Day 11 – Tali

It has now been officially 11 days in Gulu, 12 days in Uganda and 13 days in all as a group. We have been together for more than 312 hours, yes that is a lot. There has most definitely been drama in a room with 4 hormonal girls. But overall, the definition of together has changed on this trip.

The children of Uganda are the most loving people I have ever met. They love being around us and we love being around them as well.  May it be playing seven stones or siting in on Biology class, being together with the students has taught me how to fully be present while being with my new friends.

Today was the last full day in Gulu. At first the change wasn’t hitting me, but as the days went on and we said more of our goodbyes the truth about together hit me. This group will never be together again in the same way again. We will never experience the exact same thing again.

Today was more of a restful uneventful day full of reflection and packing. We did our last explorations by travelling to Will’s house, going back to town, and visiting the office for the last time. What I will miss most about Uganda is 1) the mangos of course, but truly the people. The way that when you are with them, nothing else matters. They are all present where they are, willing to learn and grown and help one another. They truly care about you and want to see you succeed in life.

I will miss the waves from the kids. The way they stop on the street and wave and greet with a smile. The way that even at that age, they learn to appreciate the simplicity of life and the enjoyment of company.

Everyone is telling us to lean on each other when we get home. To depend on the group we have travelled with if we are going through a rough time. We have been together for so long and bonded over a different experience that we have never been apart of.  Being together and relying on each other means trusting and loving. Being present in the moment and really living life to the fullest, like the Ugandans. Be there for each other and allow the other to trust the other one.

Today was a transition day. We are preparing for our return. It is important to me now that I remember to live in the moment. Live in the present. Fully be where I am when with someone else as to benefit both recipients.

Even with all of the goodbyes today was a cheerful last day. The energy was high and we were all enjoying our last full day in Gulu. Yes it was sad, but if we learned anything, the truth about together is to enjoy the present and embrace every moment as one. I am thankful for our journey and thankful for the lessons the Acholi have taught us.  I am thankful for learning the truth about together.

Day 10 – Brady

“Uganda is a special place, for special people, with special hearts”

When Will said this and I used it as a theme for my blog yesterday, I didn’t realize how much of a role this would play today as well. Yesterday was great and I enjoyed seeing another side of Uganda, but it was nothing compared to today.

Today was very different from the rest of the trip. It started at 9 am. The mentors showed up one by one to pick up their respective students. Sean and I were picked up by Leonard. Honestly, going into it, I was worried. I really didn’t know Leo well and I didn’t know what to expect. It didn’t help that even Will said he didn’t know anything about Leo’s house or what we would be doing. The first thing we did was meet his family. His wife was very nice and a very good cook. His four year old daughter was incredibly cute and was a huge hit when the other groups were around. Next, we visited St. Mary’s hospital. It is the biggest hospital outside of Kampala. Leo’s nephew had just been released from it after three months. Leo showed Sean and I around the hospital a bit. The first thing I noticed was the amount of people lining the halls. There had to be at least one hundred people in the hallway and courtyard we walked through. They were all waiting for loved ones or family and friends to be released. Others were waiting to be admitted. It was really sad to see so many people but it also made me glad to see that the sick people in the hospital had someone to care for them when they were released.

After a short walk around, we went inside the children’s ward. One of the most heartbreaking sounds I have ever heard was the crying coming from that ward. I immediately regretted going in at first. It made me very sad to walk through and see all those kids and know that I couldn’t do anything about it. The only thing that got me through it was knowing that this was their best shot at getting better. They were getting the best medical treatment available to them. When we left, we passed a playground. It was amazing to me to see how happy those kids on the playground were. They had every reason to be in a horrible mood and pout. Instead, there were out and making the best of a bad situation.

After leaving the hospital, we went to his grandmother-in-law’s house. We did some random things like cutting vegetables and helping prepare some food. It all went pretty well until I sliced my finger. That put an end to my perspective third-world-chef career. As fun as the morning was, the afternoon blew it away.

After lunch, we met up with Innocent, his group (Brooke, Beth, and Abby), and two of Innocent’s friends. There were both amazing and hilarious and kept me laughing the whole afternoon. We all went fishing. Except is wasn’t like you would imagine. It was less catching fish, more getting laughed at by local 8 year olds as we stabbed the water with a hook tied to a tree branch up to the knee in muddy water. Although it didn’t go to well, it was still loads of fun. It always helps to be with a hilarious group like Innocent, Pepito, and Ronald. They had all met through Invisible Children while touring the US.

After fishing, we went to Innocents house for some food. From one delicious meal to the next, we headed to Leo’s house for another home cooked meal. Between the three home cooked meals we had, it was the best day of eating we had so far.

The crazy thing to think about is that we are going to be back in the US in just a few days. And when we are back home, most likely sleeping for a few days, these are the kind of afternoons we will be dreaming about. In my opinion, it didn’t get any better than that. We were with a great group of people, surrounded by friends, and just enjoying a beautiful day. There are very few days in my life that I can point to and say, “how could this get better?” Today was one of those days. Personally, I couldn’t think of a better way to close out an amazing trip. I already know that a month from now, when I am missing this place, I will be looking at the pictures we took of this day and just wishing we could all be back in that one moment, for just a little longer.

I have always been the type of person to go big with a plan. I always shoot for the best and try to do the most physically possible. My problem has always been executing and finding the motivation to follow through on my plans. I feel like this trip is going to be that motivation for me. I have all these huge plans for not only Unified for Uganda but for what I want to do. I feel like after this, my whole outlook on these things will change. The next time I walk into a school and try to start a chapter, it wont be to help so-and-so who lives over in Uganda and needs help. It will be to save the life of a friend. These kids really have become a part of me. I couldn’t image giving anything less than 110% every chance I get. From the moment I return, I will know that everything from that point on is to save the life of someone close to me. Back in December, Connie said that the kid getting on the plane would be the same kid getting off. I never really pictured what that would look like. Now, not only have I accepted it, but I have looked forward to it. I have no doubt that this will not only make me a better person, but also a better student, friend, son, sibling, and U4U representative.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

- Brady

Day 9 – Brady

“Uganda is a special place, for special people, with special hearts” – Will Tardio, about 3 seconds ago.

I thought this fit in perfectly to our day/week. Everyone we met was special and everything we experienced was a key piece in this whole trip. There is no better way to symbolize just how special this place is than with the children we have met and spent time with.

Unfortunately, today was our last day with the children.

It still hasn’t quite registered with me yet. After all the touristy things we did early this week, it was amazing to be able to hangout with kids for a change. It opened my eyes to so many things. I’m not sure if i have ever felt anything like I felt at the primary schools. When I sat at home before this trip, I had hoped that the kids would actually love us and have a good time when we visited. Being at the primary schools exceeded those expectations. The pure joy and happiness we saw when we walked into the compound was one of the greatest feeling in the world. Every second we spent with those primary school kids was another amazing second that I didn’t want to end. If i could spend a full two weeks just hanging out there, I would have. But we had much more to do on this trip.

Today we spent most of the day at secondary schools. Sean, Tim, and I went to Layibi College. Our experience at the first second school we visited did not go well. It was awkward and we never actually got to talk to the kids and they kind of just threw up into the situation. Going in, there was no place to go but up. Of all the schools we visited, this might have been the biggest/nicest. Although it was very old and slightly out of date, I could tell that it had been the best of the best at one time and was on its way to reaching that potential. The first thing I noticed coming in was the long driveway up to the school gates with soccer field on either side. They had about four soccer fields and at least one basketball court that i could see (for those of you keeping count at home, that’s 2 courts total). Once we got inside the gates, the first thing that hit me was the amount of construction going on. I would late find out that Invisible Children was having the whole school renovated. I could tell that at some point it had been one of the most state of the art schools. Everywhere we looked there was a variety of colors and gardens and statues.

After sitting around for about 30 min, we met the kids we would be shadowing, The student I shadowed was Lubangakene Joel. He is in his second year of secondary school. He had broken his leg 6 weeks ago. He was playing with friends and jumped off his bunk bed and landed wrong on his leg. He was incredibly shy but also very nice. He didn’t talk much unless I engaged the conversation. When we did get to talking, he was very interesting to listen to. He loves biology and chemistry and wants to be a doctor when he grows up. He is very focused on his school work and really wants to succeed. One of the other students we talked to, Stewart, who is in S4 (senior year), says he wants to move on to an advanced school next year. He says he doesn’t get enough time to study and work on his homework at this school.

These kind of stories are what motivate us to work harder to raise sponsorship money. The best part about talking to the secondary kids is that they are more focused on their school work. They really appreciate the opportunity they are given. It really puts everything in perspective. Spending the day with Joel was a great way to close out our school visits.

After lunch we went shopping. It was one of those times that we would remember just because we got to hangout as a group, which doesn’t happen much during the day. We walked around the town a while in between stores. One of the advantages to walking everywhere is being able to see the town and experience it. You defiantly notice a lot more when you take a 20 min walk as opposed to a 5 min drive.

I am in charge of blogging and the videos again tomorrow. We will be visiting the mentors house and spending the night with them, so I’m sure it will be a very interesting story. Thanks for reading,

- Brady