Soapy water and a plastic cut-out make for a great ice breaker. Today was a day like no other as we were given a rare opportunity to experience Wakiso and the residents who make the area so amazing. It all started by meeting James, a grandfather who lives with his wife and grandchildren near the school. We were invited into his yard where we swapped stories of our lives and homes. James and his wife are the sweetest couple who pour love and energy into their family and community. We sat for hours in the yard learning about farming, meeting the family, coloring with his granddaughters and getting a grand tour of his home. From there, we ventured off along the back roads that beckoned us. Stopping to speak to every beautiful woman, man and child we encountered soon lead us to another school where children were hanging out. We asked them to join us on our adventure to nowhere in particular. Soon we were all laughing, playing football, blowing bubbles and enjoying what was arguably the most perfect Saturday. Eventually we all wondered into their friends where the initial introductions were hesitant until we broke out the bubbles. Before we knew it we added another five kids to our football game and bubble lessons! It was such an incredible way to engage with the kids and greater Wakiso district through the sharing of cultural experiences. I had never really played football, so to learn from kids who love the sport was truly a special experience; so too was the opportunity to share with them the joy of bubbles from my youth. Once dusk was upon us we ventured back to the school where familiar faces and adorable giggles rang out as more volunteers arrived through the gates. Making connections and experiencing the joys of life in the most authentic way is what this beautiful existence is for. You don’t need to travel halfway around the world to spread good vibes. All it takes is a little love, understanding and arms open wide for the people you experience life with and among every day.
Content by Alexandrea Rager
Photograph by Meredith Steward
The very real struggles of life and of simply being human do not end when half a world away. The now familiar sound of roosters welcoming the day is followed by grudgingly releasing myself from bed and pouring endless cups of synthetic energy. Not all interactions are joyful like in the photos. Not all days are pleasantly spontaneous. Today however, pulled me out of my thoughts right into the loving embrace of a thankful child. I had been looking forward to the opportunity to volunteer with the kids on swim day and the timing could not have been more perfect. She pokes my arm in the waist deep water to grab my attention. I pick her up and she points at another volunteer helping a little boy learn to swim. On my hip, little hands clasped around me, I take her to the shallower end of the small pool. I ask her to show me how she swims; a few promising kicks and no arm movement was more than I had anticipated. I placed my palms around the edge of the pool and start to kick in an effort to show her how that movement helps keep my body afloat. She copies me followed by an adorable giggle. I take her hands in mine and drag her across the water so she can practice and get a sense of what swimming feels like. I show her the different ways her peers are swimming and place her torso in my arms so she can practice the stroke and kick simultaneously. She didn’t really learn to swim with my less-than-informative efforts but trying with her was too fun. This attempt at teaching was one in many that day, as the kids were so excited to learn a new skill and play with the volunteers in a setting outside of the school. Few days really captured the essence of humanity quite like today. The love and appreciation shared between volunteers and the kids became a catalyst for the sounds of joy that rang out from all sides. The connections made on days like these hide notions of difference too many keep within them. A beautiful reminder of what putting love out into the community can do, the reward of today were all the smiling faces and being a part of that joy. Not all days are difficult. The very real struggles of life and simply being human can end when experiencing life alongside others half a world away.
Content by Alex Rager
Photograph by Alyssa Durst
This is the moment where the arduous effort to be here pays off. Right now. Coming down from the inexplicable high of rafting the Nile River, I realize the adventure is over and reality begins to chip my anxious excitement into a more settled wonderment. Peering out of the bus into a paralleled taxi I lock eyes with a little girl, no older than two. She stares at me through the cracked window. I wave to her and smile at her mother. I keep waving in an attempt to receive a reciprocated signal of acknowledgement. She waves so I smile and wave again. Back and forth we silently communicate and her mother pushes the window slightly more open. She sticks her face through the crevice, I move to a newly open seat in an attempt to be nearer. I blow her a kiss and she looks at her mom, returning her gaze to see an elated 20 year-old gushing over her. I blow another kiss and wave. She places her flat palm against her lips and waves with the opposite hand. I make surprised faces with her, smile and blow more kisses. A lurch signals that my time is running thin. In an effort to maintain this intimacy between us I blow her another kiss to which she finally blows one back to me. The engine revs and I must return to my place leaving her with a smile and farewell wave. Overcome with joy, I sit back in my seat and cannot help but wonder at life’s intricacies. Morning ensues, weaver birds sing in the distance while roosters welcome the day. The air is fresh from the rain of yesterday and as I lean my head back against the wall from my railing perch I cannot help but giggle and roll my eyes at this life. These are the moments I live for, that remind me why I worked so hard to be here, and facilitate my efforts to explore. I never thought a single experience, let alone one shared with a precious child, could capture the essence of what I experienced all month walking alongside the people of Uganda.
Content by Alexandrea Rager
Photograph by Andrew Johnson
Looking out from one of many vantage points I sit in wonderment. Agriculture is only a very minute portion of the land found on the farm. Forest looms around patches of cultivation where anything from pineapples to beans might be growing; a constant reminder that Uganda is still a developing nation. There is a sort of inexplicable harmony here which coerces fleeting notions that environmental sustainability is possible. An inspiring man with an expansive understanding of agriculture lives and breathes for the people, animals and well being of the farm. His relentless dedication to this project serves as a catalyst for education about the benefits of farming God’s way and how the farm is making a significant difference in the lives of Ugandans. It wasn’t an outlandish concept, especially when one lives with the constant presence of animals, to follow a group of guys wielding machetes into the Ugandan forest. “This one is for the goats” I tell myself while a single tear slides down my cheek. An advocate for the end of deforestation, cutting trees is not exactly a hobby. In a way however, the circumstances of the situation aided my solace. Trees that fit the parameters, but needed to be removed for further cultivation expansion, were put to good use for the goats to enjoy a larger space. Working alongside one’s peers pulling weeds, moving blanket or building a goat pen creates a beautiful opportunity to encourage and understand their unique humanity. In a way, the farm became a safe place for one to express him or herself. While not much time was spent, every hour, conversation and bead of sweat was nothing to take for granted as the farm is truly all about the love. This place, so intertwined with who we are and who we will become, has a way of leaving its remarkable impression on our lives.
Content and Photograph by Alex Rager
What an incredible setting, Uganda is a country seemingly and sporadically placed within a once-forest. A goat cries in the distance beyond the gate. A solemn reminder that I ate goat upon my arrival here. Arrival. Ramshackle homes and businesses line unpaved roads. Making our way to the compound I stare out the window into a sea of the unfamiliar. Buildings painted with advertisements of Higgies Diapers where Huggies are not sold, roaming animals and the western image of impoverished living were all things left unspoken in meetings and left for us to ponder. What an extraordinary experience it was to arrive. Exhaustion’s grip only tightened as I drew closer. With every hour the need to stay awake and alert while traversing three counties, among strangers and through the unfamiliar proved harder. The incredible thing is that arriving is the easy part. No one tells you that it is going to take a lot of time and careful planning. No one holds your hand. Nothing is for certain. No one tells you that a few days before departure the anticipation builds. Sleep became sporadic, a constant need to work out and eat well fell over me as I attempted to bring a sense of normalcy to my life. In the whirlwind that was a ‘year in the making of an epic journey’ I was also a full time student in college, working part time, president of a service organization and maintaining sorority commitments all with an attempt to work out and maintain a social life. The last two were infrequent at best. In all this chaos I never stopped to think or clearly respond to those on the outside asking all the right questions. The only thing that kept me from the gravity of what I was about to experience for a month was simply that – gravity. In the clouds physically and mentally the only thing I knew to be certain was that I had done it. Never let someone make you feel like you cannot accomplish something because it is too big for them to conceive. Try. Give it your all and roll with the punches while pursuing your dreams. They absolutely can come true.
Content and photograph by Alex Rager