Austin, the author, at the Amahoro Children Community School June 2018
This past summer it was an absolute pleasure to be back in Uganda. The people are exceptional, the work we do feels meaningful and provides a sense of fulfillment, and the weather is lovely. In light of the current discourse about nationalism and globalism, you might be wondering why the ACCT works in Uganda. Part of the answer is that Uganda is a developing country with high rates of poverty, a high burden of disease and a large number of orphans and vulnerable children. In other words, the need is great. Another part of the answer is that we have developed strong relationships with exceptional leaders on the ground in Uganda, such as Caleb and Franklin. They are passionate about addressing poverty and improving health aren’t afraid to dream big to serve those in need. These connections are a valuable asset which makes our work in Uganda possible.
A final part of the answer, which I think is particularly important, is that we live in a global community and have an obligation to serve those in need wherever they may live. What exactly does it mean to live in a global community? For me it is the idea that although cultural differences and political boundaries separate people around the world, we have more commonalities than differences. This is one of the most important lessons I have learned during the time I’ve spent in Uganda.
As I have built relationships with the people we serve in Uganda, such as a young man named Joshua in Kisenyi slum, I have come to realize that we share more in common than I at first assumed. Joshua has high hopes of building a bright future for himself, just like I do, but the difference is that there are many more resources and opportunities available to individuals who live in the United States. Joshua is a refugee from Burundi, where he fled violent political unrest, extreme food insecurity, and economic decline. He came to Uganda with his mother, but they became separated somewhere along the way and he has not been able to reunite with her despite his continued efforts. Joshua enjoys studying science and wants to be a doctor. He has always struck me as a kind and curious young man with definite potential of reaching his dream. Through connections with the global community, we can continue to support Joshua as he works toward his goals.
Though reading statistics on poverty is one important way to get a picture of the scale of the issue, it is not very effective in helping us empathize with others. The same problem may result from the news stories we hear. Recognizing that we live in a global community requires being able to empathize with others who are geographically and culturally removed from us. Travelling to Uganda with the ACCT has helped me gain a sense of empathy for the people that I work with. I cannot fully comprehend what they are going through or what it is like, but by working with people in a relational way I have come to understand that they are not that different from you and I.
We are taught that the bold lines on a map have some deep significance. That the people on one side of the line are somehow inherently different than the people on the other side of the line. But suddenly you are standing at one of those borders and there is no giant line to be seen. Just a stretch of space like any other. As you begin talking to the people on the other side of that line, you might be struck by what you share in common. Acknowledging that we live in a global community means that on top of caring about domestic issues, we must recognize the commonalities we share with those across the globe and support them for our best chance at universal success.
Austin is currently a masters student at Duke University, where he is studying Public Health and applying for medical school.
Austin’s work embodies compassion: We the ACCT seek to reduce suffering with humility and empathy—striving to show compassion through big picture thinking