I have been back in the United States for two weeks now and have had time to reflect upon our whirlwind journey in Uganda.
First, I feel deep gratitude for the hundreds of people who have somehow been involved in this near year long process, from EcologicalAction’s first meeting of the 2015-2016 school year to the moment our plane’s wheels touched back on U.S. soil.
I never would have imagined that the club I started Sophomore year would find its way to Nyakagezi, Uganda. Believe me, I understand that if the universe were a tapestry, our project to install solar panels on two buildings of the Nyaka AIDS Orphans Project would be just a single, tiny thread. Yet that thread is interwoven with the lives and experiences and guidance of so many organizations and individuals: Nyaka staff both in Kampala and in the field, every student and teacher at Nyaka Secondary Vocational School, Cherry Creek High School Administration, attendees and musicians at our benefit concert, 7th Grade teachers and students at West Middle School who participated in the Nyaka Walk, my supportive teacher and mentor Mr. Dufford, our families, 9News, EcoTech Institute, The Villager, and airport personnel as mentioned in a previous blog post. We are just a fragment of life’s greater tapestry, but we span continents.
Environmental Activism has slowly grown to engulf and inform my life. This experience, however, challenged my preconceived notions. My awe and wonder has always lain with the natural world and I deeply feel a desire, no responsibility, as a citizen of Earth, to halt and reverse our species’ degradation of our ecosystems and biodiversity.
Additionally, as a species we have an obligation to each other: to ensure the human rights of all are fulfilled. “Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world” (UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights).
Sustainability and Human Rights are not disconnected entities.
My two passions, ecological sustainability and human rights advocacy, intersect in beautiful harmony; each has the potential to promote the fulfillment of the other. For instance, as the abundance of natural resources decreases, it is in the benefit of local communities to adopt sustainable practices which will ensure that they may continue to pave a livelihood. In seaside communities this may mean preventing overfishing by interspersing the diet with plants that thrive in the local climate. In Uganda, the introduction of solar panels directly benefits both the planet and people. Solar energy effectively and sustainably harnesses our greatest renewable resource: the sun. Simultaneously, solar panels installed at the Nyaka schools unlock the potential of an education by powering the computers and lights, all at a lower cost than the unreliable hydroelectric grid which runs much of Uganda.
Uganda and the United States seemingly fall on distant positions on the spectrum of country development. Indeed, driving through the outskirts of Kampala and the rural southwest portions of Uganda, economic disparity and meager living conditions abound. Subsistence farming remains a common occupation and clean water, reliable health care, and public education are elusive “luxuries”. In contrast, the United States has a highly developed service economy and private sector along with a strong public education system. Every nation faces societal ills: disease, violence and poverty. In Uganda, however, such issues were impossible to overlook or hide. I was overwhelmed and, frankly, initially disheartened when I contemplated the plausibility of a process which would help every single citizen achieve a high quality of life.
How would our photovoltaic system on the roof of one school in one village leave more than a superficial scratch on the epidermis of systematic poverty? What about the family in Mbarara who unwittingly drinks giardia infested water each day, the man I saw outside Kampala who struggles to find food each day, the farmers who toil each day to feed their families?
Driving back to Entebbe after our time at Nyaka, I dug through my mind for the root of poverty and brainstormed fundamental solutions. Uganda is a developing nation. The basic and most effective ways of improving quality of life are healthcare and education. Health care increases body strength and lifespan. Equally importantly, education gives people a tool with which to understand and solve any challenges their communities face. An educated populace is well-equipped to elect representatives and officials and fundamentally alter the economic and social system through political channels. An educated populace may communicate and reflect the needs of the country. Furthermore, education is one path to self-discovery and internal contentment. My education has allowed me to uncover who I am. What a luxury it is for me to have the time, the resources, to chase my passions when for many education is out of reach.
Change trudges along through movements. I will not preach that this experience in Uganda will completely revolutionize Uganda’s education system or stop climate change. Fundamental forces such as capitalism, government and the will to survive will drag this country of 37 million into the upcoming decades. Yet now our solar panels are threads, too, woven into life’s tapestry. May the lights and computers spark a child’s fervor and add kindling to a greater movement of uninhibited joy and freedom in this world.
I learned a lot about myself this trip. I thrive in situations requiring problem solving and under intense stress. I like matooke but not nearly as much as g-nut sauce. But more importantly, adopting a defeatist attitude because a problem seems too overwhelming is direct neglect of our responsibility to nurture our neighbors, no matter how many time zones stand between us. Through environmental and humanitarian action, each of us can improve our piece of the world.
Reader, I cannot thank you enough. May you have found or keeping searching to find a purpose you dare to follow. The world needs more of you.
All the best wishes and all my gratitude,