Giving rural Ugandans the simple means to build a future: Observations of a Volunteer, Molly Dierks
“The kids at Hope had overcome TREMENDOUS obstacles to be learning and be in school. The adults worked hard to provide for their families. Many of the teens took care of several younger siblings and made the choice between eating and buying paraffin for studying at night- they chose paraffin.” Molly Dierks is from Virginia.
I decided to go to Uganda after volunteering for a brief time with John Mary in Richmond, Virginia. I wanted to see the kids that I had heard so much about and see the face of Jja jja, John Mary’s mother, whose voice I had heard over the phone, speaking the lovely language of Luganda.
Needless to say, before my trip, I was so excited. I could think of nothing else. I had never been to Africa. I had worked hard to save money for this trip and though I had friends who had been to Uganda, and had done some reading, I had little to go on to construct an image of what life must be like.
I landed exhausted and was woken with the amazing cooking of Jja jja and her “staff” of cooks, who toiled since breakfast to fix us lunch, steaming matoke (a version of what we know as the banana) over flame and goat, as well as ground nut sauce, rice, and pineapple. Compared to the Ugandans living in the area, the volunteers ate like kings. Some tired of the food, but I found it continually delicious and delightful- despite our hard work, I never felt hungry.
One of the things that surprised me was how capable and intelligent the Ugandans I met were.
I had no expectations, but I was hard pressed to find anyone without a stupendously quick mind and a practical understanding of how to do… everything. I was out in the dust for several minutes and was covered in it; the local women toiled in mud ditches and emerged spotless. I and other young strong male volunteers used old tools to loosen the soil for a garden and had to take frequent water breaks, without making too much progress. Some village women came by and showed us how to hold the tools and in a matter of minutes, chatting and laughing the whole time, they had loosened and dug more than we had in an hour. One day, with a little down time, I saw an EWB engineer talking to a group of teens from Hope Academy. I went down the hill to see what was going on and found them learning Chinese…rapidly. They had mastered several phrases and were moving onto sentences. For the most part, the Ugandans were a people that were mired in poverty but had enormous potential. The kids at Hope had overcome TREMENDOUS obstacles to be learning and be in school. The adults worked hard to provide for their families. Many of the teens took care of several younger siblings and made the choice between eating and buying paraffin for studying at night- they chose paraffin.
The students at Hope were dedicated and appreciative of their education in a way that I am hard pressed to find here in America. They desperately wanted to go to school and made the most of their education. Their circumstances were unbelievable- not enough food, no parents, no solid structures to live in, difficulty transporting themselves to school, not enough money for books and school supplies- the works. And yet they persisted. I was amazed.
I remember one conversation with a bright young teenager named Paul. He and I talked about life one afternoon. He told me that he could not afford his books and wanted to participate in a project but could not afford the fees. He had recently started an egg business and was seeking my advice on how to advance it. When I asked him at the end of our interview, if he had any more questions for me, he told me he did not have a school bag for his supplies. I thought “Oh no, I need my bag! I can’t give it away!”. He paused and said “Molly, I would really appreciate some needle and thread in order to be able to fix it.” I was floored. I said of course, and then he asked for one more thing: soap. He did not have the money to buy a bar of soap for his siblings he was caring for.
I fetched him the needle and thread, and soap that evening. I remember realizing in that moment that happiness is so simple sometimes. As I handed over the small requests, I felt so inexplicably happy. I remember realizing then that happiness has the simplest origins. Being in Uganda grounds you- you see the happiness that comes from the hope that URF provides by giving rural Ugandans the simple means to build a future. There are few that can say they were a part of something great. I am glad URF gave me the chance to honestly declare that I have been.