Before I met my husband, Quinn, I probably couldn’t have pointed Uganda out to you on a map. Now we are in our 6th year of doing life here, and I’ve learned a lot more from the Acholi people than where Uganda is located (hint: it’s a country in East Africa).
I think it’s human nature to be afraid of the unknown, and I was definitely afraid of moving to a developing country. Everything I knew about Africa was from fundraising commercials of sick or starving children in ratty clothes and flies all over or from hearing stories about missionaries who went to “save” the tribal people.
When the only connection you have to an entire continent is the sad stories about how we, the blessed nation, have to step in and help, a very unfortunate image is formed in your subconscious as a savior…which unless you move to Uganda, you don’t usually have to face. I had no idea what to expect when I came to Uganda, but I definitely wasn’t expecting this.
I made a lot of mistakes when I first got here, but the one thing I did right was to come in with an open mind, willing to listen, learn, and try a new way of life.
It didn’t take me long to notice how smart, capable, and proud the Acholi people are, and something wasn’t lining up with what I’d been told for so long. They really didn’t need my help.
I asked myself a very serious question, “why was I so surprised to find capable people here?” What I found in my heart was years of misinformed stereotypes that focused on the story of savage, undeveloped humans who needed my help (even though the only thing I’m an expert in is wedding planning).
I was appalled at myself and at the limited media exposure I had grown up with for showing me such a limited story. I had a long road ahead of me, to throw out my misconceptions and wade through the real truth. It was a complicated journey, wrestling with the poverty and struggles that you can’t ignore, yet coming to know the people in them for being more than the obstacles they face.
It was through that journey that Elephante Commons became a vision, one born out of meeting amazing Ugandans with inspiring ideas who believed their ideas could change the lives of many people, and I believed they could too.
Do they need my help? No. I have no idea how to mentor homeless youth or turn plastic waste into something cool, or farm mushrooms. What I do know is that trying to change the world is really hard, and it can get really discouraging and really lonely. They don’t need my help, but maybe if we all work together, share ideas, divide up the work, and encourage each other, we can ease the burden, and they can know they’re not alone.
We moved to Uganda to “save” it. We were wrong. Now we do life here, alongside amazing friends who encourage us in our passions, teach us new things, and make us better people, and we try to do the same for them, just like any good community should.