March 9, 2017
After a ferry ride, several taxis, buses, 3 flights, airplane food, cold-cut sandwiches, and too many hours in airport terminals, the 48 hour trip has come to an end. The longevity of travel could have been reduced to a third, there were some circumstances that forced me to choose the long and tedious route. I had overstayed my visa by 8 months in Greece which is part of Schengen. Fortunately, Greece is one of the few countries in Schengen that does not scan your passport, and customs when I had arrived in Amsterdam had failed to stamp my passport properly. I chose to exit Schengen out of Samos, Greece where I had been volunteering; there is a ferry from Samos to Kusadasi, Turkey. If I were to have any issues exiting Schengen, there are many contacts and official help that I could reach out to. Luckily there were very little complications, I had a ferry stub from the last time I returned from Athens, so they pressumed that was my official entry into Schengen.
Budgeting on a volunteer budget also plays a role when it comes to booking airline tickets. There were several direct flights, and some flights with shorter layovers, but the difference was double what the cheaper tickets would have cost. In general most people would scoff at the idea of 4-8 hour layovers, but I had also intended to work through my thoughts as I closed the Greek refugee chapter in my book. The last time I had left Greece I was deeply troubled, for the mission had not been finished and many of my friends were still in the field. I remember vividly the sorrow as I stared out of the airliner's window, yet this time I felt accomplished upon departure.
To be frankly honest, I am compelled to feel slightly terrified when I contemplate this new mission. Greece had taught me much, and further stretched my network; but I am in Uganda, and it is for me to bring this network here. I have several groups to meet here, but almost all are in the south focusing on community outreach and orphanages. The intentions for the "East Africa Initiative Group" is to bring the network of volunteers, solidarity groups, donors, and social media platform from Greece to Uganda and other East Africa nations. A sub-plan is to develop a long-term response to refugees by partnering with businesses with a social-responsibility campaign. All of this though is what needs to happen; every time I came to Greece or was sent to another island the framework had been established. There are some moments that I feel I am going in blind on this, but hope and faith will guide me on this new volunteer mission.
As I sit in my host's house updating my blog, messaging to various groups in Uganda, and updating the Facebook group "E. Africa Initiative: Volunteer & Support Platform" the environment here is breathtaking. From the veranda one can hear music in the background, various birds singing, and chattering in the tree above me are some species of monkey I have yet to identify. I had found Greece beautiful, yet Uganda has a different level of beauty. The drive from the airport to the capital displayed an array of color and character that Greece did not afford. Perhaps one day I will take some time to take a safari, there are hippos, giraffes, lions, and gorillas. Greece offered many goats and sheep, cats in abundance, and an occasional jackal.
The more I research the more I have become realistic about what can be accomplished. I had checked in at the American embassy to find that the north is not entirely a safe region. Due to the war in South Sudan there are stories of militias and kidnappings. While I am confident in my personal safety I must be aware that I am responsible for the safety and well-being of any volunteers who are dependent on the structures I am attempting to establish. There are two camps to the south that I will look into; these are more settlements where refugees are given some land to farm, basic hand-tools for farming, and that is it. As in most situations, land given to refugees is generally undesirable and the soil for farming would not be termed as prime for encouraging agricultural growth.
Besides the camps which I have much to research and find local volunteer groups, there are several groups in southern Uganda with whom I am meeting this week and next. They all focus on children and community outreach. It is estimated that 60% of the refugees in Uganda are children, many who are fleeing from the fate of becoming child-soldiers. Most of the groups I will be visiting work with street-children and orphans, empowering them and encouraging their studies. Some children will be refugees from war-torn countries, some children are victims of extreme poverty; it is hard to discern one fragile soul from the other. Most seem to focus on putting the children in schools and depend on donations to pay the school-bills. I will find out if it is more beneficial and legal to establish a school or to help pair donors with children. The rest of the focus of the groups I will be looking at have a large focus on psycho-social activities. It seems that the experience and training in Greece were just a peek into the window of what volunteering here will be like.
I believe that East Africa will be a long-term experience, the needs are immense not only in Uganda but in many of the neighboring nations. Africa has always been forgotten, yet we have the opportunity to utilize the newly-opened eyes which were awakened by the Greek refugee crisis. There are many volunteers I had the opportunity to work next to who are planning on volunteering in Uganda. Several solidarity groups also have expressed interest in helping and raising awareness as well. For those of you who cannot volunteer, please share what is happening and consider donating either to the groups here or to fund volunteers who are in the field.
Thank you for taking time to follow my blog, I hope that you find it enlightening and an eye opener as well.
With love and good vibes from Uganda, bless you all.