Chestnut Hill College is a place that makes it easy to accomplish your dreams. For me, my dream has been to save the world by providing a basic education to those who don’t have the resources to receive one. I know it seems a little idealistic, but in high school I started working towards this goal as a freshman, attached to the organization Unified for Uganda (U4U). As a student run organization, we provided primary and secondary education to 120 students in Gulu, Uganda. Coming into Chestnut Hill as a freshman in 2010, I was able to expand the organization and took on the task of sponsoring six students. It cost $300 a year, which pays for tuition, one meal at school, and two uniforms. The students we sponsor are picked based on need. We have four Ugandan mentors to make these selections and look after our kids in school as well as at home. They do this by visiting their homes and talking with their guardians to get them involved in the child’s plan for success. It is the biggest blessing of my life to be a part of this organization and to have had the opportunity to share it with the CHC community.
This past summer I was lucky enough to go visit Gulu and the children we sponsor, along with two other CHC students who are heavily involved in the club on campus. While there, we immersed ourselves in the culture, learning their language, their customs, and their traditions. It is so different in every way possible from the United States. It is simple living, slow paced, and community oriented. When you talk with someone, you hold their hand as the conversation continues. There is this human connection that I experienced within one day of meeting someone that would take months to create in the US. They have no distractions from one another, they simply just have each other. Although it is sad at times to see people struggling, the beauty in the fact that they call everyone mother, father, sister, brother is what makes these people so resilient in hard times. As I walked with one of our kids to the borehole to fetch water, I called out to a woman in the village to say hello and tell her she was beautiful; Illenge (e-lang). On the way back, she met us on the dirt path with a bag of mangos. I was carrying a jerry-can full of water on my head and she hugged me and called me her daughter. I was speechless. If this happened in the US, you would be alarmed if a stranger was trying to give you something and was calling you her daughter- but for the Acholi culture, they understand the importance of relationships. This woman was so impressed that I had learned part of her language, enough to accept me into her family as her daughter. It was a chilling moment and one that makes my heart sing with the love I experienced in Gulu. Her name is Alice and she is my mother.
As the two weeks went by, I had many more encounters like that first one. A woman trusted me to carry her newly born baby tied to my back as we walked for 2 hours into the village, Pece. She shared with me stories of when she couldn’t walk safely on the road due to the war, or the time when one of the rebels was going to rape her so she lied to him and told him she had HIV so he would leave her alone. She is one of the strongest women I know and I carry her in my heart, as well as her sweet baby Abitimo, with me every day. Her name is Shelia, she is my sister.
While in Pece, a student in our program stayed with us, as well as a dozen other kids. For some reason she latched onto me and I latched to her. She is four years old and she is still learning English in school so we couldn’t communicate that much with words but it didn’t matter. Her sweet little hand wrapped around my three fingers as we ran, played, danced, and laughed. She taught me her songs she had learned in school and I taught her songs I learned as a child like “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and the “Itsy Bitsy Spider.” Later that night as we all sat around the kerosene lamp, she snuggled on my lap and fell asleep. I wondered what she would dream about, after our day full of laughter, knowing I wouldn’t need to dream that night because I was living my dream! Her name is Prisca and she is my daughter.
Chestnut Hill College makes it impossible not to fulfill your dreams. If you don’t know what your dreams are, Chestnut Hill gives you so many avenues to explore every option. No dream is too big or too crazy. Who knows, maybe one day you could save the world.