Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Before the trip

"And what might you be doing in Uganda?" "Why?" "Is Uganda in Africa?" "Is it safe?" "Can you sail there?"

These are a few of the questions that come my way when I announce that I am going to Uganda this summer.  

Okay, nobody has really asked the last one, but I did look into sailing on Lake Victoria.  Turns out there is a yacht club with a small fleet of Lasers (small tippy fun) and that "Crocodiles are seldom seen in the area".  So much for sailing.  

Comments range from the very enthusiastic, you will be changed by the experience, that's awesome, to the some what cynical:  "Oh, you're off to save the world".  The implication being that this is a naive mission, that the problems are so great that no one person or small group can possibly have any meaningful impact.

About this time you are probably wondering about what starfish and an inland country in central Africa possibly have to do with each other.  There is an alegorical tale that I first heard from Hugo Kamya, who leads trips to Uganda from Simmons School of Social Work.  It seems that two men were walking along the beach after a storm had washed up thousands of starfish that were left high and dry when the tide went out.  As they walk, the first man stoops and picks up starfish and throws them back into the water.  The second man asks, "why are you bothering to do that. There are so many on the beach, you can't possibly make a difference."  the first man, tossing another into the water, says "it made a difference to that one."  

I have read the same story with clams be thrown. Perhaps for Uganda, oysters would be more appropriate since Uganda is dubbed the "Pearl of Africa". If you Google starfish and Uganda you will learn that I am not original.  Perehaps there are freshwater starfish?

So what is this trip?
The short story is that Hugo Kamya, MDiv, PhD a professor at Simmons School of Social Work has been leading trips for students and professionals to his home land for at least ten years.  Several years ago, a group from Simmons returned from their trip. The trip was a transformative experience for each of them.  They described children living in the most desparate conditions, such as child headed households located in Kampala's city dump.  But one word came up repeatedly: "hope". 

Hugo Kamya is a remarkable man who escaped the reign of Idi Amin and its brutal aftermath. A self-described optimist with more energy than a nuclear power plant, he is the consumate networker.  As a result he has working relationships with enormous numbers of human service providers and officials in Uganda and Massachusetts, among many  other people.  So our trip itinerary involves at least 18 meetings and visits to groups or agencies that in one way or another enable Ugandans to improve their conditions.  Then there will be the US Ambassador to Uganda, and a chief justice.   And there will be a safari, and a park to see monkeys and other sight seeing, and shopping.  Hugo's love of his country includes the natural as well as the social environment.

Hugo's infectious exuberance encourages those around him to push beyond their comfort zones, and this is probably the primary reason that I have joined the group of five professionals accompanying him on the trip.  Later we will be joined by 13 students and a few who have done the trip before.  Never fear we won't be pushed entirely out of our comfort zone.  We will be staying at the Hotel Africana in Kampala (think pool, internet, single rooms !).

Saturday afternoon Scott will take me to Logan, where I will join fellow travelers on the red eye to Amsterdam, followed by an equally long flight to Entebbe.  Yes we go north to go south.  I have never blogged before, and I know I will be busy but I hope to keep this up and least a bit.  With some photos too.

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