My dear dear friend from home, Caroline, has a father that teaches Religious Education in Florida. He's currently focusing on Catholic social justice teachings and asked me a few questions. I thought I'd put the questions and answers here to give everyone an update on where my head and heart are at the moment. I hope everyone had a delicious Thanksgiving!
1) why would a catholic student serve the poor when they graduate college?
In St. Luke's gospel it says that much will be required from everyone to whom much has been given. I have been given so much in my life and wanted to give something back. Throughout my years of Catholic schooling, service had always been a major part of my education. I was given opportunities to step outside of my comfort zone, give witness to the less fortunate, and learn something about the world. More often, however, I was learning something new about myself.
My Catholic education also exposed me to the social justice teachings of Pope John Paul II. One of my favorite quotes by the late pope is, 'Social justice cannot be attained through violence. Violence kills what it intends to create.' I joined the Peace Corps because it is a real part of United States foreign policy that tries to develop countries through personal relationships and grassroots, community-led programming.
2) why did you give up the opportunity to go to work as an architect and build up your career?
I love architecture, but I knew from pretty early on in college that I needed to get out and see the world in a real, intense, challenging way before settling on a career. Architecture has always been a passion of mine, but I didn't want my life to be spent designing penthouses for the wealthy. This experience so far has shown me so many different ways in which I can use my skills (as a builder, counselor, taxidermist...whatever) to help others and attempt to bring them out of poverty.
3) is it hard to be away from your family and friends?
Being away from home is one of the hardest things about living abroad. It's not easy to hear about my friends getting married or graduating college without me there, but I think it's even harder when they're going through tough times and you cannot be there to support them. I'm very lucky that Uganda is a developed enough country (although it's still third world). I'm also blessed to be living near a large town where I can access internet and buy airtime to call home.
4) what is life like for the people who live in your village?
I live at a secondary school for girls in a village about 2km outside of a large town. Our school has 900 students. The school, St. Theresa's, was founded on the principle that poor girls need to receive an education. Most of our students are less fortunate, many have lost their parents to the war with the Lord's Resistance Army, to complications from HIV/AIDS or other diseases, and other tragedies. Our school fees are some of the lowest in the country, and we strive to provide the girls with a decent education. We have students from all over Uganda, but most of the teachers are from the district where I live, Masindi.
The rainy season has just ended, and it was awful. We had El Nino wind and rain which ruins crops, floods communities and destroys buildings. Two of the buildings, a classroom block and our library/student chapel at St. Theresa's lost their roofs. When the roofs came off, bricks and timber fell onto the students and teachers in their classrooms. Fifty were brought to the hospital and thankfully all recovered. Sister Daisy, who is the Head Teacher at St. Theresa's, tells everyone how grateful she is that God is so faithful and did not give us the burden of a death in our community. Through all of the tragedy the school is facing, we are still strong in our faith that God would never give us anything we couldn't handle. Now that the rains are over and they have destroyed many people's farms, the dry season is here. Famine will soon take over Masindi and surrounding districts. Food prices will increase, and many families will suffer.
5) what do you do as a peace corps volunteer to help the people there?
I teach classes at St. Theresa as my main project. I teach computer basics and health. I also teach woodworking at the boys' secondary school. I spend some time with the widows' group in the Nyamigisa parish, making charcoal from banana peels. And I do HIV/AIDS education with the primary schools in Nyamigisa, my village.
6) what is the most difficult part of your work? what's the most rewarding part?
The most difficult part of my work is finding people to work with me in order to make a project sustainable. There's an incredible amount of money being poured into underdeveloped countries from the West. As a white person living in Uganda, I am seen as a walking dollar sign. People often expect me to come into their community and just start giving things out. It's not their fault, however, since this is how the culture has developed to view a Westerner. In order to make a project sustainable, it needs to come out of the community and they need to be responsible for all aspects of its execution. It's sometimes difficult to convince Ugandans of this fact.
The most rewarding thing about my experience in Uganda has had nothing to do with my work. The personal relationships that have been created are so much more important. I've been able to become friends with many of my students and listen to their struggles. I've also spent a lot of time with myself, which I know sounds boring, but God has truly brought me to my face while in Uganda. Most of my life has been spent within a fellowship of Catholics and Christians, and sometimes I feel like this is my time in the desert. I've not been able to rely on others for support and have instead had to find it within the Word and personal prayer.
7) what do you miss from home the most?
I don't go a day without thinking about my family and friends at home. They are my support system, and some days are really tough not having them next to you. Also, one of the hardest things is not having mass in English. I've been a Catholic my entire life so I know the order of the mass by heart, but I really miss being able to connect to the Gospel as it is spoken by the priest.
8) what is your fondest hope for your students?
Life for a woman in Uganda is so different than an American's. Women are second class citizens here. My hope for them is that they defy this rule and disregard any person who would tell them they are worth less than a man. I hope that they can walk with the Lord, live healthy and happy lives, and believe in themselves even when all of the odds are against them.