GEF blog: Finding home in the people of PaderAugust 5, 2019 • Erin Reitz • 1 Comment
The Global Engagement Fellowship (GEF) supports UNC Chapel Hill students conducting international social-justice oriented summer projects. The following blog was written by GEF recipient Maggie Mae O’Daniel, a rising junior studying Pre-Nursing. This summer, she is working with the Northern Uganda Medical Mission (NUNEM) to collect information on the health of local villagers, with the aim of introducing more effective solutions and treatments.
As I prepared to travel to Pader, Uganda, this new and unknown place, I was quite nervous. My parents were very fearful because all they knew of Uganda was what they had heard on the news, which seemed to be nothing but negative. In an effort to calm them (and myself) down, I did a lot of research about the safety and culture of Uganda, and I created a PowerPoint presentation to convince them that I would be safe. I read countless articles and talked to friends who had visited the country before. I was even gifted a book about the culture of Uganda. After having done my research and convinced my parents, I felt a little less nervous and much more prepared. But all of the books, articles, and conversations in the world could not have prepared me for what I would experience in the next few months.
The pictures I saw and the descriptions I read do not even compare to the beauty and scenery here in Uganda. The country is so green and lustrous and full of life. The animals here are not kept in fences or cages; they roam free and live as animals should. The food here is fresh and delicious, and although I eat beans and rice at least six times a week, I never get tired of it. The night sky is bright and so full of stars. Some of my favorite nights here have been spent laying on the roof, searching for shooting stars. I could go on and on about how beautiful this country is, but really the true beauty lies in the people I have met here.
On my first day in Pader, I met Patience. Just thinking about Patience makes me smile because she is one the most bubbly and fun people I have ever met. She has the cutest laugh, and it’s impossible not to smile when I am with her. Patience never had the opportunity to finish school because her family could not afford the fees and she had a baby when she was 15. However, this does not stop Patience from working hard and dreaming big. She wants to become a nurse one day, and I have confidence that she will. With her big heart, optimism, and love for people, I know that she will be the best nurse in all of Pader.
On my second day in Pader, I met Ben, my boss. Little did I know he would become one of my very best friends. Ben is a character. I never know what to expect from him, but that’s part of why I love him so much. When Ben was only nine years old, he was abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army while walking home from school. He served as a child soldier for one and a half years before he was shot and was no longer forced to serve. Ben says that it was during his time as a child soldier that he decided he wanted to be a doctor. Since then, he has become a clinician and saved thousands of lives. Ben is now working on finishing medical school, so he can have a wider scope of practice and help more people.
On my third day in Pader, I met Denish. Denish is the eldest child of a widowed mother. He has spent his life working hard in order to help pay for his siblings’ school fees. He works long hours because he dreams of having happy, successful, educated brothers and sisters. Denish views education as invaluable, so he does everything he possibly can to ensure that his siblings can receive a good education.
On my fourth day in Pader, I met Evaline, the sweetest lady in all of Pader. Evaline made dinner and delivered it to the guest house one rainy day. This small act of kindness does not even compare to the daily acts of kindness Evaline shows to those around her. Evaline spends her days making crafts that she sells in order to pay for children she knows to go to school. In Pader, every child is a child of Evaline’s. She herself is not educated, but she wants every kid to have the opportunity to receive a quality education, so she gives her life away to make sure this is possible.
On my fifth day in Pader, I met Alfred. Every moment spent with Alfred is a moment spent laughing. He is excited about life, and he makes the most of every moment. Alfred is studying to become a CPA, and he is at the top of his class. Alongside studying, he is the financial officer at a local boarding school. At the school, Alfred has opened a farm. The goal of the farm is to provide a steady, sustainable food source to the school, so that they can save on food expenses and can use the money to better the school in other ways. Alfred has big visions for the school, and he searches for sustainable grassroots methods to realize these visions.
Every day since, I have met someone new and learned something new. Everyone in Pader has been able to teach me something. Their stories are moving and inspiring, and they give me hope. These stories have allowed me to see the true value in education. I have seen the doors it can open and the lives it can change. Every story I have heard has helped me to learn more about every person I have met. Pader has become my home because of the people that live there. The people are kind, welcoming, and beautiful in so many different ways. I am so grateful for my time in Uganda. I am grateful for the adventures and the travels, but most importantly, I am grateful for the people. When my parents call to make sure I am okay, I simply smile and tell them that I am more than just okay, I am full of happiness and friendship and so much more.