be loved by you. The way that they came up to us and just requested affection with the utmost confidence was incredibly touching. I have never been surrounded by so many children hugging me at once, every single one of them knew how to unconditionally love one another, as well as love us as volunteers.

The most impactful day of the trip was definitely getting to see some of the villages that the children came from. I went in with very little knowledge of what the experience would be like. I did not know that children would run from the alleys into the streets shouting “Mzunga,” announcing excitedly to the others that outsiders were here. I did not know that they would grab my hands two or three at a time and lead me down the path to their house. I did not know that this woman who had lost her husband in a rock quarry accident would gift me bracelets that she sold for a living. I did not know these things then, and these things taught me so much more than reading about the living of these people in a text. Nothing could have prepared me for the overwhelming emotional experience I would have that night when I sat down and attempted to process it all.

I sincerely suggest to anyone debating a journey like this to go for it. Not only are you getting so much first hand experience, the kids you meet will remember it for their entire life. They take nothing for granted, and they truly know the meaning of valuing their blessings. If you would like to donate to The African Dream Initiative, you can certainly contact me or visit their website at africandreaminitiative.org.

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