In 2006 I had the unique opportunity to go to Uganda, Africa to volunteer and teach orphans at the school called Nakitokolo Primary School for 7 weeks. I was able to visit students at their homes, as well as get to know them personally at the school. It was really one of the most amazing experiences I have ever had. I had travelled for some time before this, having lived in Seoul, South Korea for nearly 4 years, and in Australia for one year, I was able to visit many countries and experience many different cultural events. I had thought that I had seen it all. However, I have to admit the many countryâ€™s that I had backpacked through and experienced still did not prepare me for Africa. It was much rougher than I had imagined and yet more beautiful than anything I would have ever expected.
While I taught them the importance of phonics, they taught me far greater lessons than I could have ever imagined. Not only did they prove that ants are a great source of protein, but they also taught that we can go with far less in our society and achieve greater happiness then we thought. They had no basics, like shoes, underwear or even beds and yet their smiles were plentiful and large, like their hearts.
With only $6000 CAN, 4 oversized bags and some amazing friends and family, we (my partner at the time) had 42 desks and 2 blackboards made. The new kitchen finished and started a new building for classrooms. We bought books for all ages, provided medicine to local clinics, gave clothing and footwear to over 100 children, bought 9 mosquito nets, provided eyewear and sunglasses (Thank you Sun Dog Eye Wear), toys, puppets, 24 etch-sketches, 18 beds, 2 mattresses, bed sheets, a volleyball net and court, First Aid Supplies and lots and lots of laughter. It was truly amazing what could be done with so little. I would go back in a second still today.
I have never felt more excited than the day we provided the 18 beds to the orphans. The whole school ran out cheering and they clapped and chanted and patted the backs of those who were receiving the beds. There was no jealousy, only joy and pure love for one another that day. They all taught me so much by their united reaction.
I smiled a lot and yet there were days that I couldnâ€™t help but notice the hardships that these wonderful people endured. 30% of the children we taught had AIDS for example; they were orphaned by parents who died of complications of AIDS. I couldnâ€™t help but feel sorry for the children having to carry water on their heads nearly a mile uphill for drinking. The water we fetched from was green and stagnant. It had to be boiled by scrap wood that was dwindling. I could only see the downside some days. It was hard for me to keep my chin up.
One student, in particular stands out in my mind as a teacher to me and helping me truly understand what life was about. Frank was his name. I was crying and crying one day and he came up to me and asked what I was crying over. I was devastated from some of the poverty that I was seeing while visiting the houses. I expressed that it was hard to see and that I would soon be moving back to Canada and I felt so guilty having so much. Frank grabbed my face and looked me very close in the eye and said â€œKimberley look at me. Really look at me. I am happy. I am an orphan, yes and no I have nothing… it is true, but it is you who is crying. Cry for you Kimberley. It is you who cannot go without. We are happy and we will be ok.â€ It was true. It was me who had to have my camera with me all the time, and money in my pocket and I was the one fainting from eating less and I was the one complaining that they were without. Not them. I learned a lot from that 14 year old that day.
My most memorable moment while in Uganda was that week we had Monsoon type rainfalls. It was terrible. We had to go in a village, within a village and into another village to get into the school and even the motorbikes couldnâ€™t pass through the mud and water. I had made my students promise they would show that day, as we had another few weeks to get them to a certain level of reading and I was determined to get them to where I promised. It took a long time to get there, and I was taking a chance of meeting up with venomous snakes that sometimes took advantage of travelling through the water during such rainfalls, but I felt I had to go in. The villagers waved and warned me not to walk too close to the high grass and to stay out of the water, but either way I was at risk. Water was everywhere and to avoid it meant to walk up by the grass. Hours later I reached the school and to my surprise, every student had tread through those muddy roads hours before me and was studying diligently in their new desks we had bought. One student, who was the better reader, was using a stick and practicing the ABCâ€™s with the other students. I had no blackboard and so I had written the alphabet and key words, with chalk, on the wall and they were reading them off and making the sounds the letters made. I stood there so very proud and those tears that day were of joy.
I thank the children of Nakitokolo, Uganda for teaching me the meaning of life. I have never been able to have children and I donâ€™t know if I ever will now that I am in my 30â€™s. I will hold you all in my memory as being the best little teachers I have ever had. Love, light to you my darlings. Now I teach others in a different way. Sometimes I see devestation in the hearts of those that I read for and sometimes I want to break down with them. I have seen a lot of pain and a lot of suffering. Some days I feel sad, as there are so many Canadians that don’t know how easy they really have it. I am crying tears right now little ones… And yes… as you taught me, I won’t feel sorry for them… my tears are for me…
Kimspirational, a.k.a. Kim. Doucette