From Mbale, we made our way to a small village a few kilometers away called Nabagoye, where we looking forward to meeting Danielle. Nabagoye and several other nearby villages are home to the Abayudaya people, a community of African Jews. Danielle works for a Jewish research organization in San Francisco that has been involved with the community for several years and was visiting to to help with several joint projects that are underway.
The Abayudaya people were originally converted to Christianity, but upon studying the bible began to practice a form of Judaism based on the Old Testament instead. In time, they learned more and more traditional Jewish practices, and we felt very lucky to experience this unique blend of African and Jewish influences during the local Shabbat services. It was also rewarding to be able to experience Ugandan village life first hand, from the simple, but tasty meals to the songs and laughter of the local children.
Gil and I volunteered to help out with the opening of an internet cafe in Nabagoye, one of the projects the Community is working. The internet cafe will hopefully generate revenue to support other local projects, such as building a medical and dental clinic and bringing running water to more families in the area.
It was certainly strange to be in a village in Africa working on the internet. While more and more Africans get access to new technologies like cell phones and the internet, many still do not have access to basic necessities, like water and electricity. In fact, while Nabagoye was looking forward to soon being on the world wide web, they at the same time celebrating the opening of a new well and water pump system that had recently been installed. And in great contrast to this technological progress, we were constantly reminded of the challenges that these communities face in simply staying alive and well - several people we had met were suffering from or recovering from Malaria, which made this deadly disease very real to us. Until the very basic needs of food, clean water, and access to basic healthcare are addressed, we're afraid that any progress made otherwise is not sustainable.
The internet cafe was up and running when we left, but there were many problems that had yet to be ironed out, the biggest being the fact that the electricity in Uganda goes off without warning - sometimes for hours, and sometimes for days at a time. The Abayudaya Community is lucky enough to have a partner organization that is committed to working with them for years to come, and also has access to a relatively consistent supply of skilled volunteers, so I am hopeful the project will be successful in time. Still, we could see how easily misguided aid organizations can pump money into local communities without proper consideration of the cultural and economic realities of the situation, not to mention the necessary training and change management support to make the investment truly beneficial over the long-term.
Spending time with the community members and other volunteers was a memorable and enlightening experience and we'd like to extend a big thanks to Danielle and all of the Abayudaya people for organizing the visit for us. It was also wonderful to see a familiar face and hear tales from home - one we'd be overjoyed to repeat, so how about making some travel plans, folks?
And, a big congratulations to Danielle and Gregg on tying the knot!