Shannon Fitzpatrick’s Blog

How I Came to Find Myself Spending a Summer in Africa by Shannon Fitzpatrick For the past couple of years, I’ve had the desire to choose one thing I feel passionate about, and focus solely on this one thing. Growing up, I was constantly involved in many things at once- juggling my time between various sports, clubs, and activities, and was busy with many practices, meetings, and classes a day. I definitely thrive on being busy and wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. I think that being involved with many activities as a child allowed me to test the waters in many different areas and find out what it was that I wanted to devote my time to, and also discover what things I didn’t care all that much about.  As I get older, I still possess a desire to always be moving and doing things, but my perspective on how I occupy my time has changed over the past couple of years. After having had the chance to be involved in a bunch of things at once for most of my life, I have more recently come to desire devoting myself to doing less things at one time, allowing myself to spend more time focusing on just a few things that I feel genuinely passionate about. This shift in mindset can explain why I find myself writing to you from Uganda, Africa, where I am staying with a beautiful host family for the summer. I’ve decided that I want to devote all of my time this summer to serving others through The Giving Circle Africa, a non-profit, volunteer-based organisation which dedicates itself to bringing positive changes to the lives of children and adults in Africa through supporting education, child support, health clinics and many other incredible things. I first learned about The Giving Circle three years ago, when I had the great fortune of meeting Mark Bertrand, founder of The Giving Circle, when I attended a Teen Human Rights Symposium in upstate New York. The symposium was aimed at helping high school students understand how to be global citizens by helping them to learn about some of the world’s greatest problems, encouraging students to consider solutions, and possibly most importantly, allowing for lots of student interaction and input on how best to overcome issues and contribute to bringing positive change. For more information on this incredible annual symposium, please check out  Anyways, when I met Mark and found out about The Giving Circle and its work, I was incredibly inspired and had kept my knowledge of its existence in the back of my head like a planted seed that was germinating some ideas on how to become involved. Fast forward a couple of years and I found my self at the George Washington University as a student of international affairs and global public health. I was surrounded by some new friends looking to get involved with a service project for our economics class. So, we held a small fundraiser that we called Baking the World a Better Place, in which we baked a bunch of cookies from the communal kitchen in the basement of our dorm and sold them to people in need of a cookie fix. We soon discovered that college students love cookies, especially on Friday and Saturday nights after very late nights of “studying”. We went on to also hold a couple of fundraising events at restaurants around campus. During the following summer, I met with Mark again to give him the funds we had raised. I wasn’t exactly sure how what we raised compared to other donations or even how much our contributions would help, but we hoped it could be of assistance in some way.  When I met with him, it was clear how incredibly appreciative he was of our work and in the way he thanked me, I could tell that every penny really is important and does go to good use. I wasn’t just sending some money in the mail to a mysterious organisation and receiving an automated ‘thank you’ email. I was handing the funds raised to Mark, and in return received his sincere gratitude and a hug.  This sincerity left me wanting to become more involved. Fast forward one more
year, which brings us up to a few months ago. I decided that helping The Giving Circle was what I wanted to dedicate myself to without the distraction of a million other things that I keep myself busy with at home. Luckily, each summer, a team from The Giving Circle travels to Uganda for two weeks to witness the organisation’s incredible work first hand and I knew that I wanted to be a part of this. The two weeks being here with the team was such an amazing experience. I had the wonderful opportunity to meet so many inspiring and selfless people, and I am already looking forward to catching up with many of them once I get back to the US. While I was planning my summer plans for Uganda, I knew that two weeks wouldn’t quite be long enough for me to do what I hoped to do. In my mind, there was no better way to fully understand the needs of the people in Uganda than to immerse myself in their daily life.  In order to understand the workings of the organisation and how I could best help during my time this summer and also in the future, I decided that I wanted to spend my whole summer here (just about two months). I knew that two months would provide me with a true understanding of what life here is really like in a way that two weeks couldn’t quite provide me with. I am beyond grateful to have been welcomed into the home of my host parents Moses and Cecilia, and have now been living as their temporary daughter for the past few weeks, alongside their beautiful daughters. My days consist of waking up to go for a morning run, heading into Busoga Jr. Primary School in the mornings to teach P5, P6, and P7 classes, working at the Kagoma Gate health clinic, hanging out with my loving host family, taking boda bodas (motor bikes) into Jinja Town every now and again, meeting some amazing local friends, and just soaking up the Ugandan life. While I’ve only been in Uganda for a month now, I truly feel as if I’ve established another life away from home here. I never could’ve imagined falling in love with a community and its people in such a short amount of time. There is not a doubt in my mind that the connections I have made here will keep me coming back here for years and years to come. Prior to arriving in Uganda, exact plans of what I would be doing here were not exactly set in stone. I had the goal of committing myself fully to two months of serving others in a community very different from my own, but apart from that, I wasn’t positive of what to expect. I was really given some freedom in deciding how I would spend my days. Since my arrival, I have seen how teachers teach, how students learn, how nurses care, and how the staff works to overcome everyday challenges. I’ve gotten to see some beautiful things about daily life that aren’t as evident with a shorter stay, and also have come to understand some leading problems and concerns that will require time, attention, and love in the future. Seeing these challenges is something that I’m very grateful to have the chance to understand. Without understanding where progress is needed, it’s nearly impossible to bring change. After a bit of time, I had a much better vision of where work is really needed and was able to develop a better plan for how I wanted to devote myself this summer and in the future. I have been able to meet with many locals here and develop an exciting project to take on for the remainder of my time in Uganda and that will carry on for years to come. This is something that I have taken lots of time to think about, plan, and develop with the great support of The Giving Circle Team, and I am very confident in the positivity  it has to bring to the community here. I was able to take something that I personally feel incredibly passionate about, and plan on how to introduce my passion to the amazing people here in Uganda. They say that speaking your goals out loud has been shown to increase the likelihood that they happen. So, I’m hoping that if I type my goals and put them out into the universe on this blog, that they’re almost guaranteed to come true- at least that’s how my thought process works and that’s what I’m crossing my fingers for. So, stay tuned for my next blog post to find out more about our exciting new project and the goals we hope to achieve with its development.  If you’ve stuck around reading my blog post all the way to this point, you rock! I hope that in sharing my personal journey to
becoming a part of The Giving Circle family, others may also consider getting involved as well. As Mark says “The Giving Circle is like the mafia. Once you’re in, you’re in for good.” So, thank you for reading and I look forward to sharing more about what I do here in the very near future.

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