A winter storm is moving across the mountains today preceded by winds and hopefully bringing much needed moisture. We have been back almost a month now with momentum pulling us back into our daily lives and communities. The sharp images, the fine details, the personal contacts made in Africa are less frequent. Still I know stones have been thrown into the waters, hearts, and the ripples will continue. I know through GLI an active network exists bridging Uganda, Rwanda and Colorado with great potential to expand and connect with active participation.
What is present for me today are reflections on the many opportunities for person-to-person contacts that I had with people in Uganda and Rwanda. I am grateful for the evenings when guest speakers came for dinner. Powerful women such as Agnes Igoye and Catherine Anite. Both of these women have received recognition by the UN, the Obama Administration and the Clinton Foundation for their work. Agnes’s work on human trafficking came out of her childhood experiences. Through her active, creative, self initiated work she was instrumental in creating an anti-human trafficking law and she holds an important position in President Museveni’s administration. When the Ugandan government moves slower than the solutions she feels are essential she problem-solves by providing shelter in her own home, going into the northern war zone, building homes /huts and establishing work. Another of our dinner guests, Catherine Anite, does her human rights work in the courtroom by defending freedom of the press which is essential to fair elections and anticorruption.
During the first class debrief, a thoughtful student shared that she was at a party where she was discussing her trip with friends. At some point, she became keenly aware that others did not have even an elemental understanding of Africa. “You need to learn something about this. You need to study more about the world.” she replied. I love the fresh truth of this comment.
As I think about the most powerful lessons from this experience I wonder how they could be applied closer to home. I have a fear, a reversal and a challenge. I feel apprehensive when I ask myself whether US communities would be as respectful, interested, generous and engaged with visiting African students as were the people we met in Uganda and Rwanda. Can you imagine the trip reversal, Ugandan and Rwandan students traveling to Colorado to visit marginalized communities or the most impoverished American slums not to mention the inside of national prison systems? Picture the group traveling not to experience the Rocky Mountains but rather to stop at memorials of our darker history such a Ludlow, Sand Creek, Ferguson and to be introduced to the working of our corrupt political lobbies. On the other hand I would love to take other trips in my own country using the GLI mode: to places where I am held back by fear of difference, ignorance, and the deep, deep presumed barriers of race, gender, religion, cultures and class disparities. This brings me to the challenge to myself. I realize that whether traveling far from home or in my daily life, it is important and sometimes difficult, to engage with people and communities who can broaden my perspective of this complex world and all of its challenges and possibilities and to keep my heart open to the experience of this African trip to continue to deepen, expand and seek real relationships so well worth our shared lives.