16 Jun NYC + Poland + Uganda = The Wandering Samaritan
I was eager to arrive in Lera Obaro, Uganda, but we still had a long six hour drive ahead of us from Entebbe. It was a hot Saturday morning on May 17, 2014, as we made our way up to Gulu. The roads were bumpy and full of pot holes, with dirt and gravel wrecking havoc on the few cars and trucks driving the one main road connecting the north to the south – I wonder if a single car, let alone the bikers, made it the whole way without replacing a tire…we certainly did not!
On the sides of the roads were local women and children selling produce and poultry, bargaining heavily in attempts to make a living. On their faces you can see years of hard work, worries, and pain. Their piercing eyes hide stories you could never imagine, and all the while their posture so stoic and their bodies not flinching a bit to anyone around them. And the men? They were nowhere to be found. Through the miles and miles we drove that day, we saw countless men huddled around tables playing cards or making alcohol to get drunk. I have a deeper appreciation of and respect for the women of Uganda after seeing their dedication to cooking, cleaning, and raising their children. Handling all that work, some women are still subject to abuse and demoralization by their husbands as they are still deemed subordinate. It was shocking to see.
Working in corporate business in New York for a few years now, I’ve always felt the need to help – not the high level, big NGO kind of help, but one of a personal, emotional kind of assistance where a connection is bridged in an unspoken understanding of caring and loyalty and the willingness to open up and be vulnerable. Emigrating from Poland to a country of unknown faces, foreign languages, and no familiar home at the age of four was an unparalleled tough journey. My parents each worked two jobs throughout my childhood to make sure my brother and I received a proper education, and as I got older, I realized that anything can be achieved by being passionate, committed, having a strong drive, and being grounded – as my parents always said, “No matter where you go, always know where you came from.” They instilled in me the value of hard work, appreciation and respect of good people, and gratitude for the amazing opportunities that we are given.
Life in the bush, however, is quite different from the big city. With high levels of poverty and the practical demands of daily responsibilities in farming and child care roles, it doesn’t always feel like “anything is possible if you just work at it.” The children know everything they know from attending school and hearing the stories passed down locally through the generations. There is no internet. There are no iPhones. There is no Wikipedia nor Flickr. In that instant, I realized that life can be quite routine and isolated for these eager children and their parents. I felt both guilty and blessed that I had the opportunity to see the world, learn about and meet new people, and enjoy the varied experiences I’ve had. I was hopeful we would be able to provide the students and parents with a once-in-a-lifetime experience – an experience that could leave a lasting impression on them and trigger a sense of possibility in them that was larger than the political and life challenges they have faced for decades.
I was in Gulu to visit my friend Heather Parisi, founder of Fitness for Africa and the Pearl of Hope School, whom I met in October 2013. When the conversation to visit her came up, my heart skipped a beat; I was excited, hopeful, worried, and curious. Visiting a third-world country is an experience in itself, but visiting the 30 boys and girls at the school and being able to interact with them directly was a surreal experience – truly connecting with the local community, not just visiting.
Prior to traveling, I reached out to Jason Mandl, the founder of The Wandering Samaritan, to apply to their program. I knew I wanted to do something for the children and parents I would visit that they would never forget, but I just wasn’t sure what. On arrival, I understood the situation a bit more. Many of them had never left their village. There were no cars. The heat prevented long bicycle rides. Their world view was limited, which in many ways is quite beautiful, but I felt we could open some eyes to larger opportunities.
Heather and I began plotting a trip with my allocated funds from The Wandering Samaritan. A trip that we believed would allow the students and their parents to see a whole new world, provide a different outlook, and give them hope that there are kind people out there who want to invest in their future. In a world full of 7 billion people, 45 of them in the bush of Lera Obaro would share in the beautiful experience of a safari in Murchison Falls, seeing their own country, their backyard that people come to visit from all over the world, but they had never seen themselves. We’d coordinate it all through my visit, Fitness for Africa’s local relationships and infrastructure, and The Wandering Samaritan’s desire to spread good in the world. We weren’t sure exactly what would happen, but it was rooted in the purest of good, so we pressed on! Stay tuned for my next post, showing you how it all turned out!
Thank you to The Wandering Samaritan for making it possible! -Kat