I was first attracted to the work of S.O.U.L. Foundation because of its focus on empowerment and education for women, recognizing that women are the backbone, the very soul foundation, of every community. If you want to lift a community out of hardship, or even poverty, you must empower the women that create and support it. That being said, before I can begin outlining my work this year, I need to look behind me to the incredibly powerful support system serving as my own backbone in Uganda.
Prior to my move, I was expecting a 2-week intensive training full of professional schmoozing, business card exchanges, uncomfortable suits, crippling pressure to be a global health expert, and perhaps even a few good laughs with some people who share a few common interests. I was not expecting to find a whole new family. Something about the energy of the 2014-2015 Global Health Corps Fellowship class is simply indescribable. It perfectly captures the essence of what international development work should be about – a network of passionate and deeply inspiring human beings, working collaboratively across social, cultural and political divides to agree upon sustainable solutions to the world’s problems, ensuring context-specificity and sensitivity to the nuanced needs of global populations who need to join hands, not await a handout. Right now, there are 128 of these human beings living, working and innovating in Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Zambia, Malawi and the United States. Each country pairs an international fellow with a local fellow, ensuring that expats are learning from the local expertise of the national fellow and the national fellows are learning from the outside perspective of the expats. This partnership is absolutely crucial if this world is going to move forward in any capacity.
Fortunately for us, these co-fellow pairs are pretty much all spectacular. Viola and I feel like we’ve known each other for years – she takes such spectacular care of me here, and we work so well as a team you’d think we really have been doing it for significantly longer than 2 weeks. Here in Bujagali/Kyabirwa, we are far removed from so many people who have touched our hearts and minds. The great thing about this network and this fellowship is that we all remain connected, and thanks to the incredible state of technology these days, nearly all my favorite people spread out all over the world are right at my fingertips. A bit closer, here in Uganda, I truly believe I was blessed to be a part of the best group of people GHC has been able to put together.
Each weekend, I have had the pleasure of hanging out with and getting to know some of the most amazing people I have met to date. My first weekend in Kampala took me to the apartment of some outgoing fellows in Ntinda, where this year’s class and last years celebrated the incoming and outgoing groups and everything in store for both. Saturday took us to a formal GHC celebration dinner to award the outgoing fellows and give us all a chance to network a bit (there is no shortage of networking here). The night later wound up at Palomera’s (that may or may not be spelled right) where we enjoyed some drinks (Moonberg Lager!!!) and hookah, and danced a bit before the night was through. I got to spend some extra time with my dearest friends here, Brooke and Heather, really solidifying in my mind how close these two are to my own inner-vision and how lucky I am to have such like-minded individuals to share this year with.
The following weekend was spent here in Kyabirwa, as Orrin and Brooke came out to camp with me at Nile River Explorers. It was a long, calm evening of catching up and sharing cultural observations, work experiences and outlooks on life in general. The rain didn’t stop us from having a spectacular weekend on the Nile (though the sea of mzungu dancing on tables at the nights’ end was a bit terrifying…no, we didn’t join). We devoured Rolexes being sold at the gate – a chapatti rolled up with egg, chips (fries), onions, tomatoes, cabbage, and avocado, or any variation thereof…the best street food Uganda has to offer, and more addictive than we’d like to admit. I finally got my first swim in the Nile river in (with many more to follow).
My third weekend in Uganda from which I have just returned simply topped them all. I spent the weekend in the GHC House in Kampala with my sister (we were separated at birth) Heather. I’m pretty convinced her laugh could cure cancer, so we’re going to get that public health intervention started soon. Endless conversation, constant laughter, and such a warm feeling of being at home every time I am with her. We bunked up with Brooke, with whom I am incredibly blessed to share a unique vision of the power of this Universe to bring people together in friendship for truly beautiful reasons. Danielle joined us from Mukono, and brought with her more Danielle-isms than we could even handle – so full of joy and hilarious perspectives on life.
We all enjoyed some hookah at Casablanca each night, made our way to some light dancing at Iguana, visited a Bahai temple with Graham where we all silently prayed and roamed the beautifully peaceful grounds for some time before decending back into the madness of Kampala. After getting my computer fixed (yay!), the weekend brought us Mama B fresh from the GHC End of Year Retreat in Kigali, as well as Johnny visiting from the US and Abaas, looking fly as always in his impeccably stylish clothes. We all spent Sunday with Bryan (sweetest man alive) and reunited with the rest of the Uganda crew for an incredible cultural night at Ndere, watching some literally jaw-dropping dance performances and ending the night dancing with about 200 kids ourselves, which was among the more incredible experiences of my life I’d have to say.
I love being here in the village. I love being removed from the hustle and bustle of Kampala. I believe this is the place I am meant to be. But knowing that a quick 2 hour (and 2 dollar) taxi ride to Kampala yields some of my favorite people alive is just beyond comforting. I really love these people – I hope they don’t get tired of me saying that. I am once again reminded of how lucky I am to have each and every one of them now in my life. Colleagues, friends, family, soul pack.
To my family and friends back home, know that I am in good hands. And know that I am missing the hell out of my incredible sisters Lacey and Corrie, who have helped shape me into the man I am today and love me more than any little brother has every been loved, my amazing mother and grandmother, who raised me to care about more than just myself and who are always on my mind, my best friend forever Kelly, whose lifelong friendship and endless epic memories have always meant and will always mean the world to me, my main men Jonny and Nick and Wes and Alex, who taught me that there are men worth trusting in this world and give me more bro-love than I know what to do with, all my incredible UCLA and NYU friends who continue to inspire me with their actions and paths in life, my whole family who helped get me this far on my journey, my festival crew who I will miss like crazy while dancing at the Lake of Stars Festival in Malawi this year, and of course, Sierra, who has been there for me through the most dramatically transformative spiritual awakening of my life this past year, and who continues to provide me with all the unconditional support and positive energy I need to get through any hardship life may through at me. And Schwagz, my dear sweet Schwagz – the truck I lived out of for the majority of that time, who is now being sold…I’ll never forget the adventures you brought into my life. For anyone I’m forgetting, just text me on Whatsapp and yell at me about it and then we can catch up.
This was a long one. I’ll try to keep them shorter moving forward. Or maybe I won’t. This is more for me than it is for you anyway. YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE. Anyway, thank you to everyone in my life for being you. Please don’t be anything other than exactly who you are in every way, shape and form. You have no idea how deeply the simple act of being you makes an impact on my life and the lives of those around you. You wouldn’t be in my life if you weren’t the best of the best.
Me and Heather at the Bahai Temple in Kampala!
Me, Graham, Heather, Danielle, and Brooke (with veggies in her mouth)
Hanging with Johnny, Bryan, Heather, Abaas, Brooke and Danielle at GHC House
My main girls…LOVES
Hahaha…there’s that laugh
Dancing with soooooo many kids haha
GHC Uganda FTW
Keep loving each other.