Most people don’t plan a trip to Africa in three weeks. But one day last October, my wife, Anne, and I heard that two spots were available for a trip to Uganda led by Samaritan’s Purse. We had been introduced to the Christian relief organization a month earlier by our clients Rebecca and Graeme Burnett, and they had suggested our names when two others on the trip withdrew. I told Anne that I was willing to go, if not on this trip, then on one in the future. She had three words in response: Why not now?
So three weeks later, we boarded a plane bound for Africa.
We’d only been in Uganda for a few days when our guide took us to a village in a region called Karamoja. If America represents the top 1 percent of wealth in the globe, Karamoja certainly represents the bottom. Karamoja is located in the rural northeastern corner of Uganda, near the Kenyan border, and is the poorest part of one of the poorest countries in the world. Though not desert (there are two rainy seasons), the land is cracked and dry during the long dry seasons, pockmarked with small villages made up of thatch-roofed huts with mud walls. The people here get little outside assistance, even from their own government. Because it’s situated on the border between two local districts, it’s easy for those districts to pass the buck, hoping that Karamoja will stay someone else’s problem.
When we arrived at one of the villages, Anne and I were struck by the sheer desperation in front of us. Children with distended bellies asked for food, their noses running and their eyes yellowed with fevers and sickness. With no access to clean water or secure latrines, the people were forced to drink dirty water and suffer the consequences. We were told that at any given time, 80 percent of the people were sick, and judging from the sights around us, that number seemed accurate. The village smelled sour and felt desolate, and as women approached us, listless, their eyes grew large as they begged for help.
We never felt so helpless, so deeply saddened and even angry by what we saw. Not only because of their plight, but also because we were unsure of how we could alleviate their pain—not just temporarily, but for good.
Over the course of the week, we were taken to other villages—villages where Samaritan’s Purse had built wells and had taught villagers how to build and secure latrines. In these villages, the organization was providing education in hygiene and literacy for adults and children. We met villagers who had been helped and who now were leading and teaching others. Stepping out of the car into one of those villages, we could see the difference immediately. The way the village looked, smelled and felt had been radically transformed, simply through access to clean water and education. But most remarkable was the change in people’s eyes: it was the difference between desperation and hope.
As we prepared to come home, Anne and I knew we had an important decision to make. How would we be involved going forward? We couldn’t ignore the plight we had seen firsthand, and yet we didn’t want to be in the business of handouts, providing temporary relief now with no vision for the future. Would we give to their education initiatives? Or to the general fund? Would we give at all?
As we considered our options, we knew in our hearts that the most significant impact we could make on a village in Karamoja wasn’t food or clothes or even education. It was providing water, the one thing that education and knowledge could not provide.
Water is the source of life. It’s powerful. Without it, none of us would survive beyond a week. It quenches thirst, waters crops and cleans houses. It cleans us and the food we eat. It washes away our waste. To provide water is to provide life. And we’ve never felt that more profoundly than when we decided to invest in a well that will provide clean water for 250 families.
When I think about Uganda, I see the eyes of those people in that first village. If they get that well, their eyes will change. The distended bellies will change. The mucus around their nose will go away. In that way, we’re not just giving them water. We’re giving them new life.
The impact of experiencing firsthand the desperate need of the people in this Karamoja village and the knowledge that we can make a meaningful difference in their lives has sharpened our focus on the things that matter. As a result of choosing to go, we see things differently. While this was our first visit to Uganda, it will not be our last. We want to go back and see how the lives of those 250 families have been changed. We are humbled that we can be a part of this effort that is possible only by the greater sacrifice of those who are investing their lives to serve and give a hand up to people such as our Ugandan friends.
What is SignatureGENEROSITY?
For many of us, the ability to make a difference brings meaning and purpose to our lives. Whether you are a parent or grandparent, child, humanitarian, co-worker, mentor, advisor, coach or friend, you have something to give—be it your time, skills, strengths, influence, wisdom or financial resources. Embracing a spirit of generosity is a way to live a more fulfilled, vibrant life and can trigger surprising ripple effects, transforming your life and the lives of others in ways you may never have imagined. SignatureGENEROSITY® is SignatureFD’s way to help you explore and define your own vision of generosity. For information about SignatureGENEROSITY®, please contact Blair Cunningham, Partner and Director of SignatureGENEROSITY®, at email@example.com.