In my line of work I sell holidays and make people dreams come true, on a good day someone has dreamed of visiting Africa will spend thousands of dollars they have saved for years and when they do achieve this its a milestone for them and makes me just as happy to have been part of it. However sometimes its not 100% about just enjoying the holiday, I do have clients who choose to combine the best of both worlds, they give their time and skill set to the people and in return get gratification from giving. I normally never travel for work for 2 reasons, I like to travel with no work thoughts and secondly I am needed in the office ALL the time :).
In October I made the exception to this rule and opted to join ACTS of Joy on medical mission trip to Northern Uganda. Our role as a company was to handle their logistics such as transport, accommodation, food etc and allow the team to fully focus on providing medical help to the local people of Olony Village. When Peggy emailed coordinates of where they wanted to go. The challenge was great a tiny little place with no amenities and not much going for it.
Armed with my team of a Paul the driver, Rubeun the cook, George the guide and a well stocked Mr Big Blue over landing truck we left Nairobi and headed to Kampala where we met the guests. As the truck was fully loaded with camping equipment for 18 people, food for 10 days and enough supplies to survive the 2 weeks, it took us a whooping 18 hours to Kamapala. Knackered as crazy I stayed at a Kampala Backpackers which was pretty nice and worked well. The guests arrived the following day and our journey to Northern Uganda began.
For most of the people, it was their first time in Africa, first time on an overland truck and first time camping. This meant the next 10 days would be roller coaster of emotions, feeling physical changes etc. Driving out, the first couple hours was buzz of excitement with new sights, anticipation and reflections of 1st impressions and by the time we made it to the village, it felt like a we were a large family.
The people of Olony were so warm and excited they welcomed us with dances and ululations, growing up in Kenya you see this when you visit the extreme rural areas but one never gets used to it, its always takes me by surprise each time. The Uganda ladies are extremely polite and even more so in the remote areas, upon greeting you they go on their knees and bow down to you in respect. I had heard of this practice but had thought it didn’t happen anymore and was therefore mind blown.
With no day light to waste we happily accepted the area the villagers had extended to us to use as our base and hastily set up our home for the next 10 days. Pitching summer tents for you and your friends is fun and easy but setting up 16 canvas heavy duty tents was no joke. In about an hour we had our “home” set up and jumped into preparing the food and lounge areas. Being my very 1st trip to go with my team and clients I was so happy to see the synergy across my crew members and between them and the guests, it was all so seamless.
We did not set up on our first day there since it was a day to acclimatize to the village, meet the people, and just take it easy. We had planned on joining the villagers as they built a fence for their well but once we got there the well was broken. As expected the villagers were quick to say to the team “our well is broken, thank you for coming to fix it for us”. Unfortunately, most volunteers would be quick to fix the problems for them and makes people extremely dependent, but not this time. Sam, a Ugandan social worker who is very involved with this village made my day. He asked the team to take a step back and addressed the villagers. In short he said, it is your well, you need the water, you are intelligent and you can put your brains together and fix the well. The initial response was mumbles of all sort but after 20 minutes the men of the village talked and debated and finally found away to get the well running. Jubilation and Cheers filled the village and Sam was happy to tell them “its your great team spirit and need for water that got the water to run and you do not need foreigners to come do it for you” more jubilation. The team finally joined and we happily build a fence to protect the master tap from the animals.
The next few days were busy for the team, as we set up a medical clinic and offered general treatment, optical treatment , pharmacy and HIV testing and counselling. The people of Olony Village turned up in great numbers and were eager to get free treatment and get to share and chat away with the team. Our initial estimates were to serve 350 – 400 people during our entire clinic time there but this number was surpassed as we ended up treating about 700 people. It was magical, it was mind blowing and it was humbling. A mixture of emotions were running through me. Having facilitated this from behind a desk for over 5 years and finally being able to really see what our hard work brings about, I had more respect for my job 🙂
On the last day the happy people of Olony were lovely to gift us a pig for BBQ. They slaughtered an entire pig and brought it to us as a sign of gratitude. It was great and Rueben was awesome to give us a great BBQ to finalize this section of the trip. As the saying goes: all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. It was now time to play. We always encourage our guests to combine mission work with some time to enjoy the beauty we have in Africa so off we went to Murchison Falls National Park.
For most of us, this meant a proper bed and a good shampooing of the hair. For the entire time we camped in the village I didn’t comb my hair or even look at myself in the mirror and so when we got to Paraa Safari Lodge it felt like a little piece of heaven. The drive had taken much longer than we anticipated thus we had had to choose between relaxing by the pool or a cruise on the Nile. For most of us it was a no brainer. CRUISE it would be.
Good choice, we got to sail through the Nile viewing different birds, hippos, crocs, and the stunning falls. We were lucky to get a really nice private boat and didn’t have to share with other guests. we were however quite unlucky with our game viewing as we didn’t get to see any cats. Being a sucker for safaris, a game drive with no cat sighting feels like such a waste but viewing the wild from the raised truck was definitely a different experience.
After two physically exhausting hours but all the same great experience, we did a quick stop in Jinja the home of rafting (top experiences in my books) where we stayed the night before making the last journey back home. It was definitely a great team to have joined and may be joining them for their other expeditions to come in the future.
Acts of Giving,
PS: Some photos are courtesy of Care Community Organisation run by Sam