twelve to twenty-two

A lot happens in 10 years.

Around new year’s (2010), my Aunt handed back letters that family members had written to themselves at a new year’s celebration in 2000. I was apprehensive to open my letter; was I a profound twelve year old, was it going to be embarrassing, how much had I changed?

The letter, written in my poorly scribbled cursive, read:

Yo Al,
Right now im at a 2000 millenium new years party. I’m making an aircraft carrier in lego’s. I am twelve years old. When you are reading this you will be 22. Hope you are having fun. With lego’s I have humvees, F-14s, a harrier, jeeps, chinook, and working on an aircraft carrier. I hope you made it out of high school and into college.
Love, Alex Hill

I may have been mostly preoccupied with my lego creations at the time, but at least I had some ambitions for my future self: having fun, graduating high school, getting into college. On January 1st, 2010 I had definitely achieved all three. I was spending the new year in New Orleans with my girlfriend, Nichole, of almost a full year, watching the fireworks over the Mississippi River. I had definitely graduated high school and gone on to college. It may have been an uncertain choice as to where I went to college, but ended with a great experience at the end of 4 long years of study at Michigan State University’s James Madison College. I unfortunately never completed the lego aircraft carrier and can’t look back and remember how amazing that turned out.

Legos seem to have been the most important aspect of my life at twelve. I guess I need to evaluate what that means for my development as a child and 10 years later. I love legos! For as long as I can remember I’ve been constructing things out of legos, but I was very particular as to how this worked. I was very conscious of color and design. I had a meticulous system of organization for all my lego pieces and enjoyed the creative problem solving that occurred. My lego corner in the basement was my safe haven for all my thoughts and creations to come to life. Legos taught me success and failure, they allowed me to deconstruct, learn by doing, and try again.

So, legos were important, but did my twelve year old self have any idea what was to come next? In just one year I would be thirteen and my entire life would be given purpose and direction. That summer I would meet Fr. Joseph Birungi and found the organization, SCOUT BANANA, the following summer I would travel to Uganda and see the harsh realities of our world at the ripe age of 14. The years that follow after that were just as loaded with significantly life altering experiences, people, and places, but thirteen was the pivotal year from which all of my current life springs.

Its crazy to look back and see that in just one year, my thirteenth year in this world, my life would be impacted beyond my wildest dreams. That year following the beginning of the new millennium would set me on a path taking me across three continents, to 16 different countries, having critical experiences that would lead me to meet hundreds of amazing individuals who would all have a profound impact on how I developed as a person, a friend, and a leader.

A lot happens from twelve to twenty-two. In just two months I’ll be turning 23 and I have no idea what the next year will bring. I’m grateful to my twelve year old self, but even more grateful for the people who made it all happen: my parents, grandparents, leaders, mentors, friends, girlfriend, colleagues, trainers, co-workers, randos and strangers – Thanks!

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global health is everyone’s responsibility

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People young and old across the US have connected with seven different communities across the African continent to support locally initiated health projects. Using the vibrant color of bananas and the enthusiasm of youth, a new nonprofit has grown to support the coming revolution in African health care.

It all began with one individual, Fr. Joseph Birungi, who had the dream of providing access to basic health care in a remote area where he worked. His dream was transferred on to me through his stories of those who died because they did not have access to basic health care. At the time I was a 14 year-old who knew little of the world beyond Michigan’s borders, but I was inspired to do something. Just entering high school, I was full of naive optimism with a goal to figure out how I could make an impact in the world. Although I was youthful, naive, and optimistic I had an incredible mentor, my mother. She helped me form basic assumptions that laid the foundation for my understanding of “global health as everyone’s responsibility. ”

One assumption that grew from my optimism was the belief that everyone had the potential to make a difference in the world. From Fr. Joseph to myself to my mother, the chain of individuals who embodied this grew to include hundreds of families, church congregations, school assemblies, and individuals from across the country working to fund an ambulance. These individuals, linked by a common cause, were able to raise over $67,000 in less than three months for the health center in Uganda.
It is easy for many people to take for granted the small things: clean water from a sink, medicine readily available in your cabinet, adequate food sources, etc. In the summer of 2002, I was able to traveled to Uganda. During my one-month stay I met and lived with the people who would benefit from the ambulance project. The people I met were so friendly and, even in their poverty, they wanted to share what little they had. I have seen that all people of the world share the same needs and wants. Everyone needs food, shelter, clean water, and necessary health care. We all want to know happiness, health and love. Parents everywhere want the best for their children and children want to learn and grow. But not everyone gets the same chance for success. And so keeping in mind the interdependent and similar nature of our world it is not so difficult to see “global health as everyone’s responsibility.”

As I graduated from high school with my classmates so did SCOUT BANANA. My friends began expanding our work into Chapters at colleges and universities across the US and Canada. This allowed our outreach to grow along with our ability to support more local projects. We became seriously focused on community-based solutions and empowering young people in the US to take responsible action when “making a difference” in Africa. Just because you have the means to do something doesn’t necessarily mean that you should. With an expanding support base and the desire to empower young people and community leaders we decided to pursue 501c3 status in order to better serve as a resource. Utilizing privilege in the US to connect communities in Africa with inspired students, SCOUT BANANA has been able to raise almost $200,000 to date and engage over 50,000 young people in partnering with African projects to provide access to basic health care.
SCOUT BANANA believes that global health is everyone’s responsibility and that everyone has the potential to make a difference. We look at global health issues systematically and our solutions are focused on revolutionizing structures as well as shifting paradigms of development thinking in regards to education, power, and privilege. We seek to create lasting social change in African health care and believe that solutions come directly from communities in need. SCOUT BANANA is dedicated to empowering community solutions as well as young people who want to responsibly make a difference in Africa. By connecting communities in long-term cooperative partnerships, we will build a movement dedicated to fundamental social change in which global health is everyone’s responsibility and every individual’s human right.

SCOUT BANANA is a nonprofit organization that works to provide access to basic health care in Africa. Focusing on community-based solutions and empowering community leaders as well as young people who want to make a difference in Africa, SCOUT BANANA is supporting the innovation in African health care. The organization connects student Chapters with local health project in Africa.

Learn more about the Chapter network & apply to launch a Chapter at your school HERE!

Written for Change.org’s Global Health Blog.

global health is everyone’s responsibility and human right

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(photo credit: WHO)

From the UN Declaration to Amnesty International, between Paul Farmer and William Easterly it seems that everyone has a different understanding of what constitutes a basic human right and the cause of its absence. Michael Keizner has been building the discussion on health and human rights on Change.org’s Global Health blog while NYU Professor, William Easterly has recently entered the debate as a response to Amnesty International’s position on poverty related to human rights. This fueled a response from Amnesty International, which stated that Easterly was “pretty off base.” Easterly followed his Amnesty International response with an end to his “human rights trilogy” by asking Paul Farmer who should be held responsible for satisfying the right to health care?

The World Health Organization (WHO) states health as a human right as:

“the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health is one of the fundamental rights of every human being…”

It seems that Easterly’s human rights criteria is trapped in an old international law paradigm where there must be someone at fault or someone to blame. He also forgets that health is directly linked to food. You cannot have good health and not have food. Effective aid, not seen in today’s aid schemes, based in sustainable practices (not just buzzword reporting) that supports an individual’s right to develop themselves should look comprehensively towards the needs of a community of individuals. The ideas of human rights, foreign aid, and development should be less focused on international systems and more focused on building strong communities that meet their own human needs: health care, food, water, etc.

Within this debate of health and human rights, where does SCOUT BANANA fit. As an organization that makes and stands behind the statement that:

“global health is everyone’s responsibility and every individual’s human right”

Paul Farmer has the right idea, as Easterly quotes from his Tanner Lecture in 2005:

“only a social movement involving millions, most of us living far from these difficult settings, could allow us to change the course of history….troves of attention are required to reconfigure existing arrangements if we are to slow the steady movement of resources from poor to rich—transfers that have always been associated… with violence and epidemic disease… whether or not we can say “never again” with any conviction—will depend on our collective courage to examine and understand the roots of modern violence and the violation of a broad array of rights, including social and economic rights”

This is exactly similar to SCOUT BANANA’s understanding of health as a human right and a responsibility. It is a right where we do not attempt to place blame or hold the past accountable because those become frivolous exercises that produce no results. When we delve deeper into the root causes of issues, for example the driving forces of slavery, we must focus on a responsibility to not repeat the past and make ourselves accountable in the future.

There is no way that the entire European population and its descendants can be held accountable for the evils of the slave trade. While the same ideas of human rights did not exist in the time period of slavery, it is similarly difficult to place blame on systems (and populations) that drive the causes of poverty and lack of access to health care. Many people that I work with on development projects feel guilty that they are so privileged and wealthy compared to the communities that they work with that are so poor. SCOUT BANANA teaches its members to not feel guilty, but instead to feel responsible. Understanding personal privilege related to the oppression of certain populations within societal structures can assist in creating positive impacts. Human rights don’t necessarily have to be about placing blame, but rather developing an understanding of responsibility.

So Professor Easterly when you ask who is responsible for satisfying human rights: it is you, it is me, it is all those who dream of making a difference, and it is also those who lack the very human rights that we hold dear. Placing blame is not a concrete step forward, learning from history and recognizing where our privilege fits can be a first step towards effective actions. I too see Paul Farmer’s vision of a movement of millions, near and far, taking actions to shape a better future where human rights are everyone’s responsibility and every individual’s human right.

From the Article 25 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights:

“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.”

 Written for the SCOUT BANANA blog.

the week in african health

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“No weapons” MSF in Nasir, Upper Nile State, South Sudan

More:
A Tale of Two Refrigerators
Fighting has renewed in southern Sudan, but its not just between militant groups – aid groups fall victim to needless fighting as well. Diane Bennet writes on William Easterly’s Aid Watch blog about the 2001 peace in Sudan and how it was a ripe time to treat disease and build health infrastructure. Unfortunately internal bureaucracy and politics became the largest hurdle.

Sudan: Darfur – Thousands Flee to African Union Safety
More recently, South Darfur has become the seen of violent clashes between government forces and militants. It is important to never forget the impacts that conflict has on health services.

Africa: Public Health Care Must Lead

Oxfam International has released a report [access here] “challenging the myths about private health care in developing countries.” The report emphasizes the role that private health care can play in developing countries, but reminds us that there is no way a scale-up of private health services will reach poor people in need. Key recommendations are to increase funding for free universal health care infrastructure, rejecting ineffective practices of the past, and combining efforts to fuel effective initiatives – sounds a lot like SCOUT BANANA

Global Health: Mobile Phones to Boost Healthcare

Revolutionizing access to health knowledge, the efforts of the Mobile Health Alliance (mHealth), supported by the Rockefeller Foundation, the UN Foundation, and Vodafone Foundation are making a mark across the African continent boasting 51 existing or to-be-implemented programs in 26 countries around the world. Harnessing the potential of growing technology in ‘developing’ countries for the purpose of health can only signal a major shift in access to health care across Africa.

Getting the Continent on Obama’s Agenda

It appears that Obama’s administration is stacked in the favor of Africa and in favor of better international development practices all around. With Susan Rice serving as Ambassador to the UN action against genocide may be bolstered, Gayle Smith more likely than not will be tapped as USAID Director, she was a major proponent of the HELP Commission creating a cabinet level position for foreign aid, and a well known name among insiders and outsiders in African affairs, Johnnie Carson, is expected to be named head of the Bureau of African Affairs of the State Department. The future of US relations in Africa has incredible potential and hope to change.

Zimbabwe: Staff Return to Hospitals, But Not to Work

As a massive cholera outbreak tears across the country, medical staff have returned to their posts, but the nature of their strike, that began in 2008 over poor working conditions and wages, is now “more like a sit-in.” In a country so crippled by Western exploitation and resulting politics, a strike of the health workers in the face of a rampant disease outbreak does not bode well for a vulnerable population.
More:
Too Much Cholera, Too Little Food
Over 80,000 Zimbabweans Infected with Cholera

Africa: U.S. Naval Engagement Offers Health Dividends

Imagine the potential of the US’ military might if it was dedicated to coordinating naval and health care workers from 13 countries to bring aid and health services to communities in need. This becomes a reality with the African Partnership Station Initiative and Project Handclasp. I can only dream of a day where initiatives like this are more a norm than a surprising gesture of good will.

Mali: Raising Money and Hygiene Standards

One of the most innovative programs that I have read most recently is the work the Dutch based Gender and Water Alliance which is employing women to make soap as well educate and use it to increase hygiene and combat preventable diseases. Health benefits, a source of income and empowering women!

Food Crisis Over, Say Experts

Supposedly the global food crisis of last year is over! Agricultural experts from Africa and Asia are saying that we are no longer in a food crisis and that there needs to be an increased production of rice in Africa in order to keep the food crisis at bay. In my opinion, as long as we continue our unsustainable and capitalist practices that commodify a basic human need, we will remain in a global food crisis affecting both the US and Africa.
More:
Rwanda: Food Production Up, Thanks to Green Revolution
Thankfully the increase is not due to the ‘Green Revolution,’ but instead to increase in practices that are focused on protecting the environment.

South Africa: Treasury Blamed for Shortage in Aids Drugs

Years of controversy seem to have brought the blame down on the South African Treasury. With an extensive bureaucracy, it is no wonder that the ARV roll-out program has taken much longer than it should – as many die without the proper medications. While the numbers of people enrolled in the ARV program has increased significantly there still exists a problematic policy of access. Access hinges on wealth, CD4 count, and location. To access the government’s ARV program your CD4 count has to be less than 300, which is at a point where you are already very vulnerable. This creates an issue of sustained treatment because it forces an irregular regimen. If your CD4 count is above 300, you will have to pay. Many cannot pay and if you live far from a government hospital access is just that much more difficult because of taxi fare and time sacrificed for travel. It seems the health and wellbeing of its citizens is not a high budget priority of the South African government.
More:
Rapid HIV evolution avoids attacks
Much like the flu virus, HIV mutates and evolves in response to treatments. This really exposes the South African ARV program as highly ineffective.
Duncan discusses HIV/AIDS in Morocco
Little known to the world, the HIV/AIDS crisis grows in Morocco.

Originally posted on the SCOUT BANANA blog. 

cynicism from a jaded summer

I have been away from writing for a while and this is my attempt to convince myself that is it still important to share what I think. I have been doing a load of thinking since my summer travels. Upon returning from Ghana I started work back at my blue collar job full of racist, sexist, mostly ignorant co-workers, using the term ‘rednecks’ would be too clique, but I just did. At any rate they started off the extreme of the comments that I knew I would receive. Why would I go to Africa? Did I get a number of different diseases? Did I get AIDS? Many co-workers noted that they wouldn’t have even stepped foot off of the plane onto the African soil and I must be either very brave or stupid. These and other questions are starting to not even phase me. They still bother me, but not as much as they once did. The most common question with a hint of no interest behind it is, “How was Africa?” Well if I could easily sum it all up in the few short sentences that will hold your interest for more than two minutes, then I might try and let you know. Sadly the majority of people really do not know how Africa is or have the slightest inkling to discover. This is again not new territory for me and I am not surprised. This is what most worries me. Am I becoming jaded and cynical to a degree? I like to pride myself in working to not become jaded and to always be an optimist, however – people make that difficult, as much as they make it easy. There are just so many interesting things taking place on the African continent and so many thoughts and reflections that tag along that I cannot possibly focus an entry on just one instance – and that is the idea of this blog – to create a place for the contents of my mind that need to spill.

Since returning I have been doing a lot of work with my organization, S.C.O.U.T. B.A.N.A.N.A. We are launching our Year of Water Project in Michigan to fund community wells in 8 different African countries with an organization called Charity:Water. Chapter Action Boxes are being sent out to all 18 North American chapters. The ‘Handbook to Making a Difference’ is almost complete and now we are just waiting on the button order. I have found that applying myself in action has helped to combat the negativity of all the questions asked after returning from Ghana. I have stayed away from reading too much of the news of Africa, kept to the simple ways of a small city life, and have attempted to relax a bit. Now I can do so for no longer. There is too much happening on the African continent, there is too much to do here to raise awareness and there to save lives, there is too much to remain idle for too long. And so I am back at it. There is a wealth of issue I am set to cover, so there may be a large influx in entries over the next few days.

I didn’t have much time to do any great reading from my long ‘List of Good Books to Read,’ but there was one in particular that I enjoyed a lot. I would like add a brief review of a book that I finished this summer. The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay was a book that I had difficulty putting down. It is based in the time period before World War II (1939) and follows the life of a young british boy from his difficult days as a child at a Afrikaaner boarding school, to his climb to intellectual superiority in a new town, and later to his days as an accomplished teenager. All the while the boy is growing in his educational, spiritual, and professional capabilities – and working dedicatedly to one day becoming the boxing welterweight champion of the world. It is called a classic novel of South Africa and I think this tag fits because the book follows the development of South African society. The boy has no difficulty in accepting a person for who they are and often works diligently to assist the oppressed African people. The boy becomes respected by both Africans, for his language abilities and assistance, and white settler descendants, for his academic skills and athletic accomplishments, alike. Definitely a story that was spearheading for the future and one that gives an exciting story of adventure, accomplishment, and Africa.

Index of blog post series on Ghana.

s.c.o.u.t. b.a.n.a.n.a.

Our mission is to combine efforts to save lives with commitment and determination in Africa. S.C.O.U.T. B.A.N.A.N.A. as an organization has a purpose dedicated to converting passion into action. All too often people are presented with extremely moving and emotional experiences, but without an opportunity to act on their new found feelings of empathy. SB believes that ONE person can make a difference in the world. All ONE needs to decide is what kind of a difference they want to make. SB works to link individuals and groups in North America and Western countries with projects creating sustainable solutions to the crisis of access to basic healthcare in Africa. With the understanding that `big plans’ will not solve the problems of the world, SB seeks out the people and organizations, who are making effective and sustainable change on the ground in Africa. SB is focused on partnering student chapters in the West with projects in Africa.

The necessity of basic healthcare as a basic right of all people is huge issue in Africa as people die needlessly from preventable diseases and a lack of access to the right to health. Clean drinking water, secure sources of food, access to medications, need for emergency transportation, and supporting health infrastructures are the overarching goals of SB. We are committed to using the power and privilege of where we live to save lives in Africa. We are not imposing our ideas on the people of Africa, but working with them to find the best solutions to provide the necessary basic healthcare.

SB is not interested in giving handouts, but in providing sustainable aid for people and projects who will change and shape their communities in need. SB believes in the idea of a global community and that no matter where you live or what your desires – every person has the same wants and needs: to have clean water to drink, food to eat, medicines to get well, to be healthy. SB is dedicated to uplifting the oppressed and assisting them in turning their dreams into futures by way of health.

We are students, parents, teachers, activists, artists, musicians, and community leaders combining forces to create sustainable and healthy changes for the health crisis in Africa. We are an organization committed to working innovatively to provide what is most needed by people suffering from the health crisis. SB’s goal is to raise awareness about the health crisis in Africa and also raise funds to support projects effectively reaching the people in need on the ground in Africa.

People are dying, that is our reason for action; that is our rally cry. People are dying and they shouldn’t be. We have the access and the ability to give the dying a face and a voice and a life. The short time I spent in Uganda four summers ago, I ate, played, sang, smiled, and met with people who I know are no longer there and that is why I continue to tell their stories and ask for help.

africa here i come

Exciting news! This summer I will be traveling back to Africa! I am so excited I can hardly wait for the regular school year to finish! I will begin by participating in a study abroad program in Ghana studying the disparities in healthcare along with Ghanaian culture.

I then plan to travel back to Uganda. I was offered a chance to help a graduate student conduct research in an area of southern Uganda. I also hope to visit the health center that S.C.O.U.T. B.A.N.A.N.A. has funded for the past 5 years and see how things are unfolding there. I would really like to possibly make it to Gulu to see how the Invisible Children programs are being run, but I am not sure yet if that is possible.

My friends then mentioned that they would like to volunteer at an AIDS assistance program in Tanzania, so maybe I will cover 3 African countries in one summer! It will be very exciting to use my french and swahili in a country where the language is spoken by the population.

I really can’t wait as you may be able to tell. 4 years is a long time to be away from the land you have fallen in love with, from the people who have given you so much direction in life. I have a lot to catch up in from 4 years past. The toughest issue to deal with when working to help people in communities across the ocean is the great distance and displacement from the actual issue. Many people ask me how will I know that people’s lives are really being affected and changed? When will I be able to see the results of my donation? So many people want to see the direct result of their efforts and I can’t blame them. I have faith and I trust the organizations that S.C.O.U.T. B.A.N.A.N.A. supports, but I can definitely hear the request of the people who help. For the past 4 years I have been working so hard for communities so far away and I can’t wait to see the real impact that my efforts and the efforts of other dedicated individuals has had on the communities that I will visit this summer. I keep telling myself not to rush it because everything comes in due time and at its given time. For now I’ll keep learning about Africa in class and know from previous experience that there is no way any classroom or grade will even compare to an on the ground African experience.

where are we going, health = security

This is a very exciting month for S.C.O.U.T. B.A.N.A.N.A.! We have taken on 4 new projects dealing with basic health care and we are that much closer to achieving official non-profit status. We have partnered with Blood: Water Mission to help train community workers to build wells for a sustainable clean water in Uganda, Kenya, and Sierra Leone. We have also joined to support the Partners in Health Rwanda Programs which include: recruiting and training administrative and medical staff; rebuilding and equipping clinics; and securing reliable electricity, water, and communications systems. Two amazing organizations, check out their links on the side, all working towards one over arching goal, which is to provide basic health care services to the world’s people disproportionately affected by poverty, disease, and injustice.

And this brings me to question where are we going as a society? What is our real motive – materials, success, fame? Is the most basic human emotion of compassion not relevant anymore? Do people care for their fellow people that reside on the earth? Where has all the love gone? In my day to day work and my work with S.C.O.U.T. B.A.N.A.N.A. I have seen both worlds, I have seen the actions of people for good and for bad, and yet even in my position I still question and wonder. Where are we going? The media and pop culture are winning out over issues of poverty, over disease, over life, over death. How can this be? The world is the way it is because society, people in society have shaped the world as we know it and now more than ever the world is being shaped, but it needs to be molded to fit a different form than the one in which it is being fashioned. The corporations and institutions are increasingly misleading the people to act in the way of self-interest and for their greatest gain. What will happen when people are exploited to the fullest? What will be left? Where are we going?

This is where I tell you, stop, think, and act! This is where you learn that you can change the world! Every single person that reads this blog, that goes to work today, that attends class, that wakes out of bed today has the potential to make a difference in the world. You, who has just awoken, only need to decide now what kind of a difference you will make in the world. What will YOU do? Where will YOU go?

The crisis of basic health care in Africa is a major issue right now, larger than many know or realize. Sure Africa has its problems, but no one understand to what extent. The lack of basic healthcare and health for that matter is a great divider. It tears apart communities as their members suffer and die their economy falls and great economic hardship ensues. Some then turn to alternative methods of income, even sex work. The need to survive and be healthy pushes many people to do things that we here cannot understand. The lack of health, wellness, food to eat, water to drink spurs on war and regional conflict. In some of those conflicts HIV/AIDS is used as weapon of war where infected soldiers are sent to the frontlines to rape and spread their disease. Besides health and its effects producing war and hardship, there is an even more pressing problem of the lack of healthworkers. How can African countries expect to help their suffering populations when there are not enough workers, or healthy workers, to administer aid and treat the dying? How can a country function without a basic healthcare system in place? If health and access to health is so pressing then why is it not pressed for more fervently? S.C.O.U.T. B.A.N.A.N.A. is working to do just that, not necessarily by direct on the ground aid, but we do support the people and organizations working on the ground making the difference while we here work to educate a privileged world of the basic human right to health.

hmm, what is this?

Here is the first of many stories:

It all started on a Sunday in July 2000. I was at Mass in the church I had attended all my life, Holy Family Catholic Church, when there was an announcement made that a visiting priest from Uganda would be living in our parish for the summer. He would be offering African drum lessons to anyone who wanted to learn. Since I drummed on everything—including the dinner table, my desk, and the church pew—my mother gave me a knowing look. After Mass, I introduced myself to Father Joseph Birungi and became his first student.

Fr. Joseph spoke with an accent native to Uganda and didn’t always understand my words. But we both understood a smile. We met several times over the summer and he taught me how to drum. But, Fr. Joseph taught me more than drumming. We talked about his home and his people and their great need for basic medical care. He told me of the many deaths of his people due to simple, preventable diseases. He told me of his dream to construct a health center in a remote area of his country. From those lessons, I was inspired to help the people of Fr. Joseph’s community—somehow. I asked him what I could do to help.

Of course, Fr. Joseph was pleased by my excitement and thoughtfulness, but he also knew I was only a 13 year-old boy. As he told me later, he didn’t expect that I would be able to accomplish much. Nonetheless, he decided to dream big. Fr. Joseph said the new health center would need an ambulance and asked if I could try to get one for him. At first, I thought it would be impossible, but eventually I convinced myself I could do it. The Toyota dealership in Uganda’s capital city of Kampala gave him an ordering price of $50,000! I knew that in order to raise that much money I would need a really great idea. I decided to make life-size foamboard cut-outs of Fr. Joe and ask people in my community to “host” him for a day at their home, business, classroom, meeting, or special event. He would come with a “suitcase” containing information about Uganda and the need for the ambulance, a video message from Fr. Joe, a camera to record a picture of the hosts with Fr. Joe for my scrapbook, and a yard sign to show their participation in my project – and, hopefully, inspire others to participate too. I asked each host for a donation to the ambulance fund and a small medical supply.

Many people helped me prepare the supplies and promote the project, although I initially had to overcome my fear of public speaking. I knew that the no one would know about the need of the Ugandan people if I couldn’t tell them. I spoke to service clubs, school groups, and church congregations—anyone who would listen. Thousands of people responded. I collected 20 boxes of medical supplies and raised over $67,000 in less than 4 months.

I actually traveled to Uganda and went with Fr. Joe to sign the order for the ambulance. During my one month stay I met and lived with the people who would benefit from my project. My trip to Uganda left an indelible mark on me and it is an experience I will never forget. All the people I met were so friendly and, even in their poverty, they wanted to share what little they had. I have seen that all people of the world share the same needs and wants. We are really all more alike than we are different. Everyone needs food, shelter, clean water, and necessary health care. We all want to know happiness, health and love. Parents everywhere want the best for their children and children want to learn and grow. But not everyone gets the same chance for success.

My project helped to provide quality healthcare and emergency transportation to those who would otherwise have no place to go and no way to get there. It brought the world a little closer together as my community realized—and met—the needs of a community across the ocean. Fr. Joseph’s dream became reality when the health center opened its doors in April 2003. His health center treats anyone who comes, regardless of who they are or whether or not they can pay. Hundreds of people have been treated and the ambulance has provided emergency transportation to other facilities when necessary. The ambulance also transports nurses to villages far from the health center to teach disease prevention and provide immunizations. Since the ambulance goal was achieved, I have continued to help by raising awareness and funds—largely at my high school—to help ship a 40-foot container of medical equipment from Michigan to Uganda.

I have been privileged to lead a project that has directly impacted many people living in Uganda. Additionally, the project itself greatly increased awareness in my community about the lack of healthcare and other basic needs. Although my original goal was accomplished, I realized that once I made a connection with the people of Uganda, I couldn’t just walk away. I couldn’t assume that my part was over and that someone else would pick up where I left off. I had seen their faces, held their hands, visited their homes, and eaten with them. I know that I saw the faces of people who are no longer there—and so I continue to tell their story and ask for help.

I have realized that working to help those who are in need in the global community is the best way to show that I care. When I traveled to Africa, I came to understand the many differences in culture that separated the Ugandan community and my community. And even though we were physically distanced, I saw how my project brought us together. I know that I need to continue to work to change the world for the better.

Through my project, I also learned a few important lessons about life. One, it is our deeds, not our words, that change and shape our communities and our world. Second, we must all believe that one person can make a difference. Everyone has the potential to make a difference, but who among us will choose to act on that potential – and what kind of difference will we choose to make? Third, we must first believe in ourselves before anyone will believe in us. And lastly, although one person can make a difference, one person cannot make a difference alone – we need one another to succeed. It takes a group of dedicated people to create change. From my own efforts to promote global understanding, I know that YOU, as one person, can make a difference in the world!