June 14th: African Storms & Candlelight Dinners

7:09 AM

June 14th 

Today was a day of exploring programs. We walked through town and headed to the Invisible Children Gulu office. We were immediately greeted at the gate by Quinto and Komakech Lawrence, two former Kony 2012 Ugandan Roadies. Seeing familiar faces was both comforting and exciting. Bethany, an IC employee, gave us a tour of the office and explained to us both the progress and future progression of the programs on the ground in Uganda. In Gulu, Invisible Children has 11 partner schools, programs for  literacy, scholarships, mentorships, and savings and loans associations. From the time I was 17, I researched the programs, fundraised for Lacor Secondary School and spoke on these programs all across the road. To finally see the IC Gulu office where they all came together really made my experience with Invisible Children come full circle. There are many reasons why I love Invisible Children and those reasons only become more fortified as I engage with their beneficiaries and see their sustainable impact with my own eyes. And for my teammates, if you are reading this, there is a picture of our team in the entrance of the Gulu office, if only you were here to experience it with me.

I am satisfied with my decision not to make an itinerary because everywhere we go, our itinerary is unveiled to us through locals advice and generous friends wanting to host us. We ran into Stella, a Ugandan mentor for Kony 2012. Her spirit is one of the sweetest that I have encountered. I got to know her briefly while at the San Diego office and then a little more when she came and stayed at my house in Tennessee on her way to DC last semester. Now she has invited us to attend church with her and meet her children. Full circle is a word I’ve been tending to use a lot lately but for good reason. Things start to make sense here.

What doesn’t make sense, however, is how out of shape I am. We ended up having a 45 minute walk from the Invisible Children office to the Mend office and we all were utterly exhausted. We reached the Mend office only to find that the seamstresses were at lunch. We postponed our visit to Mend and retreated to Sankofa for smoothies and a snack. We are starting to recognize people at Sankofa and the waiters definitely recognize us. 

The final organization that we toured today was Restore Leadership Academy, a boarding school by Restore International. After a boda ride down dusty roads, dodging cows with horns, and more dirt spray tans, we arrived on the main street for the Academy. As we entered, we passed a car that was leaving. We looked back to see that it had turned around. It ended up being John, another Roadie who left the road early to accept a job at Restore. I am always amazed that of all the people in the world and the paths that they are on, that our stories collide with the right people at the right time. John and another employee, Hoke, showed us around. Restore Academy currently has about 300 students. They have changed locations to a large plot of land and are in the process of building more classrooms, dormitories and a guest house. I have written blog posts before about a book called Love Does by Bob Goff. The book continues to challenge me to better my love. Restore is Bob Goff’s organization, and I could see what love was doing all over the campus. I am telling you that I have never seen more potential in unfinished buildings than I saw today. At the beginning of this journey, I was not sure what Uganda was going to mean to me or exactly what the purpose of my trip was supposed to be. After checking out programs such as Restore and IC, I am beginning to realize that purpose. Gulu is full of people giving their skills, to create innovative avenues of change. Don’t let cynicism lead you astray, they are worth getting involved in.

While at Restore, I experienced my first african storm, and just like the bats and the boda rides, I felt that magic that you can only experience in Africa. As we were finishing up our tour, the lightning struck and the rain started to pour. John offered us a ride back in his car so that we didn’t have to brave a drenched boda ride. The ride back with John was something that I had experienced before, when I was seven years old on the Indiana Jones ride in Disneyland. The dust had turned into deep swimming holes of mud. I was so entranced that I am still unsure how he was able to navigate around the orange water continually splashing his windshield. At one point in time, I’m fairly positive that the car was floating down the road. 

For dinner, we went back to Sankofa, three times in one day, I’m almost embarrassed. Anna accidentally ate meat for the first time in three years and the power went out, so it was an eventful night to say the least. Only in Uganda is it necessary to take headlamps with you to dinner. Anna recovered and eventually got her bean burger, and the waiters brought around lanterns so we could ditch the headlamps. We ended up running into our new friend from Restore at the cafe resulting in good conversation and we ended the night back to the apartment watching Heavyweights on Drew’s laptop. It is good to know that Ben Stiller is appreciated internationally. Overall, today was a dream. Tomorrow we are heading to True Vine Children’s Home, a small orphanage that Drew is involved in. Drew said the children are skilled jump ropers, but I think I can give them a run for their money, I’ll be keeping you updated. Until then, thank you for your continued support and prayers, or should I say apwoyo matek (acholi for thank you very much). 

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