Tuesday, 24 May 2011

From the beginning...

     I came to Africa planning to help others, but I never expected to fall in love with the people I met or to create friendships that would last forever.  For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to travel to Africa and work in orphanages, so I did just that and started out on an adventure that would change my life forever.  I decided to take a gap year between high school and college to pursue my dreams in Africa.  I set up the first half of my 3 month trip with an organization that allowed me to volunteer in 7 different orphanages all around Tanzania.  That was an incredible experience but I didn't feel that I was fulfilling my dreams, because I was unable to become fully connected with any of the children or people that I worked with.  After my month and a half long adventure in Tanzania had come to an end, I was ready to transition into the next phase of my trip.  So I set out on the 22 hour long bus ride from Arusha, Tanzania to Iganga, Uganda, being the only white passenger, with my fellow East African travelers.
     I arrived in Iganga, Uganda not knowing anyone, but I wasn't afraid, I was ready for anything that came my way.  Once I arrived at Musana Children's Home and I started immersing myself in the true African culture, I knew I was in the right place, and I was already expecting some big changes in my life.  Those children and all of the people I met have made an incredible impact on me and they will forever hold a place in my heart, thats when I knew I wanted to create a large project that would help to change and better their lives.
     I was sitting in Jomo Kenyatta Nairobi Airport, telling my mom over the phone about my crazy idea of wanting to go home and fundraise $15,000 to return to Uganda and start a cafe/restaurant/bar for Musana Children's Home as a sustainability project.  When I got home, both mom and dad figured I wasn't completely serious about my plans, and probably figured it would all be forgotten in a couple weeks.  Yet the more I talked with people about my trip, I became all the more motivated to fulfill my goal.  The first fund raiser was pretty terrifying, because I have never been comfortable talking in front of groups of people, but once I started I began to relax and knew that I would be fine, because this was something I was completely passionate about.  2 months, 5 fund raisers and $17,600 later, I was headed on a plane back to Uganda to start my work.  Andrea Pauline, one of the founders of MCH and myself were the primary people in charge of starting the cafe.  With the help of a few people at the orphanage we made a couple visits to Kampala, Uganda to get the main large appliances, as well as traveling to Jinja, Uganda to purchase the furniture and artwork from local artists, for decorations.  That was an important decision from the start, we wanted to support locals as much as possible, in order to give back to the community.  Another positive aspect to the cafe was being fortunate enough to find an exceptional chef who had previously worked in a popular restaurant in Kampala.  In one of the main languages in Uganda, Luganda, the word "musana" means sunshine, so we decided Sol Cafe was a good fit, seeing as "sol" is spanish for sun.
     Sol cafe offers a wide variety of foods which include local Ugandan, Indian as well as westernized American.  We knew it was important to have something for all of our different customers.  Along with the exceptional selection of food, we also provide DsTV (cable) and an internet cafe.  The DsTV proved extremely popular during the World Cup soccer matches, and the cafe was completely packed during that time, to the point that we didn't have enough seats for all of our customers.  Sol cafe was also an amazing way to bring the community of Iganga together, from a large group of rowdy Indian men watching Cricket matches to many of the young adults who attend a nearby university, being able to enjoy drinks with their friends.
     Although in the beginning of my adventures I never expected to be where I am today, I am incredibly thankful for everything that I have gone through these past couple of years, I wouldn't change a single thing.  I have completely changed as an individual, and I am far more comfortable in my own skin, then I have ever been.  I am tremendously appreciative of everyone's support and thankful to those of you who believed in me.  But most of all I am so lucky to be a part of these peoples lives and to have helped support the children the way I did.  Now I am ready to go wherever life takes me, and I can't wait to do what I can to continue to help others.