Recently, I went to Uganda to meet Irene, a girl who I had been keeping in touch with over the years. Her family lives in a rural area, a four to five hour drive from Entebbe.
I flew into Entebbe but had to get to Kampala to meet the people who would be driving me to see Irene and her family. Joe and his friend drove me to Kampala. On the way to Kampala, our car was pulled over by the police. (The police in Uganda carry their rifles strapped over their shoulders which felt slightly intimidating to me.) The police were looking for a way to fine us, perhaps for a missing light on the car or for overdue registration. The driver and Joe left the car and spoke to the police in a small brick holding area as I waited in the car. Being on a semi-deserted side road, I had no idea what was going on. It seemed like an hour had passed by as I waited, but I'm sure it was probably more like 20 minutes. I am still not exactly sure what happened and why we were pulled over, but I was relieved we were let go.
After driving hours from Kampala, we reached the bottom of a mountain without paved roads. We had to drive for another hour to reach Irene’s home. As we drove up the bumpy mountain road, I watched children and adults walk up and down the hillside to collect drinking water. Once they collected the water, they had to carry their heavy jugs all the way back home. I wondered how the children could find time to walk miles up and down mountainous roads to get to school when they were so busy collecting water.
I do not suggest traveling to Uganda right now as it is politically unstable and the people are recovering from a long and harsh drought. People are starving and dying from lack of food. Those in power are receiving most of the aid. I am concerned for people like Irene and her neighbors who are outside the city and so far from receiving assistance. There are children in these rural areas trying to survive on their own without having parents. Many of these children have lost their parents to AIDS.
There is so much help and assistance that is needed. Please open your heart to the rest of the world. Whether it is Uganda or another part of the world, please remember that we are all part of one big human family.
The smiles on the faces of Ugandan children are heartwarming. Their smiles are reminders of how there is hope and love in circumstances beyond our imagination…Here is a video of something we share universally as humans…a love of sports! Notice the Ugandan boy handling the soccer ball with bare feet!!
I met Joe through serendipitous circumstances. I mentioned my plans to travel to Uganda to a teacher I really liked. She told me about her friend, Joe, who lived in Uganda who was an amazing young gentleman. He had once been a sponsored child and now was trying to give back by helping other young people in Uganda find ways to financially sustain themselves. When I contacted Joe, he happened to be working in the city closest to the rural village where I was traveling to see Irene. He told me he would meet me at the airport in Entebbe and drive me to Kampala. What a relief! In my emails back and forth to Joe I was able to hear the passion he had for the people of Uganda.
Joseph was sponsored by a non-profit organization to help children from poor families in Uganda to receive a quality education. Now in his early twenties and no longer a sponsored child, Joseph desire is to give back to his community. He was elected chairperson of the youth in Masindi town parish. His intention is to help the youth of Uganda build a sustainable financial future for themselves and their community. Joseph has started beehive projects to produce quality honey in Uganda. He also has the dream of starting a technical service company to help get jobs for young technicians and to build industrial skills for vocation students in Uganda.
This past summer, I was at Coney Island with my kids. After riding various roller coasters, my kids spent their remaining time playing skee ball, a game where you roll a ball up a ramp and into open holes on a board to earn points. There was an older teenager with a physical disability playing next to them. He would throw the round wooden ball down the ramp and it would hit the gate in front of the board and come rolling back to him. Sometimes the ball would bounce down the ramp and land in the next lane. If he was lucky, he would get it past the gate and into the gutter. My kids and their cousins played beside him. Having played this game before, they were able to roll their ball smoothly down the ramp and into the holes earning 1,000, 2,000, 4,000, 5,000 or even at times 10,000 points. As their tickets came out of the machine, I watched the young man struggling with the wooden balls but not giving up. Seeing my kids get the ball into the holes made him want to try again. He continued to try and I gently told him about rolling the ball easily up the ramp, not wanting to impose too much but also wanting him to get a little assistance. He continued to roll his balls clumsily up the ramp. Often it went into the gutter but at times he made it into the 1,000 or 2,000 point hole. “Hurray!” I cheered as he rolled his ball up that ramp, earning some points. He didn’t get any tickets but this didn’t stop him. He continued swiping his game credit card in the skee ball machine and another set of balls would roll down for him to play again. Meanwhile, my kids and their cousins picked out their small stuffed prizes and I kept thinking about that young man. He hadn’t earned any tickets yet but continued to try even as we were leaving. As we walked away my daughter whispered quietly to me, “Did you see? That guy is improving.” I smiled at her recognition of his improvement and felt happy that she could notice the positive that occurred as he continued to try. I found that young man to be an inspiration. He pulled my heartstrings and I was rooting for him. I thought of him as we walked away and sent a blessing of love and light to be with him on his journey.
As I sit here thinking about how to describe my work as a therapist, I thought of this inspiring young gentleman. We as humans, all have strengths and weaknesses. Some we were born with, some we have developed along the way. There is no shame in having weaknesses. This young man reminded me of that. It doesn’t stop us from playing the “game.” We can each continue playing the game and keep trying to get better or decide to give up. This young man kept playing. His desire to not give up became the best part of my day. It is difficult to describe what I do as a psychotherapist because each individual is so different. I try to see beyond a person’s current situation and root them on to keep playing the game, rooting for them and giving them gentle assistance along the way. I know on some level they are gaining something of value from their own personal challenges. I am inspired by their courage, tenacity, and beauty of their soul. On some level, I know that whatever they are going through is causing them to learn and grow. As a psychotherapist, I try to uncover with my client what the learning might be and together discover what would be of most assistance for their current life circumstance.