Thursday, October 28, 2010

Introduction of a haphazard mind...

Second time doing this so I am hoping that I will do a much better job of blogging this time around. Last time, I spent 6 weeks in Uganda and yet, not one blog made its way to my "official" blog. Very sad indeed. Instead, there are tons of Facebook statuses with additional comments giving my friends, and notably my mother the chance to track me (Asian mother with only son, so it is expected).

I don't have the time to repost everything from Uganda here. Instead, I will just briefly state some of the things that, to this day, 6 weeks after I have returned, still stay with me. Before I do so, let me give a brief description of who I am.

I was a major lab rat. I did my graduate studies in Molecular and Cellular Biology (typical asian eh?). However, throughout my college and graduate career, I never truly felt as if MCB was something I wanted to do. It was more of something that would satisfy my father's wishes and perhaps, secretly, gain his respect. When one day, he became ill (long story), while taking care of him, things within me changed. It further changed when he passed away and gradually, I felt as if the roadblock for what I have always wanted to do was removed. Losing him was devastating and for a while, emotional and mentally depressive. However, recovering from it gave me a new purpose in life. However, I should say that without the three people that I met or know before, during, and after my father's death, the seeds of change as well as the final impetus for change would have never taken place.

The first person that has always been my number one cheerleader has been my mother. Without her constant support and constantly reminding me to be something better, a lot of the steps taken would have been virtually impossible. The second person I met was Rachel. My mother brought her home for thanksgiving dinner years ago. Meeting her reignited the idealistic fires in me that had long disappeared through years of self-gratification filled with false arrogance and selfish aspirations. Knowing her for the brief few months made me realized that to be someone that matter in this world, you have to be willing to make sacrifices as well as be willing to be fearless and take the first step into the unknown. Finally, the third person that greatly affected me was Ashley. Ashley came into my life when I was mentally and emotionally exhausted and defeated from my father's death. Our brief friendship was what I needed to wake up from the fog and start to climb out of the self-imposed abyss.

So from all of all of my experiences, the people I met, and finally, my realization that there is one thing in this world that makes me completely happy, I decided to quit my career in MCB and started on a journey of becoming an international aid worker. From reading Rachel's blog, I recognize that it would be a very tough career to break into. But, I thought to myself, if I can waste so much of my life doing something that meant little, then no cost is that big to start on something that would mean a lot. That, was how I got myself to Uganda.

From the beginning of August to the middle of September of this year, I spent a wonderful 6 weeks in Uganda. 4 of those weeks were spent volunteering at an orphanage named Ekayro Kaife (Our Village) 10 minutes boda-boda ride from Iganga town. The remaining time, I spent travelling around Uganda, which included northern Uganda, visiting towns such as Gulu, Lira, and Kitgum. The north is still recovering from the 24 year war with the LRA (Lord's Resistance Army). I had a chance to visit some of the remaining IDPs (internally displaced persons) at a recently closed down IDP camp. I will not go into the specifics of my travels here as I am sure there are much more wonderful and exciting stories out there that belong to either aid workers or those that volunteer longer. However, I will give my brief impressions of my short time in Uganda:

1.The Ugandans are some of the most beautiful people in the world. Despite poverty, governmental neglect and depravity, they are so generous in terms of spirit and hospitality. Befriending them and living with them, I was truly taught on how to be a better human being.
2. The government of Uganda needs a lot of improvement. Corruption run rampant and it is a systematic problem, infecting almost all aspect of Ugandan political and social hierarchy. iNGOs are everywhere and Ugandans know that there are a vast sum of money being floated into the country. Unfortunately, the money gets to the top but by the end of its journey, nothing much is left for the common people. Remote villagers are often left to fend for themselves. That is a tragedy and something that truly irks me.
3. The country is a lovely country. During my time there, I travelled extensively throughout the different regions (except the West as I ran out of time) of Uganda. There are differences in culture and perceptions as you cross different regions (ie., the north Ugandans have tougher demeanor and there are less smiles than those of the south, etc). However, wherever you go, be it the big cities such as Kampala, Jinja, Mbale, or Gulu or the small villages in far off districts like Namatumba, there is always need. I call Uganda a sea of need. Which leads me to the last point:
4. Uganda is a country of need. I am sure that I as travel to the Congo or the Sudan next summer, I will be opened to a greater level or exposed to a higher urgent level of need. But for now, it seems as if everywhere you go, if you have eyes and are willing to see, you will see need. This means that if you are willing, there are always things for you to do. While I was waiting for my flight back to the US at EBB, I met Moses who worked for the UNHCR and he said something that I will always remember. Moses said "Uganda and to most extent, Africa, is a place of many opportunities. The opportunities are not for personal gain like professional or financial improvement. Instead, if you have a heart and want to spend your life helping, there are endless amount of opportunities to do so here."

So, I will be back to Uganda. But for now, to improve on my resume so I can apply to, and be accepted into, UPeace, in a few weeks, I will be volunteering in Laos. It would be an eye-opening experience to gain a different perspective on the kind of need exhibited by the impoverished people of Laos. But first, i will be heading to Cambodia for a few days.

This has been a cursory introduction to this blog. It stays empty until the day when I can fill it with my experiences in Cambodia...

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