People ask if I had fun in Uganda. And I tell them I loved the trip but, no, it wasn't really fun. It was filling and joyous and beautiful and amazing and interesting and wonderful and absolutely an adventure. But not fun. Going to Uganda was hard. The leaving my people, the gathering and packing, the 12 days of little to no contact with my girls, the 30+ hours of international travel (each way), the ambitious schedule and in-country travel, the heightened security and stress of recent threats toward Ugandan churches involved with expatriates, and all that bombing with Kenya and Somalia...it was hard.
And it was a valuable reminder about what is important, of the fragile reality of life for women and children in a third world country. In those two weeks there were several points where I simultaneously saw more life and felt more darkness than I will ever find words to convey. Women who beat and spit upon one another in labor, had sacrificed their children, poisoned a co-wife, girls who had been cut and scarred by the LRA, or had been raped and were pregnant and now ostracized because of it. So much disease. So much male oppression. We went to some hard places.
In one church that had welcomed our team, the leader was very pregnant. With one of Mercy for Mamas' fetal heartbeat/Doppler devices, this much loved and well respected mother was able to hear her child's heartbeat. A day after we arrived home (and just three days after we met her), we discovered that there were complications and an emergency C-section and her baby was dead. And that was that. When we would talk with mothers and would find out how many pregnancies they have had, the next step was always to ask how many of their children were living. Few ever said "all" but there was never any grief or emotion. It just was what it was.
This is life, and death, in Uganda.
I arrived home on a Tuesday night and spent the next few days trying to reset my sleep cycles, win back my girls, and help out maybe a tiny bit with our church's VBS. Four days after returning home we were headed to Atlanta so that I could attend an educational technology conference.
This had seemed like a great idea way back in May, when I was invited as part of a team sent from our district.
Just to be clear...I LOVE my life as a school librarian and take great joy in working with teenagers and teachers of all kinds, connecting them to information and literature and technology. I love my district and school and public education and it is a great joy that I have the opportunity to do this work and get paid for it. I was and remain honored to have been given the opportunity to attend.
But in some ways, I struggled at this conference to make the once-natural connection between cutting edge technology and the absolute need for that in the classroom, or anywhere else in life. Wearable computers, are you kidding me? I just had a hard time taking it all in and being passionate about what our kids need in order to be better equipped to enter academia or the work force. I went to sessions about best practices in implementing a 1:1 iPad initiative...but all I could think about was the eyes of those sweet Ugandan kids who don't even have their very own suit of clothing. Or their very own dish. Or their very own parents.
I know, I know, it's all about timing and perspective, but more than once I had to snap myself out of the overwhelming feeling of being surrounded by all these newfangled gadgets and the big business that is education and all these thousands upon thousands of people who were obsessed with these tools, and what did it all mean, really? Did any of it truly matter?
It was just difficult to reconcile the brutally unforgiving depths of third world life in Africa with top shelf first world life in America.
And I still don't know what to do with it all, to be quite honest.
Here's what I do know. I know that though I hopped from one end of the universe to the other last week, there are common truths that bind both worlds together. One is that in all the places my team traveled in Uganda and with all the groups of people with whom we worked, there were basically two types. The first type of organization had a good mission but struggled in implementation. On paper they made good sense but it was difficult to immediately detect their impact because they did not seem to be really connected to the group of people they supposedly sought to serve. The second type of organization was so full of life and love that within just moments of arrival, it was abundantly clear that the relationship between the villagers/teenagers/families/inmates and the primary missionary or director was very warm and nurturing. It was that second type of organization who may have had the least amount of resources, but were most successful. They were the ones making an impact on mothers and children and women in crisis for generations to come...some for all eternity.
I know schools and classrooms that would fit into one or the other of those categories. Do you? I remember certain years in my career making the mistake of running my own classroom space like the first type, one where organization and color coordinated baskets and competition and test scores and the dog and pony show was paramount to the real needs of the sweet little souls sitting in my desks. There are schools today who look really great on paper (or bulletin board or Twitter or Pinterest or state rankings), but in actuality they're woefully ineffective because there is no real relationship among their people. You can have the fanciest buildings or furniture or ed-tech equipment in the world, but if there is no genuine and healthy relationship of mutual trust and open communication between teachers and students, parents, colleagues, and administrators...you and your cute little vision statements and pinboards are doomed.
Authenticity, whether you're in the Promised Land of education or under the gathering tree of an African village, cannot be faked.
This is one of a hundred thousand things I have learned while hopping from one world to another.