Category Archives: Africa

Uganda Part Two: Amani Baby Cottage

If you missed the first blog, you can find part one of my trip to Uganda here.

Lake Victoria / Nile River

On our free day (Saturday), we went shopping for souvenirs in downtown Jinja.  Then we went out to an Indian restaurant for lunch, followed by a boat ride.

The boat ride started out on Lake Victoria.  We saw some prisons that have land that leads right into the water, but there were no fences.  Our guide told us that 96% of Ugandans are unable to swim, so they know that the prisoners will not escape.

We also saw fish farms in the middle of the lake where tilapia are harvested.

We stopped at a fishing village where we walked around and saw all of these little silver fish that they were drying out in the sun.

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All of the children in the village were excited to see us, and they cried out, “mzungu!” (“white person!”)  They all wanted to hold our hands, but what was interesting is that many of them were also smelling our hands.  I have no idea why they did that.  I’m not sure if previous white people maybe had a lot of perfume or scented lotion on.  Or maybe our skin just smells different than theirs.  I’m not too sure.

After leaving the fishing village, we headed to the source of the Nile.  The Nile River is the world’s longest river and it flows north, from Uganda to Egypt.  The water started moving more quickly once we got closer to the area where the lake and the river meet.  The guide told us that it was because of the huge difference between the depth of the lake and the depth of the river.

Rachel and I stuck our feet into the water:

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Then we took a group photo there.

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After volunteering with Sixty Feet and Sole Hope, we spent our last three days at Amani Baby Cottage in Jinja.

Initially, when reading about the trip to Uganda back in December when I registered, we were going to split all of our time between Sixty Feet and Sole Hope.  It was only more recently that the three days at Amani were added.

To be completely honest, I was disappointed at the addition of Amani to our itinerary.  I’m not a huge baby person.  I teach high school students because I prefer the older kids.  I was excited for the other two volunteer opportunities because I knew that there would be children of many ages.  Hearing the words “baby cottage” did not excite me at all.

Fortunately, I found out that Amani housed children from ages 0 to 5, so I was hoping to get to spend most of my time with the older kids.  Five year olds I could deal with (or at least I thought so); it was the babies I was not ready for.

Amani Baby Cottage

According to its website, Amani Baby Cottage (ABC), “was established in 2003 to provide care for orphaned and abandoned children…Many are orphaned when their parents die due to AIDS, birth complications or other factors. Some are abandoned in the hospital after birth. Others are found abandoned at taxi stops, in latrines, or on the street…To date, a total of 328 children have been cared for in our home. 107 of these have been reunited with their parents or extended family members, 135 have been fostered into new families, and 26 have been transferred to other ministry placements. We do not refuse children in fragile health, thus 23 children have died while in our care.”

Everyone on my team had different tasks during our time at Amani.  There were 43 children there, ages 0 to 5.  Different team members helped with the infants, the toddlers, the preschool, cleaning, changing diapers, rocking babies, you name it.

There are Ugandan women working there who are referred to as “Mamas.”  It’s really cute hearing the children call the women “Mama.”  Any time the mamas hand out a snack or help a child with something, the kids say, “thank you, Mama.”

When volunteers come, they calls us “aunties” and “uncles.”  It was nice having that routine set before we arrived because even if they didn’t know our first name, they could still address us.

The first day at Amani, Rachel, Cortnie, and I were helping out with the preschool.  The students met as a group at first to do their morning routine, learning about the weather and the calendar.  Then they separated into three groups for different activities.  There were the zebras, giraffes, and lions, according to their ages.  They would rotate through different activities so that the groupings would be smaller.

It was amazing to see how well organized everything was.  The mamas had the schedule down to the minute and the kids were very well-behaved and polite.

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The preschool children in their school uniforms

I was with the zebras and our first activity was to go outside to play.  They ran around, played on the swings and monkey bars, and the mamas led them in some fun exercises like frog jumps and songs that had body movements incorporated.

After that, all of the kids regrouped, said a prayer, had porridge and a snack, before separating into their animal groups again. Each of the kids in my group were given a card with a letter on it.  They had to replicate that letter by building it with blocks.  I was really impressed by their language skills.  The other children we met in Uganda knew some English, but here their English sounded perfect and they were completely fluent.

Their schedule shifted a bit after that because the Auntie Rebecca, who had been their preschool teacher for the past month as a volunteer, was flying back home, so she gave out lollipops and they spent some time taking goodbye pictures.

Then we watched some Australian learning videos that were absolutely hilarious to Rachel and me.  They were super corny and the main actor was really strange, but the kids loved them, marching and dancing along to the songs.  There were songs like “The Wheels on the Bus” and then others that I hadn’t heard of.

We helped get the kids ready for lunch and then their nap, and then we left for lunch.

After lunch, we came back to play outside with the kids.  I mainly pushed kids on the swings.  Other people on our team were running around, playing with balls, or doing face paint.

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The next day, we expected to return to Amani to similar tasks.  However, upon arriving, we learned that the Mamas had professional development scheduled that day.  They had tried to reschedule it, but there were people who traveled from Kampala to go there.

Due to the change in schedule, preschool was cancelled.  Mission trips always require flexibility and this is the best example of that.  There was no time to complain or ask questions; we just needed to get to work.

Kimi, Joe and I went to the one of the male cottages, which housed ten boys: Edmond, Solomon, Jimmy, Silas, Babu, Michael, Dominic, David, Jonah, and Jonathan.  Jonathan was the only baby and Jonah was around two years old.  The rest were toddlers.

I cannot even begin to describe the chaos that ensued.  There were a few times when I looked over at Kimi and asked, “Am I being pranked right now?  Is this Candid Camera?”  During those moments, all we could do was shoot terrified glances over at one another and then simply laugh at the ridiculousness that we were experiencing.

The boys had acted like little angels when their mamas were around, sitting in a perfect formation, saying thank you, and using good manners, but it was like a switch flipped the moment the mamas walked out the door.

They were stealing toys from each other, running around, and trying to climb the shelves.  We put on a movie, but they wouldn’t stop talking so they couldn’t hear the movie.  I found two books, so I tried reading to them.  They listened to the first book, but by the second, their attention span was gone.

Every now and then, though, one of the mamas would come in to check on something or to make sure that things were going alright.  The minute they entered the room, the boys returned to their perfect angel state.  All a mama had to say was, “boys, stop talking,” and there was silence.  Kimi and I just looked at each other in amazement any time this happened.

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Watching a movie

Then it was time for their snack (porridge and a banana).  Mama Georgina told us to stir the porridge with a cup before serving them because it was too hot.  The boys were watching something on the TV while we stirred.  Then, one of the boys started the prayer before meals: “Hand together,” he said.  And they all repeated, “hands together” while putting their hands into prayer position.  “Eyes closed,” he continued, and they all shut their eyes.  They went through all of the prayer.  I couldn’t understand all of the words but it was something like: “Hands together, eyes closed.  Bless our porridge, bless our mamas, bless our aunties, bless our uncles, in Jesus’ name, amen.”  They would all clap while they said “Amen.”

Kimi and I thought that it was really cute that they just said their prayers on their own while watching the movie.  Then, a few minutes later, another boy started the prayer.  When he finished he said, “auntie, we would like our porridge.”  The problem was that it was still extremely hot.

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Prayers before snack

The same thing happened a few minutes later, with another boy starting the prayer.  This time we decide to give them the porridge because we knew they wouldn’t stop praying and asking.  I have no idea how they drank it since it seemed to be burning hot, but they loved it.  One boy in the room has special needs and he doesn’t have full control of his arms or legs.  He spilled the porridge all over himself, so we had to find him a new change of clothes.  I hope that he didn’t burn his chest.

After snack, we were excited that we could bring the boys outside.  We expected it to be less crazy than being cooped up in the cottage all day.  Boy were we wrong!

There were people working on the grounds of Amani, doing various tasks like gardening.  The boys ran out of the cottage and made a beeline for the yard tools.  The workers weren’t there at the moment, but their shovels, hoes, and rakes were.

I found myself running toward the edge of the property, wrestling these garden tools out of the hands of the toddlers.  Initially, I told the kids not to touch them and to put them down and they listened, but the moment I walked away, I saw kids chasing each other with the tools.

So back I went, running around in an attempt to avoid witnessing a child being impaled by a gardening tool.  Rachel came outside of her cottage with the girls and she was somehow able to grab a rake out of one of the children’s hands, despite holding two babies on either hip.

Katie told us later that the whole scene was hilarious.  Looking back, I can’t help but laugh at the chaos, but in the moment, I was feeling completely overwhelmed.

At different points during the day, I paused to say a prayer asking God for help.  It sounds so funny now, but gosh, we were all feeling completely overwhelmed and unprepared.  I couldn’t have gotten through that whole day if I wasn’t confident that God had placed me there for a reason and that He was going to help me to continue.

After the garden tool fiasco, we just played outside and then we left for lunch.

We usually went over our highs and lows each day at dinner.  Every team member would discuss their day and it was a nice way to debrief.  This day, we decided to do highs and lows at lunch since we were all exhausted and less than enthused about the thought of returning to Amani.  Many of our teammates were peed on, pooped on, or spit up on.

Kimi and I had been thinking that we had it the worst with ten boys between us, but we came to find out during lunch that Cortnie and Rachel had it even worse in the girls’ cottage.  There were 13 girls and it sounded like they were behaved even more badly than the boys.

Serving at Amani that day definitely gave us a quick dose of humility.  It also increased our respect and appreciation of the mamas exponentially.  The mamas do such an amazing job caring for and loving those children and I’m sure that they have their fair share of difficulties.

The children at Amani come from a variety of backgrounds so although everything looked like it was down to a science on our first day there, I know that doesn’t just happen out of nowhere.  Establishing the routines, rules, and procedures takes a lot of work and those mamas are simply amazing.  It is also clear how much they truly love those children.  If I ever considered adopting, I would have no hesitation to adopt a child from a place like Amani because it is obvious that they are extremely well cared for.

After lunch, we were all hesitant about returning, but it was much calmer.  We played with the kids outside.  We played on the swing set and we also brought bubbles.

Something that was really interesting to me was that the swing set was dedicated to the victims of the Sandy Hook shooting.  It had a plaque on it that included the names and ages of everyone who had died in Connecticut that day, along with the names of companies and churches that had either donated the supplied for the swing set, donated money, or helped to build it.

There were stores from Bethel and Danbury, Connecticut listed on the plaque, which is where I used to live before moving to New Jersey.  What a small world that I was playing with kids in Uganda on a playground that was made with supplies from my former town!

Sarah and Mary brought their Polaroid camera, so the kids LOVED having their pictures taken.

We found out that afternoon that the professional development was a two-day course. Upon leaving, we knew that we would probably have another chaotic day in store for us the following day.  I was thankful for a calmer afternoon, but nervous what the next day would entail.

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Yep, I’m holding a baby!

Some of us switched roles the next day.  I stayed in the same room as the previous day because I figured that it would be helpful that I knew all of the names of the boys in that cottage.  Rachel, Cortnie, and Joe were in that cottage with me.

This was our last day volunteering in Uganda, so I think that most of us hoped that it would be a better experience than the prior day.  Fortunately, it was definitely better.  There were definitely still crazy, chaotic moments, but not nearly as many.

The woman who is the current director of Amani bought new movies, hoping that the kids would behave better if they were interested in a new movie that they hadn’t seen before.  That worked really well; the boys were engrossed in The Lion King.

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The only slight problem was that every kid wanted to sit in our laps, but there were only three of us.

They watched all of The Lion King, so we followed that with The Good Dinosaur.  They were less excited about that movie, so they got a little antsy.

We had snack time with more prayers, porridge, and bananas, and this time it was much better because the porridge wasn’t too hot when I got it from the kitchen.

We turned on Cars instead of The Good Dinosaur since they really didn’t like that one.  We could hear noises coming from the girls’ cottage and some of the girls ran into our cottage to show the boys some crafts they were making.  Cortnie, Rachel, and I were nervous that would cause the boys to become rambunctious as well.  We shut both of the doors so that the girls couldn’t distract them and then we brought out the crayons and coloring books.

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It went well, other than one kid who was eating his crayon:

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We left for lunch and when we returned, the mamas had a variety of hand-made items out on display.  It was great to be able to support the mamas by purchasing some souvenirs from them.

Then the kids had pineapple for a snack before going outside.  They wanted us to play “Let it Go” from Frozen on our phones.  Katie had that song on her phone, so she had played it for them before, but she wasn’t with us.  They didn’t understand how it was possible that we didn’t have the song.  We had a phone just like her, after all.  I tried to play them other songs on my phone, but they were unimpressed.

Then it was time to go outside for the rest of the afternoon.  Mama Georgina handed me a pair of nail clippers and said to trim the boys’ nails.  I wasn’t too sure how that was going to play out, but the boys were actually really good at staying still while I clipped their nails.  I’m not sure if I have ever clipped anyone’s nails before that.

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We had nail polish, so we painted their nails.  That was a bit of a mess since they kept moving too soon after and smudging the nail polish, but they liked it anyway.  We also had more bubbles.

It seemed like there were fewer kids that afternoon, so it was much calmer.  I was told that some of them were going to therapists or other appointments.

After playing for a while, it was getting close to our time to leave.  The mamas had the kids form a circle so that they could sing farewell songs to us.  That moment was really touching.

They sang some songs in English and some in Luganda; there were some that we were familiar with, such as “Baa Baa, Black Sheep,” and others that we had never heard.

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One girl started singing a Christian song and it was just precious.  Both her and her twin sister had one hand on their heart and one hand raised to the sky, praising God.

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The songs were really cute, but then it was time to leave.  One boy, Silas, had been sitting on my lap during all of the songs and he had been following me around a little bit that afternoon (he’s the one who ate the blue crayon).  He was holding onto my skirt as I got up to walk away.

I had to physically remove his arms from around my waist and then he started crying.  As we walked out of the compound, some of the kids (like Silas) were crying.  One boy, Edmond, ran up to the fence and waved goodbye.

I couldn’t stop a few tears from rolling down my cheeks.  I couldn’t help but consider how many people the children must say goodbye to.

It’s awesome that so many people go to Amani to volunteer, but there’s always a goodbye.  Some of these boys were abandoned by their parents, and I just felt like I was continuing the cycle of loss.

It was bittersweet, though, because at the same time, we were really needed there.  Although we did a lot of work with Sole Hope, I’m sure that they could have found anyone to help wash feet or pass out lollipops or stickers.

But when the mamas needed their professional development, I’m not sure what they would have done had we not been there.  Us being there helped take a lot off of their plate and I’m thankful that I was able to show my gratitude to them by removing some of their daily duties for a few days.

I know that God placed me and my team exactly where He needed us, so I know that I shouldn’t feel sad, but walking down the road and away from those children was really hard.


After leaving Amani, we went back to our guest house to pack our bags since we would be leaving early the following morning to take the long drive back to Entebbe for our flights home.

We left around 6:30 to drive about three hours to Entebbe.  We had our last lunch at a restaurant overlooking Lake Victoria.  It was nice to have one last team activity before heading out.

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We had a five and a half hour flight to Dubai, followed by a four hour layover.  When we landed in Dubai, we had to get off the plane and board a bus to take us to the airport, but Rachel was flying to Germany and Cortnie was flying to Dallas, so they had to get onto a different bus than the rest of us.

Unfortunately, we hadn’t expected that, so we didn’t really get to say goodbye.

The temperature was around 95 degrees even though it was 10pm in Dubai.  It was so hot and humid that my camera lens fogged up when I tried to take a picture.

Now this is completely random, but something weird about Dubai International Airport is that the toilets seemed to have hot water in them.  I’m not sure if it was hot simply because it was so hot outside.  (It was around 107 degrees on our trip in the opposite direction since it was day time in Dubai at that point.)  Or maybe they heat their toilet water, though I can’t imagine that.  It felt like sitting on a steamer or something when I sat on the toilet.  TMI?  Probably, but it was interesting to me.

After our layover, we flew about 14 hours to JFK and luckily, that was my last stop.  We went through immigration/customs, got our luggage, and I said goodbye to my team, most of whom had to wait for another flight later in the day.

So that was my experience in Uganda this summer.

To everyone who donated money to help me to go on this trip: thank you so much.  I would have been unable to do this work if it hadn’t been for your great generosity.  Although you were not able to be on the trip in the flesh, I brought you with me in my prayers.

To everyone who donated jeans or helped me to cut the jean patterns: thank you.  I was able to witness the entire shoemaking process, from jeans, to jean patterns, to sewing and creating shoes.  And then I was able to help out at the actual clinic and see the shoes on the feet of people who were now jigger-free.  Although you may have simply given me a pair of old jeans, they are now helping someone to avoid a jigger re-infestation.

To those of you who prayed for me and my team: I appreciate it so much.  There were a few teammates who experienced minor illnesses, but we were healthy for the most part.  We were safe, and we had an excellent, rewarding experience.

To my teammates, Kimi, Bart, Jacob, Katie, Cortnie, Rachel, Sara, Haley, Mary, Mia, and Joe: I am grateful for meeting you.  I know that God formed our team with each of you in mind.  We each brought along our own strengths and weaknesses and together, we were able to help spread love throughout Kampala and Jinja.  I will continue to pray for each of you and I expect to hear more amazing things that each of you are doing in your lives.  You are all inspiring.

Love,

Stephanie


Here is the video for part two of my trip:

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Uganda Part One: Sole Hope

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.

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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.

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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).

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Our team at Entebbe Airport

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.

Apricot Guesthouse:

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.

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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.

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Sixty Feet:

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.

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The next day we drove about three hours from Kampala to Jinja to work with Sole Hope.

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.

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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.

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Foot note

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.

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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.

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Inside the nurse’s station

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The kitchen

It was such a treat to have hot showers because we had cold ones when we were staying in Kampala.

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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.

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There were two dogs, Bear and Boomer, who always wanted attention.  Here is Boomer on my lap one day after a Sole Hope clinic.

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Here is a video from the first part of my trip to Uganda, mainly featuring Sole Hope:

 

God’s Abundant Blessings

I am currently still in a state of shock.  I cannot believe the ways that God has blessed me as of late.

I had recently been feeling very stressed financially.  For the first time, I owed money back when I completed my taxes.  So instead of receiving at least $800 as I had expected, I actually owed $1200.

I was also overwhelmed because I have to decide whether to fix some things on my car or to purchase another used car.  Plus, Friday night was one of my payment deadlines for my mission trip to Africa.  All of these numbers and bills were piling up and I wasn’t sure if I would have to drain my savings to get by.  I felt like maybe instead of volunteering, it would be more prudent to have a summer job, since I technically could work full time in the summer (since I’m a teacher), though I would prefer not to.

I knew somewhere deep in my heart that God would provide, but at the same time, I saw dollar signs looming on the horizon and I couldn’t help feeling worried about it.

Had I made a bad decision in my choice to volunteer in Africa this summer?  Maybe I was taking on more than I could handle financially.  Should I have opted for a cheaper, week-long mission trip somewhere in South America, which would have been more affordable?

Had I been too lavish in buying mainly organic produce, and meat?  Maybe I should risk the health concerns and go back to the antibiotic-infested meat and fish and pesticide-rich fruits and vegetables.  I really didn’t want to, but somehow, my finances had become a burden.

A few weeks ago, I was receiving phone calls from Franciscan University, my alma mater.  I knew they were calling for donations, as they typically do once a year.  I love that school so much, so I donate every year, but this year the timing was less than ideal.

After a week or so of intentionally not answering the phone, I finally picked it up one night, deciding that I needed to show God that I did, in fact, have faith in Him.  I couldn’t hoard my income and expect any fruit to come from that.  So despite my anxiousness about my finances, I made a donation to Franciscan University.

On a separate occasion, I was listening to my friend on the Catholic radio station.  It was their fundraising drive and initially, I planned not to donate because I knew that I already had too much to take care of financially in my own life.

But eventually, something made me realize that I couldn’t have that attitude.  I had to give with the faith that things would work out for me in the end if I could be generous to those who needed it.

And sure enough, that is exactly what happened.

By Friday evening (April 22nd), I needed a certain amount of money in my account for my mission trip to Uganda, followed by the final payment that was due by May 22nd.

All day, I left the donation page open on my computer, knowing that I would have to just put the amount (over $1500) on my credit card and hope that I would be able to raise some more money in the future.

That evening, almost immediately before I was about to put it on my credit card, I received a phone call from my mom that a family member of mine was interested in helping to make a substantial donation to my trip.

I almost burst out crying.  I am beyond humbled right now and incredibly gracious.

I feel so guilty for the amount of stress I have been experiencing lately with regard to my financial situation.  I should have maintained my faith in God, but I just kept doubting myself and my choices.

Yesterday during Mass, I couldn’t stop smiling and thanking God for His abundant blessings.

I am so glad that I made those donations to Franciscan and the Catholic radio station (in addition to my regularly scheduled donations, like the monthly $38 that goes to my sponsored child in Rwanda through Compassion International.)

When we give, we also receive.  That is so true in this very moment.

At the time that I signed up for the mission trip to Uganda, I truly felt that was my calling.  I absolutely love having a teacher’s schedule so that I can travel to volunteer each summer.  I have been blessed to experience a variety of mission trips serving in Ecuador, Haiti, Rwanda, and Nicaragua.  When deciding where to go this summer, the description of the Uganda trip immediately stood out to me.

We will be working in a children’s detention facility through Sixty Feet (prisons, the justice system, and justice reform is something that I care about quite a bit).  Then we will be working with Sole Hope, which holds medical clinics to remove jiggers from the feet of children (and adults) who have been infested.  It then provides them with shoes.

Everyone is on this earth with a certain calling.  One of my callings is to teach.  Another is to volunteer, specifically overseas, which is something that many people are afraid of, or simply uninterested in.

I regret how I had been second guessing my decision to join this mission trip because of finances and I am now more confident than ever that God has had a hand in forming this team and that there is a specific reason why that trip is the one that stood out to me.

I am absolutely astounded by the way everything happened this weekend.  I am beyond grateful to everyone who made a contribution to this trip.  I have received donations from close loved ones, to anonymous donors, to people who I have never met, but they know one of my friends of family members.  I am completely humbled by all of the support and I will continue to keep all of my donors in my prayers as I prepare for this mission trip.

In the end, God has our backs in every situation.  He is there for us and if we are able to accept that help and turn to Him when we are in need, we will reap great blessings.

We must give without knowing whether it’s a prudent financial decision because He will pay us back in ways we cannot even imagine.  We must maintain our generosity even when it seems most difficult to do so.

“Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to.” – Deuteronomy 15:10

“Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.” – Proverbs 3:27

Dear News Sources, Did You Know that People are Dying in Somalia?

I’ve already written posts previously about American egocentrism (see: American Egocentrism Strikes Again and American Egocentrism – Back at it Again), but it is a constant source of frustration for me.

I have been hearing lately about the desperate situations in which many people in eastern Africa are currently finding themselves due to famine as well as violence.  Most of this information I have come across because I follow the Machine Gun Preacher’s Facebook page after having found myself very interested in his organization, Angels of East Africa, which helps those suffering, after watching the film Machine Gun Preacher with Gerard Butler.  If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it.  The Machine Gun Preacher, Sam Childers, started out by choosing to go to Sudan to rescue children from the LRA and Joseph Kony.  These children were taken from their families, often forced to kill their own parents, and then were trained to kill.

I could go on forever about Sam Childers, but that isn’t the point here.  If I had not been following him on social media, I would have been like one of many Americans who are completely unaware of the current devastation in Africa.

There are also major problems occurring in Syria due to their current civil war.  There are tons of Syrian refugees right now.

There was also a recent situation where 40 or more Somalian refugees headed for Yemen were killed by an air strike.

Many people here in the United States fail to pay attention to the news at all.  However, even those who try to maintain an awareness of the world around them may have missed what is happening in countries like Somalia right now.

Why? Because American news sources are doing a poor job reporting much about it.  Even the world news sources aren’t paying as much attention as they should be.  Here is a look at some recent headlines from the home pages of these news sources from Saturday, March 18th, 2017.

New York Times:

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CNN News:

 

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BBC News:

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Al Jazeera:

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Okay, you get the idea.

Out of all of those sources, Al Jazeera was the only one that mentioned the problems in Syria.  The crises in Somalia and Syria are devastating right now.  There are people dying every day.  Yet out of four major news sources, only one of them mentioned it on their home page.  I could have guessed that it wasn’t going to be the American news source.

Now, what would happen if I specifically looked for world news within these same sources? (I skipped Al Jazeera this time since all of their news is world news.)

NY Times world news:

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CNN News world news:

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BBC News:

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Yep, just what I suspected.  Even the world news sections fail to mention the travesties taking place right now in countries like Somalia and Syria.

Yesterday, I was watching Casey Neistat’s video and it gave me some hope that although our news sources do a pitiful job informing Americans about certain problems in the world, maybe other famous people can do the job.  Casey Neistat gained popularity for his YouTube vlogs.  In this video, he mentions a project that his friend, Jerome Jarre (famous on Vine and Snapchat) came up with, with the help of actor Ben Stiller.

Jerome decided to look into what it would take to get a Turkish Airlines flight to be loaded with food to bring  to Somalia to help the many who are starving right now as a result of their famine.  Fortunately, Turkish Airlines agreed to work with them.

Here is the video:

Casey Neistat posted his video yesterday, March 17th.  It is currently March 18th at 2pm and the $1 million goal was not only met, but exceeded:

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That is absolutely incredible.  They were able to raise over one million dollars to help those dying of starvation in less than 24 hours.  As of right now, there were 42,186 donations.  Many of the donations are small amounts.  $5 here, $8 there.  Obviously there were some larger donations as well, but this goes to show how far a small amount of money can go.  It also shows that people do care to aid those in need if they were just aware of the situation and given a way to help.

Why must it take people like a random Vine star to bring awareness to issues like this?  Shouldn’t we already know about these sorts of problems from our news sources?  From our president?

Despite my frustration regarding the media, stories like this give me hope. Maybe the news outlets will cover the story because Casey Niestat and Ben Stiller are involved, which will provide even more awareness about the issues.

I know that it is easy to get wrapped up in our own little circle of friends and family, to only pay attention to local news that affects us directly.  I am guilty of this myself at times.  But we have to remember that even when our problems seem like a major burden, we are blessed to be living in a country in which most of us do not find it difficult to meet our basic needs.

We are rarely, if ever, in a situation where life or death is dependent upon whether or not we are able to find a source of water.  We do not have to hide in the bush while the LRA soldiers come looking to kidnap our children, rape our women, and murder or mutilate the rest of us.  We do not have to fear that the next thunderstorm may decimate our home.  If we get diarrhea, it’s an inconvenience, but not a death sentence.

I am thankful to be an American, but America, I expect more of you.  I know that people are up in arms about some of the things that Donald Trump has been doing lately.  I can assure you that I am not his biggest fan.

But despite all of that, we must remember that at this moment, someone in Somalia is taking his or her last breath, simply because he or she has gone too many days without a bite to eat or a sip of water.

How Will You Leave Your Mark on the World?

For my AP classes, I’m about to start analyzing the arguments of music videos with them.

So I decided to make my own video with an argument about leaving your mark on the world.

For this video, I compiled clips and photographs from my volunteer experiences in Ecuador, Haiti, Rwanda, and Nicaragua, plus some stuff from Brazil.

Here is the video if you’re interested in checking it out:

28 Things I’ve Learned in 28 Years

With my 28th birthday taking place tomorrow, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on the things I have learned thus far in life.  So, in light of turning 28 years old, here goes…

1. It doesn’t matter what people think.

I don’t really care what people think about most of the choices that I make in my life, but that is something that hasn’t always been true.

My middle school and high school self definitely cared what people thought of me, but once you remove that weight off of your shoulders, it really sets you free to become who you want to become and to do what you love.

I will continue to be myself, whether or not people like it.

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2. God must always remain my top priority.

When I am feeling depressed, lonely, or in pain, it’s so easy to turn to God in prayer.  But it’s also easy to forget about Him when things are going well rather than praising Him in thanksgiving.

Just like friendships will fade, family is not perfect either.  But God is my perfect father who has been by my side through every obstacle.

He is my main focus, since Heaven is my goal.  He is the source of all joy.  He has to come before everything else in my life – money, friends, relationships, work…everything.

Without Him, I am nothing.

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Christ the Redeemer with my sister in Rio de Janeiro

3. Family will be there during the toughest times.

Friendships sometimes weaken, relationships end, and once that happens, it is family who will be there to support me no matter what, even if they don’t necessarily agree with my decisions.

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My mom’s side of the family

4. True friends are people who lift you up and who push you to become the best version of yourself.

I don’t need to have tons of acquaintances.  I would rather have a few solid friendships, and those true friends are people who will push me to become better and to make positive choices in my life.

A true friend will be honest with me and let me know when I may be making a bad decision.  She will let me know that the guy I’m interested in might not be the best choice for me.  She will support me during the tough times and she will be there to laugh with me through life’s adventures.

A friend is not someone who I need to prove myself to; rather, a true friend will love me for me.

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With Lizzy in NYC

5. Exercise should be a priority.

Now that I’ve endured a 9-year continuing battle with Lyme disease, I’ve tried many different treatment options.  But when it comes down to it, exercise seems to be the best remedy, at least for me.  I did the antibiotics (doxycycline, tetracycline, ceftin, biaxin, and mepron).  I cut nightshades from my diet (tomatoes, white potatoes, peppers, eggplant).  I used herbal supplements (fish oil, resveratrol, andrographis, cat’s claw, astragalus, garlic, B-12).

And I absolutely believe that a combination approach will always work the best for Lyme.  However, exercise would have to be my top choice.  When I run, I feel free.  It removes any sadness or stress.  It strengthens my body.  In order to maintain my health as well as my sanity, I need to exercise on a regular basis.

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Running the Hartford Marathon

6. Yoga is much more than glorified stretching.

I don’t know why yoga always had such a negative connotation in my mind.  I thought it looked boring and easy.  But now that I’ve been going to hot yoga since February, I’ve come to love it.

It has strengthened my body, increased my flexibility, decreased my stress and tension, and made me a faster runner.  And it’s definitely not easy.

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7. Dessert is absolutely acceptable.

I eat healthy and I pay attention to the foods I put into my body.  I try to eat as much organic produce as I can, I opt for grass-fed beef, and I avoid farm-raised fish.  But I am against dieting and tight food restrictions since they usually don’t work anyway.

So while I eat healthy most of the time, I won’t give up desserts.  I have a sweet tooth and it’s not something that I’m trying to lose.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t eat massive, decadent desserts every day.  Sometimes my dessert consists of 6 Reese’s Pieces or two Starbursts.  But still, I love dessert and I don’t plan on changing that.

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Mint chocolate chip Freak Shake

8. Material objects do not provide lasting happiness.

I’m not a very materialistic person, so this is something that I’ve always known, but it amazes me how many people my age still seem to believe that new car or computer will cause them great happiness.

I don’t own designer clothes.  With the cost of one designer blouse, I can instead buy at least four shirts at cheaper stores.  I don’t think I’m any less happy because of it.

I’ve never had a new car.  I prefer used.  Then, if it gets some scratches, I don’t really care, since it already had some to start with.

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My first car (used Plymouth Grand Voyager from my grandpa) and my second and current car (used Honda Civic)

9. Financial stability is nice, but wealth is unnecessary.

Do I seek to be poor? Of course not.  I am happy that I am financially stable, but wealth is not my goal.

I want to be able to provide for myself in terms of the things that I need in life, but I don’t need to buy that beach house or that Maserati to consider myself successful.

If I one day have a family, I hope that my husband and I can provide a level of stability without spoiling our children.  I want to be able to do the things that I need to do, but I don’t want to be so wealthy that I forget what it is like to struggle.

10. A yearly vacation is necessary.

So many people never go on vacation.  Others go once every few years.  For me, yearly vacation (or vacations even more often than that) are an essential part of life.

That doesn’t mean I have to shell out thousands of dollars to fly to Hawaii, Fiji, or Cabo.  I’d be happy with a week down the shore, a weekend getaway, a trip to see Niagara Falls or the Grand Canyon.

Growing up, my mom never had much money, but vacation was always a priority.  She saved all  year so that we could go to Long Beach Island for one or two weeks and for that I am grateful.  Everyone needs time to hit reset, time to forget about work and problems at home and simply relax.

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Long Beach Island, New Jersey

11. Volunteering benefits the volunteer as much as the people being served.

I love traveling overseas on mission trips and serving the poor of the world.  But what is always amazing to me is how I end up being served, how I end up learning so much from the people I think I am going to help.

The Rwandans I met last summer were the happiest people, yet the poorest I’ve ever met.  They had nothing.  Some of them lived in one-room homes that were constructed from mud.  They had torn clothes.  One pot to cook with.  But their smiles could light up the room and their prayer was incredibly heartfelt. They worshipped God through their song and dance like nothing I’ve ever seen in America.  I was humbled to meet them.

Everyone should participate in some sort of community service.  It doesn’t need to be overseas; it can be down the road at the soup kitchen, or helping out with Habitat for Humanity.

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With my sponsored child, Patience, in Rwanda

12. A simple smile can brighten one’s day.

I try to be friendly and welcoming to everyone I come into contact with.  I say hello or wave to people I pass on my runs.  I care to hear the answer when I ask the supermarket cashier how her day is going.  I smile.  A lot.

Just like that famous quote about how we never know who may be falling in love with our smile, we also don’t know what obstacles the people we encounter on a day to day basis are facing.  Our smile might seem insignificant, but it could be what lifts a person’s spirits and makes them feel loved.

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13. Love is powerful.

I have a tattoo from 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.  This verse reads: “If I speak in the tongues of men or angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophesy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have the faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”

Love is what it all comes down to.  If you volunteer only to convince people that you’re a good person, it’s meaningless.  If you help the poor while judging them and looking down upon them, you’re not really helping.  We must do everything with love.

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In La Jolla, California with Amy, Lizzy, and Kara

14. Struggles strengthen and shape us.

Nobody wants to face pain, but it is those moments when we come close to rock bottom that we learn from the most.  It is those times of weakness that build us up.

During the various obstacles that life brings, it’s often difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but looking back, it becomes more clear how each struggle helped us to grow.

15. We must take pride in our work.

I love my job as a teacher and I take a great deal of pride in that.  I wish more people felt the same way about their jobs.

But even if you don’t have your dream job, you should still take pride in it.  I didn’t always have the perfect job.  I was a custodian for two years during college, but I still put forth my full effort.  I vacuumed every little corner in the library and I washed every smudge off of the windows.  Was it my dream job? No, but I still did it to the best of my ability.

There are custodians in my school who are the most positive, energetic people.  Did they grow up hoping to clean schools for a living?  Probably not, but that’s where they are at the moment and they are carrying out their responsibilities without complaint and with their full effort.

My generation is full of entitled people who think that they deserve that position as CEO with very little work.  They don’t want to accept anything lower than their dream position, but for most people, that dream job won’t ever happen without the stepping stones that lead to it.

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With two of my former students

16. We need to stop judging others, comparing ourselves, and being so critical.

If I spend my time judging someone, I will have no time to love him.

There will always be someone with a better job, prettier face, more toned body.  We live in such a cutthroat world that leads us to compare ourselves to everyone.  I can’t say that I’ve never done this before; we all do.

But this judging just hurts us as well as the people we’re looking down upon.

We don’t know what someone has experienced in his life.  We don’t know why people make the decisions that they do.  We must spend our time loving them rather than critiquing them.

17. We must savor the moment.

We need to be present in the moment, rather than waiting for the future or living in the past.

So many people waste their life away hoping for the future.  The high school student thinks that life will begin after graduation.  The college student is waiting for the “real world” that will open up to him after earning his degree.  The girl who spends her days hoping for her future husband.  The married couple longing to have children.  The older couple waiting for retirement.

Every day is special and we must acknowledge that, rather than wasting our time waiting for what we want next.  Be happy with today.

18. We should strive to remain child-like.

As the Bible says, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

As children, we long to become adults.  And sometimes as adults we take life too seriously.

It is not just good, but necessary, at times, to be like children and to have their childlike faith.  We need to step back from our hectic lives to embrace laughter and silliness once in a while.

Children can accept the idea of God and Heaven so much more easily than many adults.  They have that childlike faith that God really wants from each of us.

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19. We must be aware of current events.

I’m not always the best when it comes to this.  Since I don’t have cable, I never see the news, so I have to make a point to look at the news online.  Some days I’m better than others.

I know that the news can make us cynical or frustrated, but we have to make ourselves aware of the world.

And we can’t just focus on America.  We must pay attention to international news as well.

If you have never heard of the Rwandan genocide, you should go do a little research.  If you know nothing about the many recent terrorist attacks, you should spend a few minutes educating yourself.

We can’t give into the “stupid American” stereotype.

20. Experiences are more memorable than tangible objects.

When I think about my experiences in life thus far, these are some of my most memorable moments (and none of them has to do with a tangible object):

-Teaching a group of teachers while volunteering in Haiti

-Trekking with gorillas in Rwanda

-Blowing bubbles while running around with a group of young children in Ecuador

-Hiking up a waterfall with my now brother-in-law in Rio and swimming under one in Brasilia

-Sitting on the hang-gliding platform with my aunt and cousins, enjoying the view of Brazil

-Family trips to Long Beach Island and Myrtle Beach

-Standing in line to get to stand front row at the Eminem/Rihanna concert

-Standing in line to wait for Adam Sandler’s autograph

-Hiking with my dog, Butterscotch, at Tarrywile and Lover’s Leap

-Meeting my sister for the first time at the airport in Rio and meeting my Brazilian grandparents for the first time in Cruzeiro do Sul

I could go on an on, but none of those memories has to do with any tangible object.  They are all experiences that are memorable because of the activities I was taking part in and the people I was spending time with.

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Gorilla trekking in Rwanda

 

21. We can’t let fear stop us from living a fulfilling life.

I grew up terrified of airplanes.  I told my mom that I would honeymoon at the Jersey Shore because I had no need to travel if a flight was required.

But ever since my first flight during my trip to the Dominican Republic with my mom during my senior year of high school, I have learned how this silly fear of airplanes would have stopped me from experiencing so many places like Ecuador, San Diego, Brazil, Haiti, Rwanda, Texas, and Nicaragua (in a few weeks).

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Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

22. We ladies with curly hair need to embrace it.

I used to despise my curly hair.  Although it’s not as curly now as it was when I was young, it’s still quite curly.  Although I would still love to have naturally straight hair, I have learned how to maintain my curls and how to make them look better by using mousse.

So many girls with curly or wavy hair straighten it every single day, but that just ruins the health of their hair.  So will I still straighten it occasionally?  Sure.  But most of the time, I now embrace the curls that I was born with.

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23. We must never stop learning.

I might be going into my 7th year of teaching, but there is still so much for me to learn.  We must never become satisfied with our current level of knowledge, as there is so much to know in this world.

Not only do I want to learn more about the best teaching methods, but I also want to become fluent in Spanish and Portuguese, two languages that I can understand and speak (Spanish more than Portuguese), but not fluently.

My mom started college when I was in high school.  She graduated with her associate’s degree when I graduated with my bachelor’s.  She graduated with her bachelor’s when I earned my master’s degree.  There is no age that is too old to keep learning.

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Mom’s graduation from WCSU the day after mine for my M.S.

24. Jumping pictures never get old.

I love them.  I take them everywhere.  I may be 28 years old, but I have no shame.

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With Amy in Coronado, California

25. We shouldn’t always take ourselves too seriously.

Life is meant to be enjoyed.  Sometimes, we need to just let ourselves loose and be silly.  We can’t be so rigid that we forget to enjoy the simple moments.

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With my cousins in Frost Valley, NY

26. Cousins are the friends we get to keep for life.

I love my cousins so much and I have so much fun with all of them.  I started off just knowing my two cousins on my mom’s side, but then as aunts and uncles started to get married, I got so many more.  And then I met my family in Brazil, along with even more cousins.

I’ll probably always be closest to my two cousins, Doug and Dan, on my mom’s side, since we spent so much time together, especially when going on vacations while growing up.  They’re more like the brothers I never had than cousins and I’m blessed to have them in my life.

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With Doug and Dan on Christmas Eve

27. Dogs truly are man’s best friend.

I love dogs and I miss Butterscotch so much, even though he hasn’t been with my for two full years now.

And rescued dogs are the best, since you can save them from previously rough lives.

I had so much fun walking him, hiking with him, and just cuddling up next to him on the couch while watching a good movie.

He licked my tears off of my cheeks when I cried.  He could tell when I was not feeling well.  He was with me for ten years and he was such an important part of my life during that time.

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The day I adopted Butterscotch for my sweet sixteen

28. Laughter is the best medicine.

I love laughing.  I laugh all of the time.

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American Egocentrism – Back at it Again

I know that I previously wrote a post about this, but I am still so frustrated by this topic of American egocentrism.

Our news outlets only care when Americans (or sometimes other Westerners) are the ones affected.

This was a headline that I saw today:

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I understand that Americans who have potentially lost their loved ones are distraught.  But it is not all about us.  We should be concerned about every person who lost his or her life during the attacks, not just the Americans.  We need to care about the Brussels bombings because they are a tragic event.  This tragedy is not made worse just because there is the potential that some Americans were involved.

This happens time and time again.  When Americans are involved in a tragedy, it’s broadcast all over the news.  But what about all of the atrocities that are taking place across the world that we never hear about because we are not directly affected?  Those lives still matter.

There is that trending hashtag, #BlackLivesMatter.  But more than just black lives, every life matters.  Let’s increase the popularity of a different hashtag: #AllLivesMatter.

A former student of mine posted this image on her Facebook account today:

 

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This is exactly what I am talking about here.

It’s easy to simply blame the news outlets for this situation, but really, we as Americans must accept responsibility.  Media outlets are for-profit entities.  They release to the public the stories that they believe will get the most attention.

It’s just like any other industry that deals with supply and demand.  We Americans are the suppliers.  We must demand to be provided with news about other countries beyond America and European countries.

The problem is that we as Americans are too focused on our own nation.  Many of us don’t care what is happening in Africa or the Philippines, unless, of course, our brother happens to be traveling to Libya this week, in which case we then want to know what is happening there (but only until he is safe at home, at which point, we proceed to forget about Libya).

Ebola

When Ebola was killing people throughout Africa, we didn’t care until the first infected person flew to the United States.

Zika

The same is true of the Zika virus.  It had been wreaking havoc among pregnant mothers and newborn babies across South America, but it did not receive much of an increase in news attention until people in Florida started contracting it.

AIDS

AIDS was a major epidemic here in the 1990s, but now that America is doing much better in that respect, people forget that it absolutely still exists and that people are dying every day in Africa from that disease.

Malaria

Malaria is also something that we forget about.  The Against Malaria Foundation is one of the most effective charities because it is able to save tens of thousands of lives from providing people with mosquito nets, which are not very expensive to purchase.  Yet most Americans don’t even remember how devastating this preventable disease can be to the people who are affected by it.

Haiti’s Earthquake

Every American news outlet provided specific details about Americans who had been traveling in Haiti when the earthquake struck Port-au-Prince.  Sure, they also released the overall death count, but the focus was always on the American lives lost.


 

I could go on and on providing examples of illnesses and tragedies that Americans ignore as long as Americans are not involved.  I’m not sure that it is something that will ever change.  It can only change if we as Americans begin demanding to learn about more international news.

We need to stop acting as though the world revolves around us.  It does not.  Let’s take some time to pray for our brothers in Brussels who may have lost their lives, who were injured, or whose family members were injured.  Let’s pray for them not because we heard of the American who was there, but because every life is important.

#AllLivesMatter

 

2015: My Year in Review

Last year, I wrote a blog entitled 2014 Year in Review.  2014 was a busy year, and also on of the saddest years of my life since I had to put my dog, Butterscotch, to sleep.  But there were also positive memories like multiple Spartan races, spring break in Marco Island, Florida, and a trip to Brazil for my sister’s wedding.

Unfortunately, I was not able to run even 1 race in 2014 since I was dealing with Lyme symptoms for the majority of the year.  I’m hoping that will change for 2016.  Regardless, though, I still had a pretty great 2015.

Here’s a look at this past year.  2015 in Review:

JANUARY:

-Started off the New Year with Matt making dinosaur chicken nuggets and shaped mac & cheese for dinner

-Annual trip to Frost Valley (in Claryville, NY) with my family

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New Year’s Eve dinner courtesy of Matthew
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At High Falls – Frost Valley
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Our family at Frost Valley

FEBRUARY:

-Family party at the dinner theater for my Grandma’s 80th birthday

-Day trip to Philly with Matthew

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Westchester Dinner Theater in NY
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Drexel’s Academy of Natural Sciences in Philly
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New Year’s Eve dinner courtesy of Matthew

MARCH:

-My mom’s birthday

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APRIL:

-Hosting my family’s Easter at my apartment in Danbury

-Trip to the Philadelphia Zoo

-Spring break in Orange Beach, Alabama with my mom

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Easter
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Easter egg hunt
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Easter

 

MAY:

-Impractical Jokers at Mohegan Sun for my mom’s birthday present

-DHS Senior prom at the Amber Room

-Mother’s Day party at my grandparents’ house

-One year anniversary with Matthew

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Impractical Jokers at Mohegan Sun
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DHS Senior Prom – The Amber Room
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Mother’s Day

JUNE:

-Belated anniversary dinner at the Churrascaria in Port Chester, NY

-What I didn’t realize at the time was my last DHS graduation, since I was not yet aware that I would be moving to new Jersey less than 2 months later

-Going to see the Twin Lights in Highlands, NJ

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One year anniversary dinner

JULY:

-4th of July party for my grandpa’s birthday

-Getting hired as an English teacher in New Jersey

-Finding my new apartment

-One week vacation in Long Beach Island, NJ

-My 27th birthday

-Mission trip to Rwanda with Visiting Orphans

 

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Grandpa’s birthday
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My 27th birthday
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LBI with my mom
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Long Beach Island, New Jersey

 

AUGUST:

-Visiting my sponsored child, Patience, in Rwanda

-Gorilla trekking in Rwanda

-Visiting Lizzy in Virginia

-Packing up my classroom at DHS

-Visiting Brazilian family in New York City

-Moving from Danbury, CT to Belmar, NJ

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My sponsored child, Patience
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With Patience’s family

 

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Manassas, Virginia
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Packing up my classroom…very bittersweet
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New classroom in Jersey

SEPTEMBER:

-Starting my 6th year of teaching and first year teaching in Jersey.

-Grandma & Grandpa’s 60th anniversary party

OCTOBER:

-Tyler Ward concert

-New last day of the season swimming record: October 11th

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Tyler Ward concert in Asbury Park
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Swimming in the ocean in Belmar on October 11th

NOVEMBER:

-Visiting with Amy and going up to Massachusetts with her for a wedding

-Thanksgiving

-Jets vs. Dolphins football game for Matthew’s birthday present

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Tina & Tony’s wedding in Massachusetts with Amy

DECEMBER:

-Christmas Eve at Grandma & Grandpa’s house

-Christmas in Connecticut

-Visiting Amy in Austin

-Visiting Dan, Vivi, and Ryan in San Antonio

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Trying on cowboy hats in Austin
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HOPE Outdoor Gallery in Austin
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Austin, Texas
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San Antonio River Walk

2015 ended up being a pretty busy year.  I spent time in Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Massachusetts, Texas, and Rwanda.  Now it’s time to see what 2016 will bring…

The Unjust Stigma that Surrounds HIV/AIDS

This conversation happened today:

Anonymous person: “Did you hear that Charlie Sheen has AIDS?”

Me: “No, I didn’t get a chance to look at the news yet.”

Anonymous person: “Oh yea, he has AIDS.  But you know, Charlie Sheen has always been a wild guy.  He was involved with prostitutes and he’s always had problems with substance abuse.”

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That is probably the way most people are discussing Charlie Sheen’s HIV diagnosis.  But there are so many problems there.

First off, I’m not perfect.  I have been guilty of perpetuating the AIDS stigma as well, but I have now learned more of the truth behind it.  I’ll admit that when I used to hear that someone had AIDS, my first thoughts were that this person was either A) promiscuous, B) gay, or C) a drug user.  But now, I have learned more about it.  I do not want to continue making such rude assumptions.

Until making a point to research the difference between HIV and AIDS today, I didn’t really understand the difference.  HIV? AIDS? In my mind, it was the same thing.  That thing we always learned about in health class.  That disease affecting millions of Africans.  The reason our health teachers always teach us about condoms.

So here are some clarifications if you, like myself, were a contributing factor of the HIV/AIDS stigma.

AIDS and HIV are not the same thing.

HIV is the name of the virus that may one day turn into AIDS, which is a condition wherein a person has very low T-cells.

In third-world countries, HIV turns into AIDS much more quickly due to a lack of healthcare.  In developed nations, this is not the case.  Because of medical advancements, many people who have been infected with the HIV virus are able to keep their T-cell count under control.  It may take years for the virus to ever develop into AIDS.

According to the CDC, AIDS only develops once a person’s immune system has been damaged a significant amount.  At this point, people are more susceptible to other illnesses, which leads into my next point.

AIDS is not what kills infected people.

Once a person has developed AIDS, his T-cells are so low that his immune system is very weak.  It is very easy for him to acquire another illness, such as infections and cancers.

According to the CDC, a person who develops AIDS has about 3 years to live, with treatment.  Without treatment, a person will typically die in less than a year (which is why the AIDS crisis is such a problem in third-world nations where people cannot afford the necessary treatments).

If a person is on antiretroviral therapy (ART), he can actually live for decades with the HIV virus and without it developing into AIDS.

People don’t die from AIDS directly; they die as a result of the illnesses they acquire due to their compromised immune system.

A person does not need to be promiscuous to acquire HIV or AIDS.

HIV can absolutely be acquired through sexual intercourse.  And truthfully, that is often the cause of HIV.  But the moment we hear about someone being infected with HIV, we should not assume that this person was promiscuous.  Maybe he just had a blood transfusion that went badly.  There are other possibilities.

Even if a person was promiscuous, that gives us no right to judge him.

So let’s pretend that Charlie Sheen did get HIV as a result of promiscuity.  What does that change?

We don’t know how he acquired the virus.  If he got it as a result of a blood transfusion, would people be less judgmental?

We don’t know the details and we should not make assumptions.  I am sure that he is completely overwhelmed by his diagnosis, not to mention having to live with the disease in the public spotlight.

It is not our job to judge him.

Charlie Sheen isn’t perfect.  But neither am I and neither are you.  Even if he acquired the illness due to risky behaviors, he is still a human being who should have his dignity.

If you have AIDS, that doesn’t mean that you’re gay.

Do gay people sometimes have AIDS?  Yes.  Do heterosexual people have AIDS? Yes.

Can a gay person transmit the disease through sexual intercourse?  Yes, but the same is true for anyone partaking in sexual intercourse, regardless of sexual orientation.

AIDS is a sexually-transmitted disease.  It is not a homosexually-transmitted disease, despite what some people seem to believe.

If you are going to have sex with someone, there is the chance that you could become infected with HIV, unless you know that you both have been tested.  It doesn’t really matter if you are gay or straight.

Having AIDS also doesn’t mean that you have used drugs.

Can people get HIV through drug use?  Yep.  If a person uses dirty needles to shoot up heroin, he could acquire HIV.

But the same is true if I happened to cut open my leg while someone else had another open wound.  I could just as easily get HIV if our blood mixed as a person could from using a dirty needle.

We need to stop all of these stereotypes.

Let’s educate people rather than promoting stigmas.

HIV can obviously be transmitted as a result of drug use and sexual intercourse, so we need to educate people on these matters.

But we also need to teach people to respect everyone and to avoid judging them.

Charlie Sheen has hidden his illness for the past four years because he is aware of the negativity associated with the illness.  Not only is he sick, but because he is sick with HIV in particular, he has to spend a great deal of energy simply trying to keep his secret.  He should only have to worry about maintaining his health, but until today, he couldn’t do that.

Celebrities with illnesses like cancer and Parkinson’s disease are able to deal with their illness without being shamed.  For Charlie Sheen, that is not the case, thanks to this silly stigma.

Why do we stigmatize AIDS, but not other illnesses?

If a person has AIDS, we assume the things I mentioned previously about my own ignorant assumptions towards people infected with HIV: that they are gay, promiscuous, or a drug user.

Why is this not true of other diseases?

Type-2 diabetes is preventable (or at least delayed) with a healthy lifestyle.  Yet we don’t usually meet someone who has diabetes and think, “well, it’s her own fault for eating so many donuts and sweets.”

Can you imagine if that was our reaction?  How cold and heartless.

Yet for some reason, HIV/AIDS is different.  We feel entitled to not only judge these people, but to completely disrespect their dignity.


 

So Charlie Sheen, I commend your courage and bravery.  I have no place to judge anything about your lifestyle.  Heck, I don’t even know much about you.

Unfortunately, I do know that people will no longer look at you the same.  People will utter nasty thoughts about you simply because of your admission of your illness.

You are unfortunate enough to have acquired an illness that may cause you more pain as a result of the opinion of the general public than from the actual symptoms, and that is a shame.

But you can at least breathe in a sigh of relief that your secret is out.  You can stop hiding.

And hopefully, maybe thanks in part to you coming into the limelight, people will begin to realize that HIV/AIDS is something that can affect anyone.  Maybe your story will help to enlighten those of us who don’t understand all that this illness entails.

 

 

 

Traveling: A Necessary Component to a Fulfilled Life

I recently signed up for my next mission trip: a trip to Visakhapatnam (nicknamed Vizag), India this coming August.  I have never before felt the desire to go to India, but upon reading the details about the trip, I was hooked.  Any time I sign up for a new trip or buy my plane tickets, I feel the travel bug hit me, along with all of its excitement and anticipation.  I ended up watching a few interesting TED Talks about traveling.  There were a few quotes that caught my ear.

The following are my favorite quotes about travel:

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain

It’s very difficult to maintain prejudices if you’re constantly venturing out of your own town, city, or country.  By placing yourself around people with backgrounds that are totally different from your own, you begin to find a deep appreciation for all of these differences and a greater understanding of the world around you.  Rather than looking down upon those who are different, you learn to embrace them.

“Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.” – Ibn Battuta

I could go on for weeks with all of my stories from the various trips I have been on.  When teaching, I sometimes have to stop myself from telling stories because I could waste entire class periods just talking about my experiences in foreign lands.

“The gladdest moment in human life, me thinks, is a departure into unknown lands.” – Sir Richard Burton

Although I hate airplane takeoffs, I love the feeling of excitement when I am about to travel to a place I’ve never been to before.

“No place is ever as bad as they tell you it’s going to be.” – Chuck Thompson

This quote reminds me of my experiences in Haiti.  When I signed up for Project Teach, some of my family members were very upset and nervous about my safety.  Why would anyone ever want to go to Haiti?  After all, isn’t the country full of violence?

The reason why American automatically hear the word Haiti and think violence is because of the media.  Remember when the earthquake hit?  The media made it seem like the entire country was destroyed.  I am by no means downplaying that disaster — it was devastating; over 230,000 people were killed.  But the earthquake did not ruin the entire country the way the news made it seem.

Thus far in my travels, I have yet to see a more beautiful beach than those I encountered in Haiti.  The news sure doesn’t tell us that story of Haiti.  We hear about the earthquakes, the deaths, violence, the tensions between Haitians and Dominicans.  We don’t hear about the hardworking Haitian teachers who walked to my classroom 2 hours each day for my professional development seminar, only to then walk 2 hours home.  We don’t hear about the gorgeous beaches that are still mostly untouched since tourism is not as prominent in Haiti as other resort-filled islands like the Bahamas.

This is Haiti, the country that I was told was dirty and disgusting, and violent.  They failed to mention the sheer beauty of the land:

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Haiti5

The same is true with Brazil.  Although people don’t think of Brazil as being on the same level as Haiti, many Americans are hesitant to travel there.  They hear about all of the violence and assume that any American will instantly be mugged.  Yes, there is violence, but I never felt unsafe either of the times I was in Brazil (or when I was in Haiti, for that matter).  Of course, you also can’t play into the ignorant, stupid American stereotype.

Brazil, like Haiti, is breathtaking.  If you listen to the people who tell you that you shouldn’t go because it’s too violent, you’ll miss views like this:

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Copacabana

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Ipanema
Ipanema
Boat ride on a river in the Amazon rainforest on Christmas Eve of 2012
Boat ride on a river in the Amazon rainforest on Christmas Eve of 2012

I know that there will be people who will try to tell me about all of the negative things about India before I leave, but honestly, I don’t really care.  I will experience India for myself.

“Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.” – Gustave Flaubert

To travel is to be filled with humility.  In Haiti and Rwanda, I had no idea how to speak Creole, French, or Kinyarwanda.  Ecuador was less frightening since I know Spanish, and despite not really knowing Portuguese, I can still understand the gist of the conversations when I am in Brazil since it’s similar to Spanish.  But being in places where I can’t communicate more than a few simple words is not only a bit scary, but it definitely provides humility.  I become reliant on the translators to help me to understand what is happening.  I am not in control when I am in these foreign lands.  I realize how insignificant I really am.

“We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us.” – Anonymous

I don’t want to be on my deathbed with a whole slew of money and a lack of experiences.  I would rather have the memories and the photographs with me than a pile of money that is gone the moment I die.

“Once a year, go someplace you’ve never been before.” – Dalai Lama

I hope that I can do this in my life.  I hope that, even once I have a family and more responsibilities, I can always go some place new.  That doesn’t even have to be a different country.  A new city or state would also be fine.  Although I also enjoy returning to familiar places (like Long Beach Island, NJ, where I vacation each summer), it’s necessary to also experience new places.

“Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all of one’s lifetime.” – Mark Twain

When I taught in Bridgeport, CT, there were students who had never been outside of their own city.  That astounded me.  Forget about leaving the country.  These students had never crossed into neighboring towns.  Their worldview was only based on what they had seen in one city.  That saddened me so much because I know how much they were missing out on.  Although it’s not their fault, they will never truly understand the world around them unless they are able to leave that city and experience new things.

“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” – Anonymous

People sometimes think that travel is extravagant.  I’d like to disagree.  I believe that buying that Michael Kors watch or the Coach purse is extravagant.  To me, even Vera Bradley items and Alex & Ani bracelets are extravagant.  This just comes down to a personal opinion.  I save my money so that I can travel.  I don’t splurge on clothes.  Although I sometimes buy new clothes, it’s always on sale, and always from a store like Kohl’s that has reasonable prices.  I’ve never bought anything that was designer-made.  That just isn’t my priority.  I could have a closet full of designer items, but that wouldn’t make me richer.  On the other hand, I love looking at my walls of photographs and paintings from all of my travels.  Those experiences absolutely make my life more complete.

“The world is a book, and those who do not travel read only one page.” – Saint Augustine

I want to experience as much of the world as I possibly can.  I strive to see as many new places and cultures as possible.  I want to read every page of that book, not just the page of my little section of the United States.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.” – Mark Twain

I spend quite a bit of money on my travels — even when I volunteer and raise money.  From flights, to vaccinations, to Malaria pills, to accommodations, to visas, to food, it all adds up quickly.  I am incredibly grateful to the people who donated money or supplies toward my trips to Ecuador and Rwanda.

But even if I was unable to find anyone to contribute anything to my trip, I would make the necessary sacrifices to continue to travel.  Let’s say I spend $4,000 on my trip to India (I’m hoping to spend less, and I’m hoping to fundraise for part of the cost again).  In 10 years, will I think, “Gosh, I shouldn’t have gone to India.  I would have $4,000”?  Of course not.  You can’t put a price on all of the experiences I have been able to take part in on my various trip both for vacationing and for volunteering.  They’re absolutely priceless.

If I were to save every penny I earned, where would I be in 50 years?  Richer, maybe?  Retired with a whole bunch of money but without any rich experiences from traveling?  When I die, my money is useless.  Although I am trying to save my money for future needs (like buying my first home), I always make sure that I also save with travel as my goal.  It’s not an option, but rather a priority for me.

“To travel is to discover that everyone is wrong about other countries.” – Aldous Huxley

Is Haiti violent? Sure, in some parts.  Is Brazil violent?  Yep, same answer.  But then again, I’d argue that America is also violent.  Think of all of our mass shootings.  Maybe better advice than not traveling out of America is the opposite: get out of America, where you’re more likely to be a victim of gun violence than in many other parts of the world.

“You don’t have to be rich to travel well.” – Eugene Fodor

I am by no means rich, but I am very careful with my money and savings.  The items I spend most of my money on are my trips and food, since I prefer to eat organic produce and meat and wild-caught fish, which are all quite pricey.

Thanks to my ability to save a large portion of every paycheck, I am able to travel at least once a year.  Some of the places I’ve been to include:

Connecticut

New York

Rhode Island

New Jersey

Massachusetts

Vermont

New Hampshire

Pennsylvania

Ohio

West Virginia

South Carolina

Florida

Virginia

California

Alabama

-Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic

-Quito and Misahualli, Ecuador

-Port-au-Prince, Haiti

-Rio de Janeiro, Manaus, and Cruzeiro do Sul, Brazil

-Kigali, Gisenyi, and Bugesera, Rwanda

-And this year I will be going to Austin and San Antonio, Texas, and Visakhapatnam, India

Some of these places were quick, weekend getaways or day trips, while others were trips that lasted for two or more weeks.  Some were paid for by my family members when I was younger and on other, more recent trips I paid for them with money that I had saved up.  For Ecuador and Rwanda, I paid for a portion of the cost, while I fundraised for the rest.

I really believe that almost anyone can go on vacation; they just need to determine their priorities.  If travel isn’t a priority, then it probably won’t happen.

“Stuff your eyes with wonder, live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.” – Ray Bradbury

If you knew that you had one year to live, what would you do?  I would definitely spend time with my family, but I would also travel to as many places as I could.

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” – Neale Donald Walsch

I love this one.  There have been many experiences in my travels that were not necessarily the most comfortable situations.  But that’s what stretches each of us as human beings — getting out of our comfort zones to experience something new.