Wednesday, April 25, 2012

“Do you think you made a difference?”

Since October, one aspect of my life has remained consistent: every Sunday afternoon, I could count on a call with my parents.  They would worry immensely when I wouldn’t make our scheduled chat, but more often than not, they would listen to stories of my work and life in the village and offer encouragement when I needed it.

On one of my last days in Pader, my father acknowledged the elephant in the room (as he often has). “So, do you think you made a difference?” he asked.

I paused, quickly recounting my first and last days in Pader. Over the last few days, I had said goodbye to each of the groups of young people I worked with as a Peace Club patron. At Friends of Orphans, I hosted a celebration of the student leaders’ accomplishments after escorting them to meet NGO staff and local leaders with whom they could partner after my departure. At the Pader Girls School, news of my coming absence was met with tears. Several girls refused to pose for a photograph, crying until I reassured them that their Peace Club would continue and that I would not forget them. After convincing the girls to do one last “Let there be peace!” cheer, the mood lightened, and I managed to say my goodbyes. The girls escorted me home, singing the words of Matisyahu’s “One Day” the whole way.

My last official day at CCF coincided with the organization’s anniversary celebration, recognizing ten years of service to war-affected women and children. I had worked hard in the preceding weeks to help organize everything from the exhibition tents to the final program of speakers and presenters. After the exhausting five day event, I was met in the kitchen of my home by the organization’s Executive Director who expressed genuine gratitude for all of my efforts.

So, did I make a difference?

In future resumes, my experience in Pader may be summarized by a list of achievements: the creation of a Kids for Peace curriculum for war-affected populations; training over 400 Peace Club members in Pader and Agago Districts; directly leading four peace clubs whose members organized service days, human rights trainings, peer counseling sessions, and shared their Peace Pledge with international ambassadors, local leaders, and members of the Ugandan Parliament; developing the capacity of two local NGOs through technology training, monitoring and evaluation, and documentation; teaching English and computer skills to formerly abducted children; etcetera, etcetera...

From the reactions of my students, I do hope it is not too far of a stretch to imagine that for some, I had the kind of impact upon their life that the best teachers of my youth had upon my own. It may not be an earth shattering revolution, but from small but meaningful interactions, the course of one’s life can change.

Led by Northern Uganda’s youth, I hope a culture of kindness, peace, and environmental awareness continues to develop. The youth have learned new skills, exercised leadership, and seen that “it feels good to do good.”

I am leaving Pader satisfied with what I have accomplished in my short time here. I won’t miss all of the challenges of daily life I faced, but I will miss working with others every day to do “all the good we can, by all the means we can.”

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