“Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all.” Helen Keller
This quote by the indefatigable Helen Keller comes to mind when I reflect on the choices I’ve made for my life thus far. I have often taken the road less traveled, and though it hasn’t always been easy, from where I sit today, I can say without hesitation it has been worth it.
I embarked on a journey back to Uganda in the summer of 2011 with no idea where it would lead me but assured by the confidence that it would be an epic journey of learning and growth. I had no idea yet what I was made of and my experience as Shanti Uganda’s Project Coordinator allowed me to test both my personal and professional limits. What I learned was that I was capable of far more than I ever imagined.
That in itself would have made the decision to leave friends, family, a young nephew and another one on the way behind for the umpteenth time, but that’s only the tip of how meaningful this experience has been for me. Every day I was inspired and re-ignited by the humble beauty and serenity of Uganda. How does one begin to describe the African night sky, or how the landscape turns lush and green in the rainy season, or the way people/passersby stop and smile and put time aside to catch up on family, weather, and work.
I took great pleasure in these things, especially stopping to engage in shop talk with friendly local health officials. We would get into deep discussions over the crippling health system, and the need for stronger upper management and so on and so forth at 2 o’clock in the afternoon with our bicycles at the side of the road.
Many of these people became quick friends and keen supporters of Shanti Uganda. I had the privilege of working with (in my humble opinion) some of Uganda’s most phenomenal citizens. Together we celebrated some very proud milestones for Shanti and worked tirelessly to see that Shanti grew and thrived.
In the last year and a half we strengthened our staff with the addition of an incredible Head Midwife and a passionate Supervising Doctor, improved our service delivery by introducing immunizations and family planning services, increased our visibility by successfully registering our clinic with the Ministry of Health and formalizing partnerships with PACE, the Chief Administrative Office, the Rotary, and by continuing to strengthen our relationships with the District Health Office and local political offices, we witnessed record breaking ante-natal and post-natal attendance and experienced an increasing volume of deliveries every month, strengthened our Women’s Income Generating Group and our product with strategic structural changes, reinforced heightened local ownership as the community together with Shanti hosted the 1st Annual Shanti Uganda local fundraiser with Luwero’s Member of Parliament as the chief guest, gained recognition as we received visitors such as Christy Turlington-Burns of Every Mother Counts and met with Vice President of Uganda, Edward Ssekandi, to draw support for Shanti, and finally we greatly augmented our productivity with the impressive growth of our stellar Internship and Volunteer Program.
It has been an absolute honour to work with Founder and former Executive Director, Natalie Angell-Besseling, former Project Coordinator Kristen Porter, current Project Coordinator Salam Jeghbir, all the amazing volunteers, the staff and supporters too numerous to name in Uganda, and the women’s group and beneficiaries. I couldn’t imagine not being a part of this incredible group of committed and passionate individuals, and I look forward to working with our supporters on this side of the globe, our important team of volunteers, and the Board of Directors. I am honoured to guide Shanti Uganda’s continued growth and its unmistakable impact on the lives and communities it serves.
On the rare occasion I would have a quiet moment to myself at site, I would stand in the middle of the Shanti grounds with the stillness and calm that settles after a long and busy day and the sun quickly setting into the open field behind me, and I would do my best to soak it up for all the times I didn’t have time to stop and appreciate it. It was both a humbling and rejuvenating ritual, and one that fueled within me a great sense of pride.