Wednesday, February 11, 2009

"Africa has my heart": a Loyalist PR student checks in from Uganda

Bryna Jones is a Loyalist PR student who is currently volunteering in Uganda with Outreach to Africa.

In this blog post, Bryna talks about some of her Ugandan experiences so far:

There is nothing in Canada to compare with the poverty in Africa. Even homeless people in winter in Canada have it better than most people here. The difference is the social system. Here, there is none. There is barely an infrastructure for roads, sewage, waste disposal, etc. There is literally NOTHING to support people in a general way, just a lot of non-profits trying really, really hard to touch the lives they can; but without government support it's impossible.

The other thing that makes the poverty completely different is the fact that it is dirty and diseased. EVERYWHERE. Even the dirt is contaminated. People have to defecate in the streets. Livestock live in peoples' homes in the city. Children play in human and animal excrement.

There is no real control over communicable disease here because you still have to have the money to afford the testing for things like malaria, and only after you've been tested will they give out the "free" medication. Completely ridiculous. So most people just live with it, and infect others, and the cycle continues.

There are so many people here too. All the time there are people everywhere. They're just piled on top of each other. And POLLUTION! I can't even explain the air quality.

Even being a student, up to my eyeballs in debt, I am richer than almost everyone I see. Even my six-year-old has more money in RESPs than these kids will ever have. It's disgusting. Every piece of clothing you've ever sent to the Salvation Army is here, being resold. Africa is the world's dumping ground.

It only costs about $200 to send a child to a decent boarding school here, and way less for public school, but there are so many kids on the street. No one has the money to pay for education, and that's what it all comes down to: access to education. Like I said, there are just so many people. The schools have zero resources – only a blackboard, and the kids sit on the floor. No posters, no worksheets, nothing. Today I went to a school where there were 800 kids, and only THREE female squat toilets.

What do these people need? Bottom line: they need money directed to the places that are actually being accountable for where their resources go. Outreach to Africa, the organization I'm with, is one of those agencies that is committed to community development. It’s working, but they need money too. It's never-ending. There's so much to be done.

Despite the negative, there is so much hope here. But don't ever think they don't know what they're missing. They do. It's just that there are some amazing nation changers in the young adult generation, and people who are doing great work, and reaching goals, and bringing education, health care, and a future to the children here. But it's so overwhelming.

On an individual basis, we need to reevaluate how we steward our finances. We need to see that people everywhere are our concern. They really are. This trip will totally change the way I spend my money. It's amazing to think what $200 can do for the life of one child, and then how it will reverberate to their children and grandchildren.

I know from now on I will focus on sponsoring children here through school. Education is the best gift you can give anyone, and it will truly change Africa forever.

Today I was surrounded by about 20 precious little primary school kids dressed in ragged uniforms, but singing “If You're Happy and You Know It” with all the excitement of six-year-olds in Canada. If I can't take responsibility for their future after this experience, I have a serious problem.
I love it here. Africa has my heart.


Bryna will return to Loyalist College at the end of February following her volunteer work in Uganda with Outreach to Africa.

To follow Bryna's trip to Africa, connect to her personal blog.

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