Register update Africa trip creates awareness in students

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Register update Africa trip creates awareness in students
Kennedy Bulman is shown with some of the youngsters she met on a recent trip to Africa. Kennedy, a Central student, sponsors a child in Uganda.

By Pam Reinig
Register Editor

In the nearly four years since the Register reported on her first trip to Africa, Jamie Wingert has worked tirelessly to raise money for youngsters in the Ugandan village of Obwobwo, The kids who live there are displaced “from losing parents to AIDS, malaria and civil unrest.” The financial support of others—mostly from Northeast Iowa—has resulted in a community-to-community partnership that now helps 133 children (17 others await sponsorship). Programming takes place in a local school but Wingert would like to change that. Along with several Central students who have traveled to Africa with her, she hopes to raise $20,000 for a building that will serve as a combination cafeteria, study center, fellowship space and medical dispensary.

“These kids spend so much of their time working as hard as they can to support not only themselves but their families,” said student Ava Pensel, who went to Africa in January. “When you see how far they walk to get to school or even just the conditions they live in, you learn to appreciate things in a different way. If we can get this building up for these kids, we can help them get a better education...and make a lasting impact on their lives.”

To help move the project forward, a fund-raising event is planned for Saturday, May 4, from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Old School Celebration barn, St. Olaf. Tickets are available at the door.

“Our goal (is to raise the funds) by the June so supplies can be purchased and transported before the rainy season and before the road becomes impassable,” Wingert said, adding that she and the students would do just one large-scale fund-raising event annually.

Wingert plans another trip to Obwobwo in December and hopes some students will accompany her.

“It is a beautiful thing watching our young kids engage on a deep and personal level with teens there,” she said.

Many of the students who have traveled with Wingert sponsor a child in Uganda. And that sponsorship is part of what has motivated local youth to make the 8,000-mile trip despite initial concerns about being so far from home and spending nearly two weeks in primitive living conditions. Ciera Deitchler has traveled to Uganda twice. Her family sponsors a child in Obwobwo.

“I really struggled with the decision to go the first year,” she admitted, “but I’m happy that I did. One of the things I’ll always remember is just seeing all of those happy faces when (the kids there) saw us.”

Desi Weber made the trip at the urging of her cousin, Ellie Kuehl. Both are sponsors and both wanted to meet the children they help. Like Ciera, Desi was struck by the enthusiastic welcome the American group received.

“I may know ‘Iowa nice’ back home but nothing can quite compare to the compassion of those in Uganda,” she said. “It was all about being genuine and have conversations with people of a different life.”

Ellie provided more specifics on the group’s work there. The students helped serve meals, played games with the younger kids and visited the homes of the sponsored children.
“I’m really humbled by the work I got to do down there,” Ellie added. “I am really grateful I had the opportunity to go there.”

Wingert’s daughter, Mylee, has made three trips to Africa, including one with her entire family. She is brutally honest about her first sojourns, admitting that she struggled to connect with the African children and that things like Third World bathroom facilities left her in tears. Still, she felt compelled to return, and she eventually made a deep connection with the little girl she sponsors named Lucy.

“It was very hard for me to leave her and all the kids this last time but now I can really give people an answer when they ask me why I go,” Mylee said. “First of all, the staff and kids are just amazing and fun to be around. And second because I truly love the kids over there. So even though it might seem like a lot to sponsor a kid or sometimes event a hassle, it’s the most amazing thing,

“We are so fortunate to have so much and we take it for granted,” she continued. “These kids that don’t have sponsors? Most of the time they don’t eat. Can you imagine not eating when others around you are eating because you are the unlucky one that didn’t get picked to be sponsored?”

For several of the Central students, the trip to Africa was not a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Most of them would like to return someday.

“At first it was scary,” said MacKenzie Schmitz. “But I would go back in a heartbeat. I was an eye-opening experience and the longer it went on, the more I appreciated my home life. It was one of the best experiences in my life and it made me a better person.”

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