Unfortunately, the most magical day of my trip to east Africa this summer wasn’t captured accurately on film, as my camera decided to act up that day and made all pictures too dark to show! Hey, it’s my blog and that’s the way I’m telling the story. In any case, the series of pictures I had hoped to use in conjunction with this post is all but ruined, so I’ll do my best to illustrate with words.
I visited three of our supported projects in east Africa this summer, including a trip to Umutara University in northeastern Rwanda, in order to better understand the needs and challenges that each project faces. It is also a tremendous thrill for me to set foot on the soil of Africa, something I don’t get to do nearly as often as I used to, and to renew my spirit for creating SHF in the first place. Africa surrounds you with all her senses, and it is only in the experience that one can begin to understand her magic and mystery.
Back to my visit—I brought with me to Umutara several cargo bags full of donated supplies to distribute to the veterinary faculty and students. Bags were filled with a variety of veterinary supplies and items of technology to enhance the educational experience—I was eager to gift the items to the University and had for weeks envisioned the excitement that would surely erupt as students opened bags filled with laptop computers, binoculars, medical supplies and the like. I was able to acquire a portable x-ray machine to donate, and felt for sure it would bring the most joy from the crowd of students that had gathered to open the bags. I gave a brief speech to the students and faculty, and gestured to the donated items for the students to come and view. There was a rush and flurry of students to the front of the classroom, and bags were opened as in the fury of Christmas morning, with items held up for display and cheers all around. It was a great moment for me to be a part of. Amidst all of the chaos and cheer, a hush fell over the students as one item in particular was pulled from a duffel bag—I walked over to see what had captured their attention, thinking it must be the latest technology or flashiest item, and was shocked to find that it was a used, tattered copy of a field guide to the behavior of African wildlife that I had tossed into the bag at the request of one of the professors! Of all the items donated to the University, the one to bring the most joy and appreciation from the students was merely an old copy of a used book I had lying on my shelf for nearly a decade. I was overwhelmed with the irony of the moment, and choked back tears as the students came to me one by one to shake my hand in appreciation of my small gift. Their wildlife professor used this book in her course, however no one, including the professor, could source the book in Rwanda (and certainly couldn’t pay the money to ship it from overseas), so they simply went without. When I had received the wish list from Umutara earlier that year I was happy to see that the book requested was one that I personally owned, and I tossed the book in to the bag of supplies without thinking much of it. To my surprise, my ‘just another book’ was a valued asset to the University. Behold the power in each of us to make an impact in the life of a student eager to learn! How many of us have countless books in our possession from our years in study, with nowhere to donate them?
As I toured the University I was moved to see that the ‘library’ at Umutara held no books at all, only empty shelves. SHF is actively collecting books from veterinarians and veterinary Universities around the country to help stock the shelves at Umutara. We are also working to establish a subscription to an online research library for Umutara, so that Faculty and students can access the wealth of knowledge and information available online. I will continue to look for better solutions to bigger problems, and hope to someday create sustainable sources of new supplies for all of the projects we support, but for now I will patch the conservation quilt wherever and however I can. Although it may not seem ideal to donate used or out of date books to the project, we also feel that something is surely better than nothing. After seeing the reaction of the students to the one simple book included amongst a plethora of high-tech supplies, I can certainly attest to the power of the page.
As we move forward into the holiday season, I hope to keep this story in my mind—it is not always the most expensive, the flashiest, the latest gadget that makes for the best gift. By donating items you can do without, you may allow others to shine—small change, office supplies, books, slightly outdated technology—all are new again when reborn in the eyes of someone in need. Educate, Equip, Empower. We can make a difference!