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January 27, 2022

Uganda: A student's perspective - Building Tomorrow brings a Hopkins student to Uganda

By CARTER BANKER | October 5, 2011

The News-Letter sat down with sophomore Richard Skelton to discuss his recent summer trip to Uganda through the international nonprofit organization, Building Tomorrow.

The News-Letter (NL): So Alex, tell me all about your trip. Where did you go, what did you see, what did you do?

Ryan Skelton (RS): This past summer, I went to Uganda on a trip with an organization called Building Tomorrow to help build a school in a village called Kyeitabya, which is 50 miles west of the capital city, Kampala. I stayed in Kampala for a couple of nights.

The city itself is hard to describe — everyone seems to have their own way of doing things. One perfect example that comes to mind is the traffic cops, who don't use radar guns to determine whether or not someone is speeding, they just eyeball it!

There are also many visible remnants (mainly buildings) from the brutal dictatorship of Idi Amin, who ruled from 1971 through 1979, during which time he carried out mass killings of his own citizens, murdering an estimated 300,000 of them. You may recognize his name from the movie The Last King of Scotland. The buildings that are left are a constant reminder of the money he spent while his people starved.

Anyway, after a couple of nights I went on to the village called Kyeitabya, where I spent the majority of my time. Here, I did a home stay, as did the rest of the group I traveled with to Uganda. It was one of the better homes in the village, and it was right near the site so I feel like I lucked out. We would walk to the school site, which was about a half a mile away, every morning at 6:30, work until noon, then go inside to escape the afternoon sun. Then, we would go back out to work from 2:00 until 6:00 when the sun went down for the evening. The work varied from digging trenches to cutting down trees with machetes to laying the cement for the floor.

There was a small solar power cell that all of the villagers used to charge their cell phones, equipment, etc. But, effectively, we did not have access to electricity during our time in the village.

NL: Were you still able to enjoy yourself in the village even without electricity? What did you do with your free time?

RS: My time in the village was great. I got to work alongside many of the Ugandans who would soon be going to the school, or would have children going to the school. During our breaks from working, many of the kids would come to us and play games. We taught them classics like "Down by the Banks," "Duck Duck Goose" and "Simon Says." We would go on walks with the villagers through the area after we were done working, and we were able to see some really beautiful scenery.

NL: But what was it like to be in and amongst such extreme poverty?

RS: It was devastating to see so many children and adults with swollen stomachs, infected wounds and injuries that would never heal properly. But sometimes, we forget that there are a lot of beautiful things too, and I wanted to focus on those. Sure, most of the people don't have access to health care, clean water or education (yet!), but they still live lives that are more fulfilling than those of many people who have all of those things. They wake up each morning and overlook a valley that is undisturbed by skyscrapers or highways.

The village was like one big family; everyone was very friendly to each other, and they seemed to genuinely care about the well-being of everyone around them.

NL: Now that you are back in the U.S., how do you think this experience in Uganda has affected you?

RS: Looking back on the trip, I can definitely say that my experience in Kyeitabya was one of the most meaningful experiences that I have ever had. When people live in these types of conditions, yet they still strive to move forward and be better at whatever it is they do, it really makes you believe in the effervescence of the human spirit.

For more information on the international branch of Building Tomorrow, visit www.buildingtomorrow.org.

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