Journey through East Africa is equals parts amazing and sobering

Published 12:33 pm Saturday, May 2, 2009

I am a month in to my East African adventure/studies with seven college-aged ladies and would like to share some of the experiences that we’ve been having.

We arrived in Uganda and got our trip started off with an incredible rafting adventure on the headwaters of the ferocious Nile River. This was by far the most intense rafting experience I’ve ever had. We capsized four times, which ensured some great group bonding.

After getting our senses together, we moved on to our first project and worked with Soft Power Education. For one week, we lived on the floor of a classroom and helped construct the foundation of a new classroom wing and played with the kids in the afternoons.

I woke up on the first morning of the project with horrible aches and all of the great symptoms from “Third World” living with fear of malaria. Fortunately, my test was negative, and I was back on the project in two days.

Our next week we moved east toward the Kenyan border and worked on a Fair Trade coffee co-op called Mirembe Kawomera, which means Delicious Peace in Lugandan. The story of this co-op was told on this page a few months back.

From there, we moved across Uganda and ended up in the town of Fort Portal. There, we were working at an AIDS rescue home for the most impoverished children in the jungles of Western Uganda. The organization we worked with is called YES, which stands for “Youth Encouragement Services,” and it provides school fees for more than 300 families. Some of these families have up to 23 adopted children living in small mud huts with no running water because their parents have died in the AIDS epidemic.

The patients we were working and playing with are all HIV-positive, and luckily receive the Anti Retro Viral medicine to combat the disease. However, most of the people in these villages do not have such luck and the problem is still horrific to witness.

Before crossing into Rwanda to study the genocide, I was able to track the chimpanzees in Kibale National Park, which is said to have the highest concentrations of primates in the world. It was quite an adrenaline rush bushwhacking through the jungle knowing that there were green and black mambas, vipers, cobras, pythons and all sorts of “African madness” I could come across. I made it through unscathed and had the opportunity to follow some “our closest relatives” through the dense jungles.

I had my request to cross into Tanzania through Rwanda instead of backtracking through Uganda approved by the office, so we spent two days in the capital of Kigali studying the genocide between the Hutus and Tutsis where more than a million Tutsis were massacred in the spring of 1994. Since then, the Tutsis have regained some power with Paul Kagame as a Tutsi president.

Fighting has continued in the jungles of the Congo since 1996 and has left more than 4 million people dead from malaria and war. This is the highest number of people killed since World War II in any conflict on the globe.

Needless to say, it was quite intense and sobering to walk through the streets of the capital, wondering if the person beside me slaughtered women and children or if their families were victims of the genocide. History is often forgotten, maybe it’s turned into books that few read, but in Rwanda, their history is still a part of everyday walks of life and could be felt in the present without a doubt.

Now, we are finally in Tanzania and are studying Kiswahili in the town of Mwanza. We are also helping build a hospital with an organization called “International Health Partners” in the mornings, and everyone is getting super excited to go on our safari with the Massai tribe through the Ngorogoro crater. This will be a childhood dream come true for all of us because this crater is supposed to have the highest concentration of wildlife in the world.

So far this journey through East Africa has been amazing and emotionally challenging for myself and all of the students, but more than rewarding.