On her first trip to Africa, Donna Striha was spellbound by the beauty of Uganda and its people. She says that as she left Uganda, the place that has occupied her heart and mind ever since that first trip, “somehow, as the plane left the tarmac and I looked down at the red dirt and the green hills, I knew, nothing would ever be the same for me”. Donna recently became a member of Outreach to Africa’s Board of Directors.
After my first trip to Uganda, I came home to people wanting to hear my stories. They were fascinated as I shared the tremendous impact this trip experience had on me. Nobody was surprised when I returned to Africa again and again. I had made a connection, and it grew into a passion. I have seen into the hearts of people in new ways, but I also have seen into the greed of my culture. It has been an interesting journey.
When I returned to Uganda after that first trip, I had a clearer understanding of what to anticipate. I think in some ways, because of that perspective, it was more difficult. Gone was the idealism, and in its place the harsh realities of how large the gap is between “us and them”: the rich and the poor. I felt a bit of guilt and wanted to turn that into something productive.
I have been disturbed by the pre-occupation with self and stuff that is the reality of the society I live in. I am troubled by the way we indulge our children, and then wonder why as young people they seem to feel entitled, and lack work ethic. BUT, as one of my African friends reminded me” you can only do what you can do”. When I am feeling frustrated I remember these wise words:
“Do what you need to be an advocate for the people bound by the shackles of poverty, who are trapped by a lack of opportunities. You can love the brokenhearted, and try to shout out for them so they will have liberty, BUT only God can make the world really hear the message”.
As challenging as this work can be, I have grown to love it. I have met so many brilliant people in Uganda. They may have gone to school without shoes, but they are brimming with intellect, grace, and focused determination. I am not sure if I had been faced with the trials and hardships so many of them have lived through I would have had the tenacity to dream and achieve what they have.
I love to see people take in an experience like this for the first time. I see myself in them. They are bursting with awe, as they soak it all in – the culture, the landscape, graciousness and beauty of the people, the red soil, and the greenest of green hills. They go home wiser and their worldview is changed.
I hope they will leave caring deeply about the people and the place they have just encountered. That it won’t be just a trip they took, but a marker in their lives, like it was for me. I hope they will see themselves and the world in a new and deeper way. I hope, I hope, and I hope…
International Development is considered by 80% of humanity as residual, it is what we do with our leftovers. This track of thinking is just not an acceptable point of view. If the advancement of human beings becomes a focus, as it should, then we will see things start to change. We are part of getting that to happen. It starts here, with us!
Canadian Lt Gen Romeo Dallaire says this: “The developed countries, the white countries perceive the sub Saharan Black African as the lowest priority of humanity. We have entered an era where we are worse than the colonial powers. I say this because unless there is something of value for us in Africa, we do not really want to go in and help”.
For me, it is a case of if I do not act, I am a part of the problem. Because of what I know, I must do something. So I keep my mind on what is at stake: Humanity, the humanity we all share, the humanity God created. I remind myself of that over and over when faced with the cynics and find myself juggling the many obstacles that are a part of this kind of work. A big part of getting mobilized for me was deciding who I wanted to do the work with, where I fit, and how I could serve.
My connection to Outreach to Africa has given me the opportunity to act. OTA cultivates hope in the lives of its volunteers, and delivers it to those who need it so desperately through its projects in Uganda. The work of OTA is not only touching lives every day in Africa, it also serves to inspire all of us and remind us of the remarkable beauty of hope.