So today’s post is a bit different than my usual, but it’s about something I’ve been wanting to share with you guys for a while. It’s actually about a big part of my past that I’ve never brought up much here on the blog and since today is International Day of the Girl, I figured the timing is perfect. You see, back in 2009 I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Uganda in eastern Africa. It was incredible and the kind of trip that changes your life forever. Really, if you’ve been to a developing country or one with extreme poverty you know what I’m talking about. You come home a completely different person. A better person. More grateful. More appreciative. And motivated to make a real change in the world. That’s how I felt anyway. I want to share this story of my trip to Uganda and how it changed my life with you guys today because it’s a big part of who I am, so grab your coffee and find a cozy spot!
It had always been a dream of mine to go to Africa. I’m not really sure why, but from the time I was a little girl I just felt this calling on my heart to go. As I grew older I began learning about the challenges girls and women face in developing countries, especially post-conflict zones, and I was especially interested in girls’ education. I learned that most girls living in poverty never receive a secondary education and many don’t even make it into primary school. And this is just one of many issues that girls and women encounter in the developing world. The more I learned, the more my heart broke. And the more I wanted to help.
I began volunteering with various nonprofit organizations and it was actually one of those connections that gave me the opportunity to travel to Uganda. I was absolutely ecstatic. I was newly married at the time and I can still remember running up to my husband in the backyard of our first home and telling him, “I’M GOING TO AFRICA!”. It was a dream come true. The trip was only for 10 days, so I convinced him to go along with me for the adventure. We basically had no money at the time, but we scrimped together just enough to make it happen. And with that we both set off for what would be one of the most amazing experiences of our lives.
We were fortunate to spend our trip with a fabulous organization called One City Ministries.. The organization’s founders are from Florida, but they live and work in Uganda. They only knew us through a friend-of-a-friend type of connection, but they were absolutely incredible and allowed us to basically shadow them for our entire trip. It was amazing. We got to travel to remote villages near Mbale, which is located in eastern Uganda, and see first-hand what life is like for people living in extreme poverty. It was heartbreaking. I had never witnessed conditions like that in my life and it was truly hard to see. But at the same time, it was so very inspiring. We met families who had basically nothing, but they were so happy and full of joy. Especially the children. Every where we went the children came running. And they always had big smiles, beaming like little rays of sunshine. I’ll never forget those sweet faces and the experiences I had on that trip. I learned so much about the world, myself and even God. I prayed constantly during that time and my faith grew in the most profound ways.
I could never share all of the things I learned in Uganda in this one post. But one of the issues that really hit me hard was how young girls were missing up to 5 days of school each month during their menstrual cycle, simply because they did not have access to sanitary napkins. Instead they were using things like tree bark and old rags, which clearly didn’t get the job done and put them at risk for awful infections. Girls were basically dropping out of school just because they got their period. How terrible is that?! I couldn’t believe it, so when I came home from Uganda I immediately started sewing reusable cloth pads. I don’t know if you’re familiar with them, but they can be washed and reused dozens of times. I got my friends and family involved, started a website, the whole shebang. I even got companies to contribute to our cause and in total we were able to donate over 600 reusable pads to girls in Uganda.
After finishing my pad project I started my master’s degree and continued working with organizations for girls and women in developing countries. I was lucky enough to volunteer with She’s the First, which is an incredible organization that helps girls all around the world be the first in their family to attend school. It was an awesome experience and I even got to travel to New York City to attend the Women in the World Summit in 2012. But my first real job came immediately after I finished my master’s degree and it was with an organization called Project Education South Sudan. Landing that job was like a dream come true, because I finally had a paid gig in girls’ education. It was amazing. I’ll always look back on that time in my life and feel grateful that I was able to work for a cause I loved so much.
Isn’t it amazing how God takes us through such different seasons in life? That trip to Uganda and the work I did following that experience really feels like it was a lifetime ago. And to be honest, some days I wonder what things would be like now if I had continued on that path. But God had a different plan for my life. One that I never could have predicted. Right now this season has me chasing babies and renovating our fixer upper. And even though it’s very different from the things I was doing just a few years ago, I’m so grateful this life. I’ll continue to follow wherever God leads and maybe one day I can find a way to bridge my love of home decor with my passion for girls and women in extreme poverty. Seems completely do-able, right?!
Well I hope you enjoyed reading this post. Thank you for allowing me to share my heart today. And I hope this inspires you to follow whatever passions you have in life–wherever God leads you. I’m so grateful for you guys and I really can’t thank you enough for all the support you give me on a daily basis. It truly means so much! xoxo
Today is meant to highlight and address the needs and challenges girls face around the world, read more about International Day of the Girl here.