I traveled to Uganda to volunteer with Go Be Love International from July 22nd to August 5th this year. It was an amazing trip and I am so grateful for all of the experiences that I had and all of the stories that I am now able to bring back to my friends and family in the United States. We volunteered with three organizations: Sixty Feet, Sole Hope, and Amani Baby Cottage.
We flew from New York City to Dubai, where we had a short layover. That flight was about 12 hours. Then we flew from Dubai to Entebbe, Uganda, which took about 5 and a half hours.
We flew on an Airbus A380, which has two floors (first class and business upstairs and economy downstairs). I had never been on an airplane that big before.
I was really thankful that I live on the east coast because most of my teammates had to start traveling on July 21st to JFK or LaGuardia and then stay the night in the hotel before continuing on with their flights. Instead of that, I was able to simply arrive at JFK on Saturday morning and head out from there.
Emirates Airlines was awesome. Just walking onto the airplane, I could tell that it was really nice. There was a flight of stairs heading up that was lit along each step. I wish I could have just seen what first class looked like, but economy passengers couldn’t go up there. I’ve heard that there was a bar and showers upstairs.
There were tons of options of movies, music, games, and TV shows. I watched some good movies heading to Africa, like Lion and Gifted.
I know I’m unusual with this, but I really love airplane food. I think all of the tiny packages are really cool. On Emirates, they actually give you a menu when you get on the plane that tells you about each of the meals that will be served and what your options are.
We had dinner, then pizza as a snack in the middle of the night, and then breakfast in the morning.
Once we finally landed in Entebbe, we had to stand in the immigration line for what felt like forever. Once we finally got up to the counter, we had our pictures taken, we were fingerprinted, and a visa was printed for each of us and stuck inside of our passport. Once we grabbed our bags, we met Patrick, who would be driving our bus, along with another man who would be driving the truck that held our luggage. Patrick is an artist who makes amazing metal sculptures that are really unique (you can view his website here).
When we left the airport, we drove to a market to pick up bottled water and bread that we needed because we would be making our own lunches while staying in Kampala. We brought our own peanut butter since it’s expensive in Uganda, so each day we made sandwiches with bread and peanut butter and then we would have tiny bananas to go with it.
Then we checked into Apricot Guesthouse. We were pretty tired, but we needed dinner, so we went to an Italian restaurant that was in walking distance. I had pizza with beef, calamari, and shrimp on top.
It was a nice place to stay. I shared the room with a girl named Mia. There were between one and two people in each room. There was a nice patio with comfy chairs and the grounds were pretty.
I did a random workout in the parking lot and Joe joined me for part of it. I did a little running, push ups, burpees, jumping jacks, dips, squats, and some yoga poses.
I loved the food at the Apricot Guesthouse. It was typical African food and I loved everything I had. On the first night they had a delicious pumpkin soup, along with rice, beef stew, chicken, potatoes (which they called “Irish”), vegetables, and rolls that tasted like soft pretzels. The next night we had spinach soup, chapati (a bread similar to the Indian bread, naan), fish nuggets, lasagna, and vegetables.
For breakfast there were eggs, fruit, cereal, and juice both days. One day there were pancakes and meatballs and the other day there were green beans.
Sixty Feet is an organization that, according to its mission on the website, “targets a specific category of children… the least of the least – those imprisoned in Africa and more specifically Uganda. Some of these children have committed serious offenses. Some are as young as 2 years of age and have committed no offense at all. Working alongside Ugandan government officials we work in the detention facilities, and in the villages where the children come from, to bring hope and help – immediate relief and long-term restoration.”
We volunteered with them for the first few days of our trip while staying at the Apricot Guesthouse in Kampala. We also got to see the spot where the equator runs through Uganda after lunch one day.
The next day we drove about three hours from Kampala to Jinja to work with Sole Hope.
Sole Hope focuses on “offering HOPE, healthier lives, and freedom from foot-related diseases through education, jobs, and medical relief.”
I was particularly excited to volunteer with Sole Hope because I had been working on collecting jeans since last December. Sole Hope used to have what they called “jean cutting parties.” They mailed you a pattern to use to cut the jeans into specific shapes. Then you get a group of people together and cut old jeans according to those patterns, safety pin them together, and then they are turned into shoes once they get to the Sole Hope grounds in Uganda.
My high school students were very excited about the opportunity to take part in my trip by helping with the jean cutting process, so they donated a TON of jeans. I was overwhelmed by their excitement and support. I also had friends and family members who donated a bunch of jeans as well.
I was able to have my students help me with the jean cutting the day before winter break, which was a HUGE help. I had not originally realized how difficult and time consuming it would be to so cut so many jeans. I also had help from some other friends and family members, but a good portion of the jeans were simply cut on random days after work while I turned on a movie to distract myself from the monotony.
I was thrilled to have 100 pairs of jean shoes to bring with me to Sole Hope and they were excited to hear about how I had gotten my students involved in the process. Right now, Sole Hope paused with the jean cutting parties in order to have Care Kit parties instead in order to acquire more medical supplies.
We took a tour of the Sole Hope property, so we could see the process of sewing the shoes and adding the soles, which are made of a few layers of old car tires.
The shoes are provided to people once jiggers (small bugs that burrow into feet) are removed. They help to prevent the person wearing them from getting more jiggers in the future.
Thursday is Sole Hope’s clinic day, so we got to go with them to help out at a school. There were about 150 children (and a few adults) who needed to have their jiggers removed. We started by gathering all of the children in a big circle and playing some games with them. We sang songs that had corresponding hand motions. One of them was a song about jiggers that would teach them good hygiene to avoid jiggers in the future.
After the song, we separated into stations:
Station 1: paperwork. A Sole Hope worker would fill out a foot note paper with the person’s information such as name, age, grade, and information about their home address and their parents.
This is what the foot note paper would look like once it was filled out at the end of station 3.
Station 2: foot washing. This was my station. We each had a bucket with a scrub brush and a bar of soap. We would scrub one of the patient’s feet and then let them practice scrubbing their second foot. While we were doing this, someone else from our team would come around and pass out stickers to everyone.
I tried to speak to the children as much as possible. They learn English in school, but some of them were too young to understand and others were too shy. Some of them told me their names, ages, and favorite sports.
At one point, I washed the feet of an old man and it really hit me emotionally. While I love volunteering, I don’t like feeling as though I’m the white savior coming to save the day by handing things out to people. Those types of situations are times when helping hurts, which is common to some short term missions.
So I was just sitting on the ground, unable to communicate with this old man who could not speak English. He was probably around 80 years old. All I could do was scrub his feet and smile.
I considered how embarrassed he must have felt. The clinic was set up at a school, so its primary patients were children, but he, too, had a jigger infestation. Beside him sat children who were mostly under age 12. It could have been humiliating, and it was undoubtedly painful.
Yet at the same time, he needed help, and I could tell from his smile how grateful he was that we were there offering him a future that would entail less pain. I also considered how my simple action of scrubbing his feet was really not that significant; anyone could have done it. But at the same time, I was able to show him love through that act.
Despite the language barrier. I could get across the message that he is loved, has worth, and is deserving of love. There I was, someone who had flown across the ocean to get to Uganda just to scrub his feet and offer him hope.
St. Therese of Lisieux was known for her small, humble acts that she always did with great love. I am by no means trying to compare myself to her, but I felt similarly in that situation. I wasn’t in Africa building a church or drilling a well, but I was spreading my love in simple, small ways in my scrubbing of feet.
And it was definitely a humbling act. Many of the patients had feet that had wounds in addition to the jiggers. You can tell it’s a jigger because it looks like a white circle and then there is a small black dot in the middle of it. When you see that, you know a jigger has burrowed under the skin.
But most of them had other contusions on their feet, broken or missing toenails, and some deformities. We were told to alert someone any time a person had an open wound so that they could change out our water in order to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.
I wasn’t afraid to wash the feet, but I did know that it was possible for me to acquire a jigger in the process. We were sure to wear closed shoes on the clinic day, which would help prevent jiggers in the feet, but jiggers can also burrow into other parts of your body, mainly your hands. Fortunately, none of my teammates got any jiggers. We were sure to scrub our hands and feet in the shower each night since it takes a while for a jigger to actually burrow itself into your skin.
Station 3: Jigger removal. At this station, Sole Hope workers would use a razor blade and a safety pin to dig out the jiggers. While they were doing this, people from my team would be filling out the foot notes. Every time a jigger was removed, they had to put a dot on the foot drawing to show its placement while also counting up the number of jiggers per foot as well as the total number of jiggers on that person. Some people also had jiggers on their hands. If anyone had over 20, they would receive a follow-up, or they would go to the Outreach House (more about that in a bit).
While the jigger removal was happening, Joe, the youngest member of our team, went around passing out lollipops. Jigger infestations are painful, just like their removal. The lollipops helped the kids to concentrate less on the pain. There were some tears, but most of those kids sat so quietly while the Sole Hope workers removed the jiggers. I was extremely impressed. I don’t know if I would have been able to sit so still in that situation, no anesthetic helping to remove or even ease the pain.
After the jiggers are removed, their feet are bandaged.
Station 4: shoe fitting. Each patient received a pair of the jean shoes in order to hopefully prevent a future jigger infestation. They also have to be taught to wear those shoes every day. Sole Hope has found that some patients avoid wearing the shoes because they don’t want to get them dirty. They save them for church or for the holidays. They have to be taught that the shoes are there to prevent jiggers, not just to be worn on special occasions.
After all of the 150 patients had finished having their jiggers removed, we were able to spend some time playing with the kids, both those who had had jiggers removed and the others who also attended that school. It was fun getting to spend some time with them in addition to the actual clinic.
The next day, we went to volunteer at Sole Hope’s Outreach House. This is where people go if they have an extreme case of jiggers. They typically stay there for two weeks. They are treated by nurses for both their jiggers as well as any other underlying issues. They are tested for illnesses such as malaria and HIV/AIDS. They are also educated about jiggers, jigger removal, good hygiene, ways to keep jiggers away from their homes, and Bible study.
Some of the people who need medical attention live far away. Sole Hope has social workers in different areas of Uganda who scout out those cases. Sometimes Sole Hope will take its clinic out to that village and other times, they will send a vehicle out to get certain people and then they bring them to the Outreach House for treatment, bringing them back to their villages once they are finished.
First, there was another jigger removal clinic. Initially, I thought that I would try to take the foot notes since I had washed feet the previous day, but before holding the clinic, we had a tour of the facility and we were told how the average number of jiggers on a patient at the Outreach House is 150! I didn’t know if I could handle that.
The previous day, many of the kids only had a couple of jiggers, and there weren’t too many really bad cases. I knew that this next day would be different.
I’m usually okay at dealing with gross things, with the exception of vomit. But I was not sure if I could handle watching and recording the jigger removal process in the likely event that I had a patient with a ton of them.
I opted to do arts and crafts while the clinic was taking place. We colored in coloring books and I painted their nails. Everyone was excited about the nail polish, even the adults and the males.
Part of me was disappointed in myself that I didn’t try to do the foot notes, but I knew that I needed to admit my weakness. At times I can be too prideful, excited to be able to do any required task on a mission trip to my best ability. But during that jigger removal, I knew that I might not be able to do an effective job. Other people had queasy stomachs watching the process, so I shouldn’t let myself feel like I failed just because I didn’t watch the removal.
After the removal we had lunch and then we came back and they were doing Bible study. In Uganda, there are many different dialects and languages, depending on which village a person is from. For the Bible study, they were translating from English to Luganda to another separate language from that particular village.
Then we made bracelets and necklaces and played outside with everyone.
On Sunday, we spent more time with the people at the Outreach House in the afternoon after church, just doing some crafts and playing games outside. I was helping out with one of the crafts. We were gluing popsicle sticks together and gluing sequins, pom poms, and googly eyes on them to make crosses.
I played a silly version of hide ‘n’ seek with this one little girl. I would bend down under the desk and she would pop up, and then she would bend down under the desk and hide while I popped up to look for her. She was entertained for a long time just going up and down.
On our last day with Sole Hope, we spent more time with everyone, making crafts and playing games. We told a Bible story that went along with a craft where they decorated construction paper people cutouts with stickers and sequins.
We played a bunch of different games with jump ropes, balls, and a parachute. We taught them how to play freeze tag and duck, duck, goose.
After lunch, we listened to the hygiene lesson about jiggers and then we played some more. I did more nail polish while other teammates painted faces, colored, or played games outside.
The lesson took a pretty long time since, just like the Bible story, it had to be spoken in English, translated into Luganda, and then into the other village language.
The little girl who was sitting on my lap fell asleep on me.
When we finished up that day, we had to say goodbye because we would be going to a different organization in Jinja, Amani Baby Cottage, for our final days in Uganda.
Sole Hope Guest House:
For most of our trip to Uganda, we stayed at the Sole Hope Guest House, which was really nice. It felt very welcoming and homey, with a large living room where our group could gather.
It had really pretty African paintings all over the house. There were these really cool chairs made out of wheelbarrows. There was also a large outdoor sitting area. We made our own breakfasts and lunches and then the cook would make us a delicious dinner each night.
It was such a treat to have hot showers because we had cold ones when we were staying in Kampala.
Because the guest house is geared toward volunteers coming from other countries, the food was not typical African. It was delicious, but I wish we had gotten to try more traditional African cuisine. We had minestrone soup, vegetable lasagna, pot roast, enchiladas, etc. One really delicious side dish, though, was pineapple mixed with cucumber and cilantro.
The yard was really big, so I worked outside there a few times like I had in Kampala, running around and doing burpees and things like that.
There were two dogs, Bear and Boomer, who always wanted attention. Here is Boomer on my lap one day after a Sole Hope clinic.
Here is a video from the first part of my trip to Uganda, mainly featuring Sole Hope: