Stanford women’s gymnast Taylor Rice (rising sophomore) took a trip to Uganda this summer to visit her younger brothers’ family and friends. What she found during the trip was an experience filled with poverty, joy and hope.
A little under three years ago my dad went to Uganda for a couple of weeks to volunteer at an orphanage. It was a seemingly insignificant trip – my dad had simply never been to Africa and wanted to experience something new while helping others in need. Little did I know that ten months later he would go back to Uganda and return with two young boys by his side.
These two boys have changed my life, as well as my family’s, in more ways than we could have ever imagined, and just last month I had the opportunity to go to Uganda with them to experience their old lives first hand.
When most Americans imagine Africa, they picture mud huts, tribes, and savagery. What they don’t picture is an outdated, overpopulated city that was once operated by wealthy Europeans, yet is now left in pieces due to governmental instability and corruption. Traffic is dysfunctional and dangerous (I witnessed two accidents during my week and a half stay), beggars fill the streets attempting to sell anything they can, trash services don’t exist to pick up the vast amount of waste that people end up burning on the side of the road and small children line the streets in hopes of getting food or a few shillings.
In other words, poverty is rampant.
Most of my trip consisted of going to the slums to visit my brothers’ families and friends while talking to the multitude of kids who would cling to me any chance they could. I learned more from these kids than I did from any adult in Uganda – not just because their English is better, but because of their optimistic outlooks on life despite their bleak circumstances. They were overwhelmed with joy at receiving the simplest items – things that Americans would view as mere necessities. It made me feel bitter toward the world for having such an unequal distribution of opportunity, but it also distilled in me a newfound appreciation for the life I was born into.
One conversation that I will never forget was between me and an orphaned eleven-year-old named Deus. He was extremely bright despite his lack of proper schooling or parenting. He would take me by the hand and lead me around the slums all day for a lack of something better to do.
While we walked we would talk about his dreams for the future, his religion and my life in America. Deus had aspirations to become a doctor one day. I could sense the futility in his tone, but he expressed so much enthusiasm for how wonderful his life would be if he could one day afford the schooling to become a doctor. This made me curious about Deus’ devout faith despite his situation.
I will never forget his response: “Without hope, I would have nothing.”
My trip, though it was short-lived, was one of the biggest wake-up calls I have ever had. I only wish every American could have the same experience. It is so easy for us to get wrapped up in personal issues, yet, if we only looked outside ourselves for a moment, we could understand how trivial those issues are in the scheme of things.
Going to Uganda showed me that, and for that, I am eternally grateful.