Joyce Meng's Blog

Day #17 - Leaving Uganda

January 7, 2010

As today is my last day in Uganda, I woke up early to pack my suitcase. Having bought a lot of beautiful crafts created from soapstone, I’m concerned that they will break in transit, as I do not have a very packed suitcase at all, especially after giving away a lot of my gifts. I’ll be holding some of the crafts in my carry-on, so hopefully I can arrive back in London with everything intact.

I didn’t spend a very long time at the Peace School, but I feel that even within three weeks, I’ve learned and absorbed so much about Ugandan culture, politics, food, development, education, infrastructure, and general way of life.

After packing, I ate a quick breakfast of samosas, bread, and crackers before starting on a series of instructional posters for Passy. Unlike in the USA where teachers can easily purchase pre-made posters, the teachers here have to create all their learning aids by hand. When we moved the Lower Campus, we ended up destroying many of these weathered posters, faded and fragile with years of use. Passy was clearly distressed over the amount of work required to recreate these posters – in the states, they would have long been replaced, but every bit of material is carefully salvaged and saved here.

I found the poster making rather soothing – with my handwriting and ability to write straight without lines, I forged ahead at top speed. Jia did some $50 drawings and interviews on her own, while I kept intently to my own task of completing the posters. Mukisa Isaac, a child we sponsor on Givology, happened to be around today, so we got some great footage of him and little Farook singing and dancing on camera!

By late afternoon, Joanita called me to put the finishing touches on the paint for the temporary sheds. At first, I didn’t know what to paint, but then I thought about Givology’s slogan, “Give to Learn, Learn to Give” and found it particularly suitable. The Peace School gives so many poor children the opportunity to learn – even if they can’t afford school fees. In turn, the hope is that when these children grow older, graduate, and find stable jobs, that they in turn give back to the community.

[Photo of Joanita and the boys with me in front of the words that I painted.]

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Charles and the laborers laughed at this phrase that I painted, jokingly informing me that, “To give, you must first have.” I retorted, however, that all of us have something to give – if not money or resources, then our time, skills, and passion for doing good. In addition, a person in need doesn’t have to give now, but can give later when his or her situation improves – to repay the kindness showed to him or her. I strongly believe that regardless of circumstances, everyone can share something with a family or individual less fortunate than him or her. If we all give at least as much as we take, then the world would be such a better place!

After painting, we took group photos of everyone. I know I will treasure these photos for a long time. In the last few hours before my departure, the conversations became very bittersweet as the kids kept on asking when I would return. Using the negative in their sentence construction, they kept on asking me plaintively, “I’ll never see you again?”

In my mind, I know that in all honesty, when I start my job in New York City, the chance to come back will be rare. Yet even if I do manage to return, years will likely pass. If I never return, in my mind, these kids will forever be locked in time, never aging or growing older. Five years later, cute little Irene will be fifteen years old and all the boys enrolled in university, if they can manage to afford it. Five years later, the Peace School will hopefully encompass all the current and adjacent land, and include a real library, computer lab, modern classrooms, and expanded facilities. We came at a critical crossroads – through our efforts, we determine the future.

I told the children that perhaps one day, not only will I visit them again, but they might be able to come see me in the USA! Nearly all of them told me that it was impossible. I kept repeating that the world is shrinking, but in the corner of my mind, I know that even though this has been so true for me, leaving the country is very difficult for all of them. Computers are very scarce and Internet so slow and expensive – the youth are constantly tantalized with Western culture and knowledge of modern innovations, yet simultaneously so alienated and distant. For example, the kids know the songs of Brandy, Alicia Keyes, and Beyonce, and they watch Prison Break, 24, and US movies, yet only have a rudimentary understanding of e-mail and Internet use. Though all the kids have expressed interest in computers and have taken computer classes, theoretical knowledge can’t substitute for practical experimentation. Even my typing seemed to amaze them.

[Below are some photos that I took with everyone before leaving.]

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I took lots of great photos with the kids – me at 23 years old somehow still fitting in (almost all the kids believed Jia and I were their age)! I got most of them to write me a message in my book. Before leaving for the airport, I got so many wonderful thank-you cards – Amina’s family gave me a traditional gossi (dress) for my mother, a form of Ugandan kimono and obi. Morris and Helen gave me a bag, while Charles gifted me with a friendship desk decoration. I was so touched! Parting is always such a sad moment, especially when accompanied with an implicit understanding that our next meeting may be years away. I will also miss Jia a lot – my other half and partner in this venture. Even though we first met in the airport, I feel that I’ve known her for so long, especially since we’ve shared so many transformative experiences together.

[Below is a photo of Jia and me together! Very rarely did we ever appear in photos together during this trip as we were so busy recording footage.]

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For the car trip back, grandmother Amina, Amina, Jia, Irene, Dama, Sula, Joanita, and Iria came along – basically the people I got to know very well during this trip. Jia and I chatted happily and regaled ourselves with our funny and dramatic moments (“What if I never wake up again?” Yes, Jia did say this at one point in time.)W When we arrived at Entebbe airport, I was greeted with the unfortunate news that my midnight flight was delayed three hours until 3:20 AM. As you can imagine, definitely not pleasant news.

Drifting in between sleep and consciousness, I write this last entry of my trip to Uganda. For me, my journey to the Peace School is a life changing experience that inspires me to do more, to work harder, and to strive to make a difference. Even if I never return to Uganda again, my heart remains with the school and the children that I met. It’s not often that one forges such deep bonds and then leaves knowing that these friends may very well disappear from one’s life, certainly a discomfiting thought. Through Givology, I will push forward with our goal of raising 40 million shillings for the Peace School. I have so much to be thankful for in my life. Alas, it’s the least I can do to work harder to grow and expand Givology to provide opportunities to children around the world.

Joyce here ends her Ugandan journal here.
January 8, 2010



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