This is a guest post by Marilyn Sharpe, who went on a trip with Shanti Uganda.
No travel experience has been more powerful and transforming for me than my trip to Uganda, and I have traveled to more than 70 countries. I went with Shanti Uganda, a non-governmental organization dedicated to women’s health. Instead of being on the outside looking in, Shanti Uganda afforded me the unique and precious opportunity to immerse myself in the daily lives of a small Ugandan community.
Arriving at Shanti Uganda, I was embraced with open arms by the local Ugandan women and their children. Their joy for life was contagious and their beaming and outpouring welcome was deeply moving. Over the ensuing days, other trip participants and I worked with them, sang with them, drummed with them, and danced around the fire with them late into the evening. They told us their stories and shared their sorrows and their dreams. We learned how to prepare their food, dined in their homes, and played with their children. After just a week, I felt such a deep bond and connection with this group of rural Ugandan women and their families. I experienced a profound reaffirmation that we are all one.
On my trip, I visited a birthing center Shanti Uganda built to assist local mothers (many of them HIV-positive) who have virtually no other support for normal deliveries — and tragically minimal support for births with complications. Their work in that area is essential; in Uganda, one in twenty-five women in dies in childbirth.
I also saw that Shanti Uganda has grown far beyond its original vision of bringing conscious birth to communities experiencing trauma in Uganda. It’s become a center for women and children’s health education, vaccinations, and preventive care. And it’s become a community activity and education center for teens, and a work and skills training site for rural women who, through Shanti Uganda’s initiative in developing cottage industries, are earning an income for the first time in their lives! And this amazing work takes place in a beautiful organic garden setting with solar-powered energy and a cistern-based water collection system, making Shanti Uganda off-the-grid and self-sufficient.
My trip with Shanti Uganda was ten days, and it included a trip to a national park and the impressive Murchison Falls; a safari with elephant, hippo, giraffe, lion, baboon, crocodile and warthog sightings; a white water rafting experience on the Nile; and time exploring the local markets and amazing restaurants of the capital, Kampala. But the truly unique part of our travel was living and working with and learning from the women of the Shanti Uganda community center.
Through Shanti Uganda, I discovered a way to support meaningful work, both actively with my time and more passively with the money and supplies I could bring to the center. I felt like my contributions could make a real and palpable difference in the lives of people I grew to know and care for.
It is rare to find a way to truly immerse yourself in another culture and live it, not just peer at it through a camera lens or on a tourist bus. Shanti Uganda afforded me that experience and I am eternally grateful.
Shanti Uganda is an NGO committed to improving infant and maternal health, providing safe women-centred care, and supporting the well-being of birthing mothers and women living with HIV/AIDS in Uganda. For a unique opportunity for travel to transform lives, join Shanti Uganda on their upcoming trip in Janary 2013.
photo credit: Shanti Uganda