Janet Walkow Christine Jacobs

The Quiet Dignity of the Human Spirit

My Journey to Jinja, Uganda

Each evening, I would arrive back at my hotel room, a fine layer of dirt coating my skin, hair, clothing and even teeth.  The shower luckily worked – but both the hot and cold faucets brought forth a spring of cold water. I would wash my feet in the cool water watching the brown ebb of the water slowly turn back to clear.

 

Yet I had never felt more fulfilled or happier as I sat on the rim of the bathtub in Jinja, Uganda, thousands of miles away from the comforts of my corporate-derived life in eastern Pennsylvania.  This journey began for me when I realized hat I was soon to cross an important birthday milestone – the big 50.  I knew from the outset that I wanted this special occasion to be one of service in gratitude for all that I had been afforded. After much research into volunteer opportunities in rural, impoverished countries, I knew it needed to be an opportunity that allowed me to truly feel that I was contributing and work that I could possibly continue after my trip was a distant memory.  My best friend, Joan, who lived in Colorado had spent a month last year volunteering with her 2 children for a non-profit charity named Outreach Uganda also based in Colorado. Carol Davis, the President, had visited Uganda in 2005 to spend time with a child she had sponsored – what she witnessed made her return to the US and begin a charity to help the wonderful women she had met in Uganda. After discussions with Carol, she suggested I teach a business skills course to the women of Outreach Uganda. My friend, Joan, agreed to return and teach with me as well. My trip was sealed!

Reaching Out in Post-War Uganda

Outreach Uganda (www.outreachUganda.org) is dedicated to helping the marginalized Acholi populations of Uganda, who were displaced as a result of the 20 year old war with the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) that ended in late 2008.  The tragic reality of the LRA war is that many women and children (many of them now orphans) have been forced to build new lives for themselves far from their villages up north. Many lost husbands and family and were forced to run with little more than the clothing on their backs when the rebels attacked their villages.  The group of women, based in Jinja, with which I would be working were already business women in their own right – many had small businesses selling poultry, dried moonfish, second hand clothing or provided services such as tailoring.

Truly Leading Women

I knew not what to expect upon my arrival.   When we arrived at the office, the women picked both Joan and I up high over their heads and carried us to the dusty lot behind the office. There over 50 Acholi women waited for their ‘guests’ to arrive – women whom I would come to learn had so little yet dressed for the event in their best Ugandan clothing.  We were gently placed at the head table and spent the afternoon alternatively being entertained by their Acholi dance troupe and dancing under the hot afternoon sun alongside these beautiful, happy, sunny women. As the week unfolded and my class proceeded according to plan, I was simply unprepared for the true gift that I was to receive.  My pre-conceived notions of the poor in Africa were quickly dispelled.  These were spirited women who wanted to make a difference and rise out of poverty – for themselves and their families. These were hard working women who shone with such an inner light.  An afternoon spent visiting the homes of the women left me humbled beyond words. Many with entire families sleeping on dirt floors in one room grass and mud homes, had so little. I was left speechless by the absolute beauty of their souls – the pure joy they found in simply living. Their life was not one of immense sadness for all that life had brought forth but one of immense joy for all that was to be lived.  Although recognizing that I had only scratched the surface of understanding these beautiful souls, I was witnessing first hand that the indomitable human spirit can in fact conquer all.

Home, but not Gone

Now tucked back into my comfortable life in New Hope, Pennsylvania, my work continues from afar with these amazing women. But they have given me a gift that has forever changed me – a glimpse into the quiet dignity of the human spirit and how much can be overcome.  I am forever grateful for their unexpected gift and most importantly, for their continued quiet presence that will remain in my soul forever.

About Michele Becci, LWP guest blogger: Michele Becci is Senior Director, Health Sciences Global Business Unit at Oracle Corporation. Michele joined Oracle in 1995 and has held various management positions including sales and marketing.  She currently leads a global team that is focused on driving and creating a customer-centric culture for Oracle’s Health Sciences portfolio of products. Prior to joining Oracle, Michele worked as a pharmacologist at Wyeth-Ayerst Research, based in Princeton, NJ. Michele graduated from Rutgers University with a BA in Microbiology and received her MBA in International Business from Villanova University.

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