The Trip of a Lifetime to Porogali, Uganda by University of Oregon Student Athletes

The Trip of a Lifetime by Hannah Blair

The trip all began on June 14, as we began our long journey to Uganda. Over a full day of traveling later, we finally reached our destination and were greeted with the most mesmerized children. That first night at the village was something special; it was our first chance to mingle with the locals. The children greeted us with song and dance and had us in awe from the beginning. Some of them were really shy at first, as were we, stumbled by the language barrier. By the end of the night, I think we had high-fived just about every kid in the village. I think that really set the tone for the trip and made us all excited for the hard, yet rewarding, week ahead.

All the previous groups that went on the trip said the trip would change our lives and give us some of the best friends. I didn’t realize how true that was until I reflected on the trip as we were riding home on our “6” hour van ride, which turned into 9 hours (“African Time”). We were warned about African time before we arrived, but I guess you don’t really understand it until you experience it first hand. It’s funny how relaxed people are in Africa about time compared to us Americans. As student-athletes, we are always juggling so much on our plates and trying to get everything done as efficiently as possible; so, you could say we reached an obstacle when it came to African time, especially when it came to the court. One of the workdays, it started pouring and everyone ran inside. In America, not even weather stops us from figuring out a way to work. During that time, we ran into the house and played card games, conversed with the team, and just enjoyed time together. We realized that by constantly being on the move and trying to get everything done in a timely manner, we might have been distracted and not able to enjoy the people right in front of us.

Uganda humbled us to say the least. We were amazed by how happy the locals were with what little they had. It honestly put life in perspective and showed us we are so blessed. We easily take things for granted at home when we should be over the moon with everything we have access to and are given. Our group of girls got to stay in another part of the village down the road from the village and court. When we first arrived, none of us knew how to react. On the floor of the houses, thin mattresses were provided for us to sleep on. Those houses were for the king, which we didn’t know until later in the trip. I remember thinking the house wasn’t the greatest. Those houses are some of the best in the village and that is something I can’t imagine being true in the states. We really take the little things, such as the comfort of our cozy homes, for granted and this experience was eye opening to many of us.

Something that many of us took away from the trip was the foundation of relationships and the importance of them. The language barrier was definitely a challenge at first, but that didn’t stop anyone from enjoying time together, whether it was kids helping us gather rocks or helping push the wheel barrels full of jugs of water. We never realized how quickly we would become attached to the little ones, but it happened before we knew it. What’s so amazing about being from different parts of the world was we both had so much to offer each other. We were both so eager to learn, whether it was picking up a rock and each saying what it’s called in our language to discussing the differences among our cultures, it was an experience of a lifetime. Not only did we build relationships with the locals, but we also formed tighter bonds within our group. There may have been a few athletes or staff members from each sport, but it was amazing to see other friendships formed on the trip. We may have crossed paths with these people every now and then, but this trip gave us the opportunity to step out of our comfort zones and really get to know some amazing people.

On the last night in the village, we got to play on the court with the locals for the very first time. Watching all the smiling faces play on the court really sealed the deal and made all the hard workdays worth it. Overall, we all had the experience of a lifetime. Uganda will always hold a special place in our hearts, so apollo Uganda.

 

Uganda Reflections by Kyra Fawcett

After 37 hours of traveling, we finally made it to Porogali, Uganda. We were welcomed by the community with a group of children singing for us. As we got off the bus we all had so many emotions going on. Personally, I was so excited that we finally made it, but then seeing the community show so much joy and happiness warmed my heart, and at that point I knew I had made the right decision in coming.

Being in a whole new culture gave some of us a harder time than others. We got to experience so much in such a short amount of time. Going to church with the community the first full day we had arrived showed how close the community was and how happy they all were to be there. Over the course of our stay, we learned so much from talking to the locals and asking questions. We learned about their culture and how they lived. Seeing them live off the land and their surroundings really put things into perspective for a lot of us. We came out of the trip humbled and noticing more about what was truly important in life. The community in Porogali taught us valuable lessons that we never even knew we needed. They may be poor in some aspects of living, but they are rich in life.

Building the court was hard work. After the first full day, a lot of us didn’t know how the rest of the days were going to go, but seeing day after day more locals coming to help and support us was really amazing. You could just see how happy and excited they were for this court to be made. Even just walking around the village locals would say hello and then followed with a thank you.  We then took it day by day, and watching the court grow each day made the next day that much more pleasurable until we all were motivated to finish. We were able to get the court done with the help of many locals, and on our final day in Porogali, we broke out the basketballs, soccer balls, and footballs to play with the kids. We even brought sidewalk chalk to teach them hop-scotch. It was so cool to see all the children so happy and excited to play with us. After a while, the adults started to join in, too, and you could just see how happy they all were, which made every ounce of sweat and effort put into this court worth it.

I would say one of the best parts about the trip was talking to and befriending the locals. They were all so friendly and so eager to get to know us. Many of us spent time with the kids learning from them just as much if not more than us teaching them. Playing with the kids and teaching them things like tic-tac-toe in the dirt, or how to sing and dance to the macarena was such an amazing sight to see. The children were nothing short of happy. Always having smiles on their faces and always having a blast no matter what we did. Despite the culture differences and language barriers, we were all able to laugh and have some fun. It goes to show that happiness knows no barriers and is all around us.

This was an experience of a lifetime and has taught me so much about myself and about life in general. It has impacted my life in more ways than I ever thought it could, and it is something that I will always remember for the rest of my life. I am beyond grateful for my family and friends and all the opportunities that I have had during my life; and since I have been back, I have learned to just enjoy life as it happens and continue to smile and be happy.  They didn’t have much in terms of material things and life was hard. Gathering food and just staying alive are their main concerns, and yet they were a happy people that smiled and laughed a lot. A great lesson is taught here:  you can always choose to be happy no matter what your circumstance, and the sooner you can enjoy each stage in life the happier you will be. There is a special place in my heart for the locals that impacted my life, and I left a lot of sweat and a big piece of my heart in Porogali, Uganda.

“My favorite memory from the trip was the night we finished the court and we got to play with the kids on it. I think I hadn’t realized how much impact the court could have. I had envisioned kids playing, maybe adults using it for traditional gatherings, etc. But that night, playing in the court was crazy. There was a swirl of kids running around, moving everywhere, jumping, dancing, laughing.  Each of us was completely captured by the present moment. It was a very deep feeling of happiness, like all the struggle and work was worth it. I’ve only won an international medal once and long time ago, but I think I felt the same way at that specific moment as when I crossed the line and I realized I had achieved something big.” – Carmela

“The community taught me a lot about forgiveness. I have always thought of myself as a pretty forgiving person. I try to facilitate peace and never want anyone to be mad at anyone; therefore, it is nearly impossible for me to hold a grudge. Sometimes I let people off the hook way too easily. After learning about the history of our contractor, whom we called “The General”, forgiveness was redefined. The General was an abducted child soldier in Kony’s LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army), and he participated in mass execution, terror, and violent acts throughout Northern Uganda and within the village. He had most likely taken the lives of relatives to his current neighbors; however, the people of Porogali treated him just like anyone else. They not only forgive him for what he did, they are helping him regain the life he wants. It is as if forgiveness isn’t a decision, but is an expectation of one’s self and a way of life.” – Alexis

“What I learned from the community is that even after immense hardship and seemingly invincible odds, one can bounce back and not only regain control of a situation, but thrive. The community we stayed in suffered greatly because of the LRA, and all the history of the village we were in was dark and difficult. Despite these sufferings, the community was able to come back, overcoming adversity and oppression, and become a functioning community once again.” – Elisa

“There was a lot that I learned from the community, things that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. The first thing the community taught me is that you don’t need a lot of things to be happy. A majority of the kids we saw had no shoes, only 1 pair of clothes, and had limited access to resources, yet they always had a smile on their face and were eager to take on each day with a positive attitude. I learned that if the kids from Porogali can be happy with very little, there is no reason we should complain about our situations. The community also taught me the value of relationships and how important it is to have meaningful conversations. It is easy for us to distance ourselves from people with all the technology and distractions in our lives, but after spending a week in the community, I gained a new appreciation for what it means to have meaningful conversations.” – Charles

“From being on this trip, I realized that the world is so much bigger than we could ever image – both physically and culturally. We were able to experience the culture and lifestyle of ONE community in Uganda. When you take a step back and realize how small that is in relation to the world, it is shocking. Coming from Hawai’i I always thought I understood “culture shock”, but after being in Uganda for 10 days, there is so much more to that term than I ever realized.” – Keenyn