Saturday, June 07, 2008

The Final Post

It’s been a long 2 years. They days went slow but the weeks flew by. I’m home now, sitting at my parent’s kitchen table eating a grilled cheese sandwich while typing this. It’s certainly good to be home.

It’s not easy to summarize my last 2 years in Uganda serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer while working with Compassion International. I’ve seen and experienced so much in that time. Most importantly, my world view has changed. I no longer doubt that people can live on less than $1 a day because I’ve seen it. I’ve seen things that tourists would never see. It’s been an education process on people and societies and human life. My values have changed especially in regards to how my money should be spent. Now I look at $60 for an item and think, “That’s enough to sponsor a Compassion Child for 2 months. Is a new sweater really worth that?”

My favorite moments are many. I enjoyed immensely interacting with the Compassion children who were so accepting, full of energy and yet curious about me. I made so many new friends. The other Peace Corps Volunteers there are some of the most amazing people you’d ever meet. They’ve sacrificed so much to be there serving the people of Uganda. I’ve also met some of the most incredible Ugandans who challenged my way of thinking and impressed me with their goals, passions and their work ethic. I enjoyed teaching Life Skills to the secondary students who had so many interesting questions about HIV/AIDS and the difficulties that all teenagers face growing up and relating to each other. I was also proud of the 2 Purdue teams that came and did work around the community. They brought running shoes for my running clubs and they also brought over 400 children’s books to start a library at Compassion. They came in the name of Love, to serve and work and to experience Uganda and they left a lasting impact and I was very proud to be a part of that.

My last days with the Compassion kids was especially difficult. These kids, who are the poorest of the poor, brought letters they had written to me telling me thanks and wishing me well and telling me how they’d miss me. A few brought gifts. A coffee mug. A small basket with a little teddy bear in it that said “I love you”. A few of them gave candy with their letters.

I’m not leaving the place high and dry, however. The Peace Corps placed 2 new volunteers there to replace me. It’s a married couple and they seem to have just the right attitude necessary to survive. They’ve come with open minds and the desire to serve and they’re looking forward to a less hectic more easy going life where there are no phone, light or gas bills.

Let me just say, there’s no country in the world like the US, but maybe not for the reasons that you’d initially think. It’s not about wealth or prosperity. The US is an amazing country because we have laws that make sense and protect people’s rights. We have a democratic system in which our government is made up “…of the people, by the people and for the people”, and “we the people” have a say in who is running our country and there’s no thought to ballot rigging or the reining president staying in power by force. We drink safe drinking water and have reliable electricity in our homes. In Africa, diarrhea kills more babies than any other sickness. We don’t have to worry about that. We have schools in which there aren’t 60 pupils to 1 teacher. And possibly most important, we live in a land of opportunity. If you don’t like the career you are in then you have the option of changing it. There are jobs and education opportunities available. Imagine living in a country where there were no jobs and no chance at education past 7th grade if you didn’t have the funds. We have opportunity and thus we have hope.

On June 11th I’ll ceremoniously dip my rear bicycle wheel in the Atlantic Ocean as I begin my bicycle ride across the US which is being done to raise money and support for a simple building (community center) for the Compassion kids to meet in. We have raised over $30,000 for the trip already. The walls of the building are up and the materials have been purchased for the roofing materials. Once we get a roof up it’ll start to serve as a functioning building. What’s left are floors, windows and doors. (Follow the blog at

The big question I’m asked is: Would you do it again? Without a doubt, if I had it to do all over again then I would. Without hesitation. Whether or not I will again, God only knows.

Close to the End

Tuesday May 20, 2008

Purdue Recap

The Purdue team is back on US soil now. They spent a total of 14 days in Uganda. They lived with host families, ate local food and built 4 mud structures in their time here. They also helped out with our Center Days when the Compassion children came in. The kids loved having them. They were teaching from Rick Warren’s 40 Days of Purpose. They also performed 2 dramas and gave short testimonies at 2 churches. Each of them brought something different to the table. Immanuel brought his video camera and 16 video tapes, so his camera was always rolling. Calin brought her big-dog-daddy camera and took a mega-ton of pictures. The rest brought their great work ethics and their willingness to serve, even at the extent of building mud structures (kitchens and goat shelters) for the poorest of the poor.

One highlight was our trip to Rwanda. We spent the morning at the Rwanda Genocide and then had lunch at the Des Mille Collines (Hotel Rwanda). To relive the genocide where 800,000 people died in a span of 100 days was both moving and exhausting. People of the same country, the same religion, the same language, the same skin color, killing each other as the world looked the other way. Some wore shirts that read, “Never Again”. I hope so, but I have to wonder.

The Purdue group also brought over 400 childrens books with them to start a library for the Compassion kids. Classic books. Books that I used to have. Dr Seuss, Berenstein Bears, Where The Wild Things Are, Clifford, Little Bear, Zoobooks, etc. The kids loved them to say the least. They really didn’t know what to think. They’d never seen books like these before. There are no libraries or kids books here apart for the few that Compassion has and the kids only get to glimpse at them occasionally, but we set up a library where the kids could take 1 book home with them and when that book’s returned then they can get another book.

I was really proud of what Purdue did in their 2 weeks here. I could see change in them from when they first arrived and looked like tourists with their cameras flying to seeing them wrestling and playing with the Compassion Kids after spending time with them. Two weeks may seem short, but the’ve seen more of Uganda and more of Africa than I’d imagine most Americans have seen, and seeing is believing. Seeing it moves one to changing it.

Good Bye

The Purdue group said goodbye to my village but they weren’t the only ones. I also bid farewell to my little home of the past 2 years. Yup, my time is up here. We had a little dinner where some gifts were given and some speeches were made. My Compassion kids cried and hugged me the day before when they left my last center day.

I guess now’s the time when I’m supposed to summarize what I’ve done in the past 2 years. Now’s the time to reflect on how I’ve changed this place and how it’s changed me. Really, right now the only thing I can think about is leaving. Moving on. I’m not really excited and I’m not really sad, I’m somewhere in between. The fact is that I’m ready to get home, to get on with my life and to be more in control, like being able to drive and being able to make decisions about where to go and what to do with my free time, rather than being stuck in a little village. I’m sad to leave the friends I’ve made there but I’m super excited to get back with my friends and fam back home. Of course I’ll always have a special place for Uganda and I’d like to come back and visit someday and I probably will, but for now my focus is on the horizon.

Some of what I’ve accomplished in my 2 years of PC service:

- Created a database of the Compassion children’s information.

- Tutored the Compassion staff on Word, Excel, internet and email.

- Taught English, math, science, social studies to students ages 8-16.

- Taught health and physical education to students ages 8-16.

- Raised $30,000 for a community center.

- Raised $5,000 through Rotary for income generating activities (IGAs)

- Organized a running club with 100 boys and girls participating and 45 receiving running shoes.

- Conducted over 100 home visits and visited over 120 children to monitor their health and home sanitation.

- Began a library with over 400 children’s books for Compassion.

- Organized and supervising 30 college students to come to Uganda, live with host families and build 7 mud structures for the Compassion families.

- Taught Life Skills such as HIV/AIDS education, reproductive health, peer pressure, goal setting, etc., to 300 students at 6 secondary schools.

- Organized an Ultimate Frisbee tournament for 6 secondary schools which included an HIV/AIDS theme and drama presentation.

Some more of what I’ve accomplished that wouldn’t be considered resume material

- Helped 2 students with their school fees on my PC salary.

- Found school fees for another student.

- Helped to fund to roof someone’s house.

- Found funds to buy land and build a home for a needy family

- Ran 3 marathons (2 in Africa, 1 in Boston)

- Didn’t completely loose my sanity

- Didn’t beat anyone up for calling me “Muzungu”

- Employed a neighbor to wash my clothes which provided for her well being

- Submitted newspaper articles to my local paper to inform my hometown about the PC, Uganda and Compassion

- Wrote a weekly blog for the same reasons

- When I went home last year I spoke to the Rotary Club, Lions Club, Optimist Club, Jr Highs, High Schools, Elementary Schools, and churches in an effort to inform Americans about PC, Uganda and Compassion.

Saturday May 23


I’m officially a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. My card has been punched and voided signifying that I’ve completed my service. The whole process seemed like a birth and death. When we’re born there’s celebration and excitement and when we die we often go out with a whimper. It was something like that. I don’t think I’ll really feel like I’m done until I’m on the plane at the airport facing down the runway ready for takeoff. Then I’ll know that it’s not a dream and that I’m really leaving.

Today I’m leaving for Israel for a week before going back to the US. On June 11th I’ll begin my bike trip across the country to raise money for the Compassion building project which is to be a community center to serve my village. The bike trip will cross 10 states and take approx 50 days. I’ll be riding with another guy who contacted me several months ago asking if he could come along. I’m looking forward to the bike trip the most. I’ve never been out west and it just seems like an epic adventure to top all others. At which point this blog will stop and that one will begin.

There will be one more blog entry briefly talking about my re-adjustment and that will close the chapter on this portion of my life as a PCV. I want sincerely thank everyone who sent me emails, cards, and packages over the 2 years. Your friendship and thoughtfulness brightened my days and broadened my waistline. Each package and letter were treasured, priceless possessions. You can’t imagine, really, how wonderful it was to get a little ‘lovin’ from home.

So, one more blog entry and that’ll be it. Stay tuned…