Uganda. The Pearl of Africa. It’s beautiful. And it’s where I’m about to go. For six months I’ll be living in Uganda during my gap year between high school and university. I knew all along there was no way I could make it through high school and four years of university without going insane. I wanted a break; a year away from the rat race, from all homework and all the studying. But, more importantly, I wanted a life changing experience; something that I could take with me, something I would remember, something crazy.
My family always encouraged a gap year and I knew that I was going to go for a long time. But it wasn’t until my friend suggested that I come and work with him in Uganda that things started to move forward. If I chose to go I would be working for the first three months with an organization called Oasis Uganda in a small village called Musoto, working mainly in the schools, setting up a football program that taught the children about HIV, and also teaching a bit of English and Math. I would then transfer over to an equally small fishing village called Bulega where I would be working with an organization called Cherish Uganda. Here I would work, again in a school, helping to teach P.E and Music to the primary students. Didn’t sound too bad, so I decided to sign on. Before I knew it, I was boarding a plane, bound for Entebbe airport.
The hot, thick air of Uganda hits me in the face as I step off the airplane. “This is an adventure” I think to myself, “I am trekking through some unexplored land, far away from the realms of civilization.” I’m really not, but I don’t care. It’s new to me. And it’s exciting. Gradually, as time moved on, the newness wears off and is replaced with something else, something different. After living and working here for a while, I start to notice the other side of this beauty and excitement. The sort of paradox that is Uganda. Though there is beauty, there is something else, something hard to describe. If you drink the water without first boiling it, you’ll end up with some nasty disease. If you swim in Lake Victoria and forget to take the tablets you may end up with bilharzia, a potentially fatal parasite. Behind the beauty of this amazing country is a fact that roughly 1 in 20 people here have HIV; a virus that has already claimed the lives of over 25 million people worldwide. (Uganda is doing a lot to stop the spread of AIDS in its borders, but it’s still very present.) Everything grows, but many families can’t get some of that food because they don’t have the money to buy what they don’t grow. And sometimes the rainfall, the very thing that makes everything grow, is so much that it destroys crops. I myself met a man whose garden was ruined due to too much rain at the wrong time. Instead of giving up, he tells us he will just keep trying.
I’m confused. Why is God letting this happen? This place has so much potential! It’s amazing. So many questions run through my head; so many thoughts. And these questions aren’t being answered, these thoughts aren’t stopping. Then I realize, I can ask my God any question I want, but that doesn’t mean He’ll answer. He knows the answers, but He may not answer. And if He really is in control, then that’s fine by me. I believe He’s in control. I believe He knows the master plan. Uganda changed me. Being totally immersed in a different culture showed me just how big our God is. Learning that the same God that we worship is worshipped in Uganda is just unbelievable. Our God is a big god. Uganda also showed me that God is there. During the last couple of months when I was in Uganda I got very down. Many questions, no answers, and I just felt distant from God. As this was happening though, I still, somehow, felt that God was there waiting for me. I felt distant, but I was the distant one, not Him. He was waiting for me, patiently waiting for me.
Uganda was amazing. It was tough and it sometimes hurt because you see the suffering and your heart bleeds for the people in that suffering. But that’s the beauty of what a gap year is. Not the bleeding, but the journey that you go on that allows you to bleed. A gap year isn’t just a year to take out because you are tired of school and want something different. A gap year is something you do that will change you and allow you see the suffering, but also to joy; something that allows you to bleed with people and rejoice with people, to understand, if only slightly, the lives of others.. It’s an amazing adventure. It’s something that can change the course of your life. I was going to become a civil engineer. Not sure what happened but now I’m becoming a journalist. A gap year will do that to you. It’ll show you what you really want, and what God really wants for you. If you let it, it will flip your world upside-down and inside-out. Why not let it? You have your whole life to go to University, find a job, and settle down. Why not take a year out and do something crazy? Something that could change your life and show you just what our God is all about. It’s scary. You will be forced out of your comfort zone at times and will do things you don’t want to do. But it’s worth it. And come on, you get to say that you went to somewhere like Uganda for six months. That’s cool, right?
My name is Josh Potter, I’m 19, and I just came back from living six months in Uganda.