Exactly one month ago today, I returned from a 12-day trip to Uganda. While there, myself and a group of 15 others did water projects such as building a rainwater harvest tank and making and distributing bio-sand filters. The organization that hosted the trip was a non-profit based out of Boone, NC called Wine to Water. Their founder, Doc Hendley, received a CNN Hero award back in 2009 for the incredible work that he himself had done both in Darfur and Uganda. Doc has inspired thousands, myself included. The work they do at Wine to Water changes lives. In fact, it changes entire communities. They do real boots on the ground stuff, bringing clean water to those in need. They make an impact with what they do. And I’ve seen it first hand.
The best part of the experience in Uganda, and the key to their organizations mission statement, is the work they do is done “in community”. So that is where the majority of our time was spent. We were able to truly interact with the nationals/locals on a daily basis. We worked with them, we ate with them, we went to church with them, we laughed with them, and we sang and danced with them. And because of that level of interaction for the extended period of time that we were with them, there were several key takeaways or lessons that became very obvious to me. Lessons powerful enough to have me change the way that I view things, and the way in which I go about my days. I will share one of those with you here.
Upon arrival in Uganda, the first thing I noticed was that it appeared as bad, if not worse, visually, as I thought it would be. Many villages look just like the images you see on TV and/or in magazines when they depict extreme levels of poverty in Africa. In fact, one would say that they have nothing* (I’ll footnote that comment because I’ll come back to it later). Not only do they not have clean water, they don’t have running water, they don’t have carpet, the don’t have electricity, they don’t have multiple pairs of clothes to choose from, they don’t even have furniture. They don’t have any of the “luxuries” that we have here in the states. What little material things they have are for mere survival.
But here’s the thing … they are an incredibly happy people. A joyful people. Constantly smiling. A grateful and a deeply appreciative people. It’s extraordinary. How can they be so happy? How can they be so grateful and appreciative when they have nothing?
Then, after several days, it hit me. I saw it. I saw it because we were so involved with them “in community”. That was it. I realized that they have what truly is the most important things in life. The things that matter much more than any luxury items. They had three very important things … they had family, they had faith, and they had community. Family, faith, and community. Probably what should be the most important thing in anyone’s life, regardless of where you live. Family, faith and community. And when you have those things you can genuinely be happy and joyful despite any situation or hardship. That’s what life is all about, isn’t it? When it’s all said and done, isn’t that what we are all trying to achieve, genuine happiness?
Yet, back here in the states, most of us tend to be fairly dissatisfied with our lives, always wanting more, wanting newer, wanting bigger, more money, more stuff. And what do we do? We try to “squeeze in” time for family, time in prayer or at church, or time in community giving back and helping others. In the hectic hustle and bustle of our ridiculously busy days we simply don’t make enough time for what is really important.
What occurred to me was that we just have too many distractions. Our cellphones ringing, text-messaging pinging, our laptops and iPads, our calendars are crammed with dinners and meetings and we tend to be on everyone else’s agenda but our own. We can’t find enough time in the day, right? They don’t have that. They don’t have any of that. The locals in Uganda don’t have the distractions we do. Heck, they don’t have choices there. Their lives, by default, are much simpler than ours. And because of this simple lifestyle, nothing gets in the way of spending time with family, time in their faith, or in community with others. They have already achieved an extraordinary level of happiness and joy in their lives, and they are truly grateful for what little they have.
By no means am I suggesting that we purge ourselves of all our worldly possessions. We live in two completely different cultures and most of us could never live in theirs. But what became so clear to me was how family, faith and community played a role in my life. How distracted am I when I am with my family? How many times have I conveniently missed church in lieu of something else? And how much am I doing to be involved and engaged in sharing time and giving back in my community?
I’ll end with a question to consider … if we are all eventually trying to get to a place in life where we are genuinely happy and joyful people surrounded by those we love and doing things we enjoy, and the villagers in Uganda are seemingly already there … I ask you, who actually “has more”?(*)
Over the last 30-days since I’ve returned from Uganda I have instituted some meaningful changes in my life. And I am much more aware of the distractions that pull me away from the things that are most meaningful to me. I went to Uganda to give my time and to serve others in need, and I think I was the one who was given the most by those who had so little to give.
If you would like to learn more about Wine to Water, please visit their website at http://winetowater.org
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