25 Jun Uganda Through Local Eyes
Excitement, disbelief, and wonder radiated on the faces of the children and parents of the Pearl of Hope School in Lera Obaro in Gulu, Uganda, on the afternoon of May 19. It was the first day of the school year, and the parents were gathered around the classroom to hear the expectations for the upcoming year; unbeknownst to them, they were in for a real surprise!
As Heather Parisi, founder of the school, announced to the parents that The Wandering Samaritan was giving their children the opportunity to experience the beauty of a trip to Murchison Falls, to observe animals in the wild and see the Nile River up close, they were absolutely floored. Their demeanor changed drastically from the moment they entered the school; they laughed and shrieked upon hearing the amazing news. Fifteen parents who have continuously volunteered their time to the school were invited along to chaperone and enjoy the experience.
The children and parents had absolutely no idea what was in store for them! They were finally going to see up close the animals and the great river they had been reading about and visualizing in their minds.
Boarding the bus in Gulu at 6am felt surreal. We began our journey while it was still dark outside, excitement filling out the stillness of the morning. When we reached the school we saw the children in their school uniforms waiting anxiously to begin their journey. Their parents were dressed in their finest Sunday church wear of silk garments and adornments. I, in my comfortable sportswear, understood then the impact and importance of this trip for each of them.
One by one and two by two the children and adults boarded the bus, everyone anxious to get a seat and begin the journey. The bus ride was quiet as we drove, everyone taking in the scenery around them. It wasn’t long before they began to fill the bus with the beautiful sound of the songs they know and love.
As we entered Murchison Falls National Park, huge elephants and giraffes ran in front of us, so close that they were in reaching distance of the bus. It was a sight that neither I nor the children or parents had ever seen. They shrieked with excitement and amazement, and it was a wonderful experience for me to witness their reactions.
Upon reaching our destination, we prepared for the boat ride; for almost everyone from Pearl of Hope, it was the first time on a boat. Fear was seen on some of their faces, but we reassured them that all would be well. The tour guide spoke in their native language and taught them about their culture, telling funny stories to make the education experience a fun and enjoyable one. The students and parents also received disposable cameras for their trip to take pictures so that we would be able to experience the trip through their eyes. We’ll make a collage for the school with those!
As the boat trip continued, the crowd watched in amazement hoping to capture the instantaneous sight of the hippos or some other animal uncommon to them. When we reached Murchison Falls, they were all mesmerized by the force and impact of the Nile. When the guide pointed out some exotic animals, everyone’s attention shifted. It is those sounds of laughter and amazement, and their reactions to seeing the uncommon animals for the very first time, that I will cherish most – they are feelings and emotions that are so natural and raw in their element that they touch you to the core.
It was late in the afternoon when we left the Falls, and we had made arrangements to treat our guests to a late lunch at the Heritage, an eco friendly resort by the Nile. The children were taken to a separate outdoor room and given their meals. Many of them, having been given French fries for the first time, were hesitant to try them. It took some convincing, from us and the teachers, to get them to overcome their hesitation, but once they started they couldn’t stop!
In another room, the women sat around a long, wide table, while the men occupied a smaller table off to the side. There was utter silence in the room – perhaps from all the excitement of the day, or perhaps from sheer feelings of shyness and not knowing how to act in this new environment. It was certainly a trip/experience of firsts! The meals arrived, and we all enjoyed our food while taking in the beauty of the surroundings.
Once we completed our meals, there was a ceremonial tree planting event to leave a lasting memory and impact both on the land but also on the minds of the student.
By this time, we were exhausted! But the bus ride back was filled with laughter and excitement. As they were speaking in their native language, we asked Flavia, the head teacher, to translate for us – she said the students were sharing their feelings with each other and expressing their excitement over the day.
It was truly a rewarding feeling to learn of their appreciation and excitement. The smiles on their faces never wavered during the bus journey home. This trip will be an experience they will carry with them forever; just as the stories that are passed down from generation to generation, so too will this journey be shared.
This trip could not have happened without The Wandering Samaritan – from the bus journey to the boat ride to the meal and its ambiance, it will be an experience that a group of privileged adults and children were blessed to be chosen to be part of. It will give them hope and teach them that with hard work, they can reach beyond their world and see the larger world around them.
By the end of the trip, I could see and sense a new life, new hopes, and new dreams. Not only did the dreams of the people of Gulu come true, but a vision of mine came true as well. A stone has been turned, and I will forever be changed after this experience. It has perhaps left a bigger and more lasting impact on me than even the students and parents, and it highlights the impact that spontaneous experiences can have on all of us.
That is the mission at the core of The Wandering Samaritan, and I thank you again for giving these children and their parents the experience of a lifetime and for allowing me to be a part of their journey. -Kat