Friday, July 12, 2019

building and teaching -- Uganda part 1

As a preface, this really isn't "part 1" since I already wrote about Uganda HERE and HERE, but this is the first part of what we were there to do.  I just have to say once again that I fell in love with this organization we worked with (called Family Humanitarian).  They took such great care of us, and are doing such good things (more on them soon). Pretty much from the moment we arrived, Emma (the on-ground Ugandan coordinator), was fascinated with my camera, took it right out of my hands and just clicked away like nobody's business. We were so lucky to have our own personal "photographer" to capture all these memories (thank you Emma!!)  And with those pictures and videos he took, let me "take" you to Uganda with me for a moment.  Here we go:

Remember back HERE when I talked about how sometimes it takes going forward to be able to look back to see the "path" that led you to the spot where you are?  Sometimes you just have to trust that you’re going the right way, trust the nudges along the way, opening yourself up for guidance.  And then you look back and realize that all those nudges led you to the exact spot you needed to be?  In hindsight you see the path all laid out neatly in your wake, but you couldn’t, for the life of you, see in during the journey.

I feel like that happened for me, standing on packed red dirt, the foundation for a school building to service kids who are now meeting under a makeshift metal awning, wanting so much to learn.  I saw that "pathway" clearly in my wake...all the little things that happened to get us to that spot in the outskirts of a town called Mbale, my family working along with the Ugandans, so excited to have a school in their midst.

Oh, they didn't need us to build that school, that's for sure.  They are very good at their trade. But they were nice enough to let us work alongside them, sorting through those rich, clay bricks to layer in our piled-high cement.

Shoveling dirt to fill in the foundation.

Shoveling other dirt to mix the cement.

We were building a school, yes.  But we were also building friendships.  Building love.  Building a partnership in a way.  Because we fell in love with these people and this organization and are so looking forward to continuing our relationship going forward.  To continue to learn and grow in the things that were planted in our hearts over there.

But wait. 

We need to back up here for a minute.

Because building wasn't the beginning of the story.  I hope we'll always remember pulling up (after lots of bumpy red dirt roads from our little hotel through countless little villages filled with people sitting and working and selling and waving) to a little canopy covering four or five large, propped up chalk boards with just as many different groups of children huddled around, notebooks in hand, poised for learning (before we came in to make some commotion):
A little extended group over under this tree too:

And oh! How those children (and teachers) welcomed us.  And sang for us.  And smiled at us.
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And how quickly we fell in love with them!  Loved that Grace kept saying over and over again “this is my favorite thing ever!" and everyone else’s expressions saying just the same as we sang with them and blew bubbles to their great delight and hugged and joyed in the togetherness of two different cultures merging together, instant friends.
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You can't even see Grace in this picture below because the kids were so excited about her cell phone and how they could see themselves on that screen:

After that big welcome we went over to the job site (where the foundation of the school was waiting for us)...

...and I loved watching everyone get to work, finding things to do.  At first they were a little lost, but within minutes Abby was scooping up huge shovels of dirt to wheelbarrow over where it needed to be, the kids were all shoveling cement and stacking rough hewn bricks into place...
...Claire sitting in the dirt reading books to kids huddled around her, all of them with the biggest smiles,
...Abby snuggling babies :)
Grace coming up with games and loving those kids so much:

A little sideline dancing:
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...and necklace making:

Father/son shoveling duo:

Loved watching those walls rise higher and higher as we all worked together:


...with some pretty sweet "cheerleaders:"
And even some great maize refreshments that the neighboring women brought over one afternoon:
(my kids loved that)

Loved having Lucy helping move bricks and move cement with the trowel for a little bit each time we were there before she got tired and sat on a bench being patient and examining her work gloves intently for hours and helped with teaching or playing here and there.











Some "moments" to remember:

Abby and Claire coming back from working at the school like little pied pipers, the kids all following them in a row with huge smiles, Abby cradling one of the teacher’s tiny babies in her arms just glowing.

Sitting in the dirt at the school worksite with a cluster of kids crowding in learning how to play the Dr. Seuss matching game we brought.  Their delight, and mine and Lucy’s too (loved that Lu was involved) as they glowed catching on to the concept.

Melting in the heat as we shoveled cement and scooped it onto the walls, sitting in piles of dirt playing with the kids and putting star stickers on their foreheads.

One of the days after lunch we went over to the outdoor school to do an art project and shift things up a bit.  Rather than doing the project, the teachers just turned the time over to us to “teach.”  I was like a deer-in-the-headlights with all those faces looking to me waiting to learn, but Abby inspired me in the next section over, and I cannot explain how great it was to hear her as a little ring-leader just teaching away, jumping around with actions and enthusiasm, then Max joining, then the other girls too.

The rise of laughter and everyone speaking English with their African accents ringing through the air was so beautiful.  And I didn’t do so bad myself with a little inspiration from everyone else :)

Even Lu got so involved when they were teaching about animals and she got to be a dog :)

My favorite thing was watching those kids teach...from English words:
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...to songs:
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...to just playing together:
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Dave and I had a little meeting with the teachers who explained how they are in desperate need of workbooks for the kids to get them ready for the Ugandan testing.  Working on a way to help as well as give ownership with that one.  Loved these notes one of the kids was showing me:

Each night when we got back to our little hotel we gathered outside in our little courtyard, everyone in such good spirits to stretch out and relax in the light since our rooms are so dark.

...then to dinner on the rooftop (always some sort of curry).

Dinner morphed into a devotional each night, led one by one by the kids starting with Max.

I loved everything about this trip, but perhaps those devotionals were my very favorite, sitting in the dim light of that rooftop, all those people I love close around me, realizing in wonder that every one of them is old enough and have spirits big enough to talk deep.  Deep about Christ and love, repentance and learning.

And then it was on to Lucy's favorite: card games of course.  Love that Abby caught this little moment:
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Yes, not only on that red dirt school foundation, but on that rooftop with my family, I was filled with the realization of that "path" that had become so clear to get us right there.  Right then.  And I am so grateful.

Ok and that's a wrap for part one of our Ugandan adventure.

55 comments:

  1. I rarely ever comment on here, but I have to say that this post brought tears to my eyes!

    I am always so wary of (white) people going on service trips to countries in Africa. The white savior complex is so real, and the history of abusive and disgusting white colonizers is just as real. I've studied a lot on what is the best way for foreigners to make effective and lasting change in vulnerable or developing communities and what I've learned from my research is it really comes down to working alongside the people living in the community, allowing them to lead, and the volunteers to follow. It's so hard to strike that balance but it really seems like your family was able to do that here. I applaud you for taking the time to research various organizations and discern. One of the greatest gifts that God gives us is the ability to delight in out shared humanity with people whose experiences and lives are so different than our own -- I am loving getting to watch your family experience this sharing of humanity through your blog!

    One word of caution -- I think that photos of children on the internet should only be published with the permission of their parents/guardians/adults in their lives who can make that decision for them. For all I know, the teachers and parents you met are thrilled you're publishing these photos but maybe just put a disclaimer before hand. Just a thought I had while reading this lovely and deeply moving post that I felt I had to share.

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    1. Thank you for this kind comment, and I have to say that I agree, it would be great to have written photo releases for every one of these children. But in cases like this, with this organization that is trying to educate and build and bring clean water to this community, verbal permission for photographs has been given. You're right, the teachers and parents are thrilled to have people bring awareness to this community and are anxious to share.

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    2. As long as there's verbal permission I think that's great.

      There is a lot of power in sharing stories that don't often get shared -- and pictures can do justice to people and places that words cannot always do. Thanks for sharing with us.

      Also, this is just me getting defensive because I also work / have worked in a very, very progressive international organization, I feel like a couple of the negative commentators would have commented if you HADN'T shared these photos and it has nothing to do with their concern for the community but instead with their desire pick apart you and your family behind the safety of a screen. (I do think that myself, and other people, were genuinely worried that you hadn't gotten permission and know how dicey that can get)

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  2. Please, if you do not have signed photo release forms from the children's legal guardians, take down their photographs. You would not (I hope) publish photos of American children without the proper consent.

    Just because the children live in a rural part of Uganda does not mean they do not have the same rights to privacy as children who live in the United States.

    Also, would you ever put stickers on the foreheads of American children and then take photos of them and publish them online?

    I work in international development (and I've been to Jinja) and these are complex issues. Commenters have raised concerns with you and it's clear you will not change your view on the nature of this trip, which is your prerogative.

    But please, please, please, do not share images publicly of children without the proper consent. Particularly in a situation in which there is a vast power differential between you (in terms of wealth and access to resources) and the children whose images you are sharing. It is unfair and inequitable.

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    1. Hello anonymous! Please see above for the photo release question, and I don't see any problem with stickers on foreheads! I guess we have different viewpoints on that! I've volunteered in many American classrooms where kids think it's pretty amazing to have a sticker on their forehead :) For the record, the stickers were given for hands and shirts as well but I guess the forehead sticker won out in the end!

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  3. When you take photos of the kids in Josh's class you are always sure to avoid posting their photos for privacy reasons. Do the kids you visited in Africa deserve the same privacy? Or are the props and/or just a really beautiful photo opportunity.

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  4. Yes, I am curious to know if permission was granted to publish the children's photos.

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  5. What an incredible opportunity for your family. Thank you for sharing your words and pictures:).

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  6. Also, what did you mean by: "Dave and I had a little meeting with the teachers who explained how they are in desperate need of workbooks for the kids to get them ready for the Ugandan testing. Working on a way to help as well as give ownership with that one."

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    1. That was just a random thought included as an insight to the types of things this community needs, things we are working to help them with as we go forward.

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  7. Sweet photos. Obtaining workbooks would be a fabulous way to help. It benefits the school children and the school in Uganda, but also benefits your kids. Maybe set up a fund raiser. I’m sure you and your kids are brain storming. What a truly wonderful way to continue to help.

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    1. Yep we're working on this. Love that it gives us a way to continue our involvement going forward.

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  8. I enjoyed hearing about your trip and seeing all of your family work together for such a worthy cause. It looks like they loved having you there and you enjoyed the experience as well. Thank you for sharing your experience with us.

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  9. I don't understand why there are so many negative comments about this trip.

    Surely all Shawni & her family were doing was helping to build a school for the children & provide books for them. I can't see anything wrong with that.

    I think what they did was lovely.

    Also, surely putting stickers on the children's heads was just a bit of fun.

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    1. This trip was well meant, but the reason some are "negative" is because access to the kids only exists because of a power imbalance. We don't allow rich Swiss tourists to pay to come build play ground equipment at our schools, interrupt our kids classes, teach unprepared and then have access to play with our kids at recess and put pictures of them on the internet. That would seem ridiculous. But the Africans have to tolerate it and spend significant amounts of time and effort hosting tourists (instead of teaching their school kids) because they need money.
      In America we don't have to trade our kids privacy,education time, or safety in order to get much needed supplies.

      Would Shawni have chosen this particular charity if they didn't allow access to the kids?
      There are a lot of great articles and books on voluntourism. Just because something looks fun or lovely doesn't mean t is a good idea.

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    2. Natalee H, I so appreciate your looking out for the kids. (And everyone else too.) Please understand that's why we were there, because we wanted to help care for them. We have done some pretty extensive research into many different organizations and really do feel as if we were led to this one for many reasons. Everyone is different, perhaps you would choose something different, and that is great. We all have different life experiences that lead us down different paths and I think the diversity of what we chose to do, individually with our hearts is what it's all about.

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    3. Thanks for at least keeping the comment up. I think it's always ok to kindly disagree and having any of your readers who might consider service trips read some critiques may help drive them to the best organizations like you feel it did for you. I appreciate your reply.

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    4. I agree it's great to disagree and have a discussion about it. I really do appreciate all the input, just hope we can keep it all on kind grounds! xoxo

      And Julie, thank you for sticking up for me :)

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  10. All this money you spent on this 'service' trip … how many workbooks would that fund?

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    1. The workbooks were not the purpose of the trip...

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  11. ...really disappointed you are removing comments critical of the trip. It's an important discussion to have, and none seemed unfair or disrespectful in tone toward you. Please consider bringing them back.

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    1. I do appreciate comments to show all different sides of complex issues such as this. I just hope that we can show respect for one another in this comment section. I don't think those two particular comments showed dignity to the people of this community that I feel compelled to try to protect.

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    2. I don't even remember what deleted comment said exactly, but I hope it wasn't unkind. I'm actually a long time reader and know this was an amazing experience and done with good intent.

      I thought that stickers post was one of the most beautiful written thought provoking things I've read, especially froma comments section!

      If you don't feel like that person's critique applies to (and I may agree) just post a reply. It's a bummer to lose something so we'll said and thought provoking.

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  12. It seems as if everyone has a different idea as to how they would personally do (or not do) things on this trip. Please understand that I am simply sharing the path our family went down trying to answer our own "call" to action. I understand that others may not feel that same pull, and that is ok! Everyone is coming from such different backgrounds of life. So many different experiences that nudge us in so many different ways. And I believe all of that is good. It's important to examine our thoughts and actions, and I'm grateful for this comment section to help me question my own at times! But when it comes right down to it, we all just need to do what we feel is right for ourselves and our families. Please understand that a lot of prayer and work and effort went into taking us on this trip, it was not done on a whim, and I truly believe it was exactly where we were meant to be.

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    1. For a first time commenter I sure have a lot to say...last thought here (hopefully). Maybe the amazing trip, combined with the criticisms is part of the purpose? Leading you to learn about power imbalances and how we as Westerners with so much influence and money can give to organizations that also are working in ways that never exploit and only lift?

      How to help Westerners feel connected to other parts of the world without needing to be there (especially if they can't travel to experience it first hand)?

      Shrug. These are enormous issues but would make a great conversation with your kids or the Eyres.

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    2. Yes these are all things we have grappled with over the years. Very enormous issues, you are right.
      Things we've thought a lot about, read about, researched, been involved in and also stayed away from. Things we've discussed with our kids (over and over again), with the Eyres (also over and over again), with friends, and yes, even blog readers. We are on a journey and are so happy to have found Family Humanitarian!

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  13. I love reading and seeing photos of your adventures and memories you make as a family. Everyone has their own opinions but this is your blog. It’s your record that you choose to share with the world. I would love to introduce my children to different countries and cultures wherever that may be. Out of all your children I’m glad that Lucy has had this experience, one day she will be able to close her eyes and remember the sounds, smell and the things she was able to see. Angie xx

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    1. Thanks Angie. I loved watching Lucy take it all in.
      xoxo

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  14. "But when it comes right down to it, we all just need to do what we feel is right for ourselves and our families"
    No, this is not true. Good intentions are not enough. Your actions effect other people so it's not enough to do what's best for your own family if it negatively impacts others.
    You seem to be very resistant to education on these issues. Don't you send missionaries out into the world and want people to listen to your message? Why won't you provide others the same opportunity? Really listen without pushing back with your own biases. A good place to start is this account:
    https://www.instagram.com/p/BzRqZ_FhNd6/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link
    And every time you shake your head to say, no, that isn't us! We're different! Our trip was different! Stop. And read it again. And again.
    Read the comments here, how many of these arranged, stereotypical photo ops did you take part in?
    https://www.instagram.com/p/BzhK5iShjwM/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link
    As you tell your children, you can do hard things like humbling yourself to learn from others.

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    1. I'm not sure what you're saying...we shouldn't trust our own judgement? I think it's actually kind of funny that the people who are upset about this trip seem to think there is no other side to their beliefs. That they somehow have the magic answer. And also that we (Dave and I in taking our kids on a trip like this) have no idea where their thoughts are coming from and that we're not listening. Does that listening and hearing what others have to say mean we have to believe everything without mulling out our own answers? There are so many different ways to look at the world! Like I said before, everyone is coming from very different places. Those who write articles and instagram posts about the horrors of trips like this, (yes I have read a ton of them before we ever decided on this trip...I like to see both sides), simply think differently than we do. They have not come to the same conclusions and that's ok! Those people will never do a trip like this and I completely respect that. But please understand that I do believe that when it comes right down to it, we have to trust ourselves and do what we personally believe is right. And that belief totally involves thinking about how our actions will impact others. Isn't that what life is all about?

      After much research, reading, traveling, discussing, praying, learning and listening, this was what our family was led to do. And I'm so glad!!

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    2. I’m saying that despite your good intentions for providing an enriching experience for your own family the results of your actions can be harmful to others.

      Let me give you just one example of how your actions effect the youth of these communites. You say you want to “take care” of these children you saw on a website. These children already have parents, extended families, and community leaders to take care of them. What they observe though is rich, white foreigners arriving and being treated as conquering heroes, handing out gifts and being immediately put in a position of authority (i.e. teaching and building.) Hugs and attention from these white strangers is somehow more valuable than care from their own family members. After a week that white group leaves and another white group arrives and is treated the same. It doesn’t take long for impressional children to regard white people as holding special elevated status as providers and fellow black people as inferior and unable to provide for their own communities.

      And it’s not surprising that your discussions with family and friends reinforce your decisions. As you explained in a previous post, you purposely live in a bubble so you are basically speaking into an echo chamber. Even traveling to the other side of the world to supposedly experience new cultures you make sure that it is curated by a LDS organization.

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    3. I'm pretty sure we're both just repeating ourselves over and over again;) It's tricky on a blog to be able to convey every point and every facet of a decision like this, as well as for the reader to assume who has been talked to and what has been read (I have so many good books that I'm anxious to do a post about as soon as I get a minute). It's difficult for a reader to decisively conclude from just a few posts on a blog how involvement is actually affecting a community in Uganda. It sounds like no matter how much I try to delve into this, I most probably will not satisfy some people here, and again, I'm ok with that.

      I have to reiterate that I do agree with many of the points brought up and that yes, there is a problem with going in and trying to "save" people in Africa. I believe we have to be so careful to chose things that create long-term relationships, things that are run in particular ways. But we have felt compelled to look. I think human-kind has the power to change each other for good if we figure out the right way. I am NOT saying this is the perfect way to be involved. But I AM saying that we love this organization and what it stands for, and we felt confident that this first interaction in this community was, to all involved, mutually beneficial. Yes, that means for our family as well as for the community in Uganda. We are so grateful they were willing to let us come and for the friendships we made. We are so excited to stay involved and do what we can from home going forward.

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  16. P.S Check out @barbiesavior on instagram...

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  17. I think this really gets to the heart of some readers' discomfort with this post, including my own: what was the real purpose of this trip? Was it to help the Ugandan community? Or was the trip really about giving your family an experience (with some incidental financial benefits to the Ugandan community thrown in)? If the former, there are surely more effective ways to help than having a small group of Americans (who, to my knowledge, are not qualified builders or teachers) rock up for a week or so (which is too short a time to have real, meaningful impact). And if the latter, the trip feels uncomfortable because it feels as though you are using Ugandan children who have comparatively little to give your own, privileged children an extra experience. Clearly, the Ugandans must get something out the experience too or this kind of "voluntourism" wouldn't exist. But it feels as though you are exploiting the needs of these children to buy an experience for your children. Like, "day one: rafting; day 2 to 4: build a school; day 5: safari." I don't think children should be treated as tourist attractions, and I really struggle to see how this counts as "hard things" or how it has anything to do with diversity...

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    1. Please read above, and also the intros to the last few posts. I feel like I probably answered those questions in the past three posts in a variety of ways. Hope that helps!

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  18. I know some people get uncomfortable with a comment section like this but I think it's so great to get so many different points of view. I really do learn so much from different vantage points, especially when they are shared in a kind way. I hope we can all learn from each other and respect that not everyone's "answers" will be the same.

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  19. Respectfully...

    A few years ago in R.S. a talk was given about giving the help that is needed, not the help you want to give. That seems to be the case here...

    I agree with a previous comment that this feels like the service portion was just thrown into the middle of a family vacation.

    It feels ... disingenuous.

    The people really don't need you there, they need the resources and finances you bring when you go. They would never allow strangers to play with and photograph their children if there wasn't dire need for resources and outreach needed. (as you stated in a reply to a comment here)

    By your own admission they can do the work faster and better without making someone feel like they are helping, verse hindering.

    Especially the "teaching" that was seemingl...haphazard at best? You had said that you researched and took a lot of time to plan this out...but teaching was a big part of your helping them and you were woefully under-prepared. I don't say that to be harsh, but to maybe explain why it lends itself to many people thinking you threw in this "service" trip in the middle of river rafting and other family fun. Which is why it feels disingenuous.

    If the goal was to simply provide for these communities, to enrich them and not you...why not do a fundraiser for their village? You have been given talents and connections that lend itself to fundraising and organizing events to help (like the Turkey Trot). Why not have a RS activity be to collect the supplies they need for the Ugandan testing? Why not help them in real ways that matter to them, versus ways that matter to you?

    I think, if these comments are any indication, this is the biggest issue many people are having with this...

    I don't believe, even for a moment, that you did this trip with anything but the best intentions. You are a sweet person with a big heart. That's obvious to anyone that reads your blog.

    But I also believe that we as white people need to examine our privilege (especially you as a wealthy white person) and examine if the help we are offering is helpful to them or is it only helpful to us.

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    1. Also respectfully (and I do mean that!)...
      To me it seems that that last paragraph has been examined and re-examined here from multiple points of view 487 times so far don't you think?...ha! Lots of different opinions on that! The few previous posts outlined the reasons for this trip, so I'll just direct you there if you'd like more clarification (I"m out of time!) I'll just quickly explain here though that the teaching gig wasn't part of the plan. We came prepared to teach an art project as requested and it turned out to be a little different from what we had been told! (there are so many aspects of these days in Mbale, I'm just barely skimming the surface!) And yes, there were lots of different parts of this trip in general...Africa is tough to get to and we had some precious time with just our family so we made the most of it with so much variety (more coming!). Even with all that variety and the great things we got to do, I think this part was the favorite in so many ways for all of us.

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    2. I definitely don't want to add to the frustration, and that wasn't my intent. (I have been a long time follower of your blog and respect you and your family a lot)

      I do agree that everyone is jumping on different ways to have helped (487 times as you said) I was just bringing into the conversation that maybe re-examining the ways that people NEED help versus the help we WANT to give them, is imperative from people with privilege.

      Regardless, I think anyone can commend you on WANTING to help and WANTING to give your children a window into other peoples lives and be able to be more appreciative for the very privileged life they lead. (That's no shade, We can all be more grateful for our many many blessings that other people can't even dream of!)

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  20. If a Swiss (or Saudi, or Chinese, or English, or whatever) family wanted to come build a classroom onto my children's school. I would say yes, please. And then to make it better, if they wanted to go into my children's classrooms and sing and play and and interact with them. I would say that would be the best school day yet. Stars on foreheads and all! And I would be honored and thrilled to have them spend a day in my home to see how we live. Too many people find too many ways to find ill-intent, and problems where none exist. This experience was a joyful and beautiful way to build connections in this world. Thank you Shawni for taking us along with you.

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    1. Hi A. It is every adult's responsibility to think endlessly about worst case scenarios and ill intent in order to protect children. I've found that the most distrusting (offensively even) adults at my kids schools are the way they are because they were abused as children due to predators being given inapropriate access to kids. Our American schools don't allow rando tourists to come hug hold and play with our kids because they, thankfully can see that that opens the doors to danger. 99 percent of the time these interactions will be beautiful, like they were with Shawnis family. But it is important to set rules to provide safety and protection for that one that won't be.

      All I am asking is that Americans who visit respect the same boundaries that should be in place to protect ALL kids. No holding, no lap sitting, no one on one, supervision at all times.

      It would be really cool if now that Shawni is a patron of this charity, she and her family make suggestions for how these tours can still be enriching for all parties, but minimize disruptions to the children's education and maximize their safety in case a Larry Nassar type were to take this trip. It probably has already happened.

      Also, a cultural day for our kids does sound great but if it were only tourists from Switzerland every single week. That would get weird. Having tourists teach an impromptu lessen about animals would have my first grader side eyeing them because they learned their animals when they were 3.

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    3. Would you want visitors to your child's classroom sharing pictures of your children on a public blog? Would you want them holding them and hugging them? Schools in the US would not allow that. Sure, my kids have had visitors from other countries observe or share but there have always been boundaries. DO you want your small children to feel comfortable hugging and sitting on the laps of strangers? Shawni and her family are good people but how do those children know the difference. My older kids have worked as camp counselors and they are trained on what kind of contact they can have with the children in their groups. The rules may seem over the top, but they are for good reason. You were granted a wonderful gift, to be able to spend time with an interact with the children, but I do not believe you should share pictures of those interactions on the blog. You worry so much about social media and the its impact on your daughters. What about the potential impact of those pictures on these children? My daughter was in an orphanage for the first year of her life. I saw many other children in that orphanage when we went there but we were not allowed to take pictures of those children for good reason.
      Shawni, I admire you and have learned from you and I can take you at your word that you worked with a wonderful organization in Uganda, and I can see why you want to share information on an org. that you think does good work, I understand why people might want to see where their money is going stickers on foreheads are not an issue for me....it is the pictures of the children and the number of them. I don't understand why you took them and mainly I don't understand why you shared them. your intent may have not been to exploit them, I doubt it was, but it is exploitative and damaging.

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  22. I think its all about your perspective. I read your post, the comments and then reread your post and came away with several questions.
    Would you have written a similar post using the same type of colorful adjectives to describe the people and the awe and respect you felt for the way they gather water and food had you choosen a charitable vacation in a poverty stricken area of the Appalachian mountains or the homeless camps in L.A? Would you have the same respect for people in the same situation in Kentucky or West Virginia? What would you say to your kids about people who live the same exact way in the United States?

    Are you considering, either as a couple or a family, ongoing, long term support of this community with additional volunteering or funds for things like workbooks and water jugs or is this a one and done sorta adventure.

    Did you finish the school? Could you have finished it or made additional progress if you stayed longer or utilized the time you spent doing tourist things like rapelling etc. for additional work?
    Does this village get a rotating crop of vacationers weekly?

    Did you only take stickers for the children no books, pencils, crayon, paper?

    And what I think is the most important question.. What did you and your kids actually learn from this experience? Do you have a different perpestive on the things you take for granted? How did it really benefit you as a family (other than, hopefully, giving Abby baby-rabies..).
    Can you look back at the picture in the post where Claire and Grace went shopping for your trip, what they bought, what you said about it and see that this seems very frivilous and hypocritical to some?

    What are you going to do or change on a REGULAR basis to make their world and community a better place? Will you take your next trip to the same community or will you choose another continent or place your family havent seen yet?

    Did it change the way you will do things like filling the pool or wearing your clothes more than once to save resources?
    Will you disappoint yourself or a child by not flying them in on the next quick flight somewhere for two days to see a wedding and donating that time or money?

    What about your family taking this trip changed that community long term for the better. Do you expect they'll sit around, 10 years from now, talk about your section of that wall and how it changed them so much for the better? If you go back in 10 years, will anything you did this trip make a profound difference in their lives or will it look exactly the same?

    Again, I love the blog, and mean no malice or disrespect. I really appreciate you responding to your audience. Without open dialogues, none of us grow or learn appreciation for another perspective on issues.

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    1. The majority of these questions have been answered in many ways in the last couple posts and also comment sections, but I'll try to make some quick, concise answers here: Yes, ongoing support is the whole point. No, didn't finish the school, that was not the plan. No, they don't get groups coming in weekly, or monthly...I think maybe three or four times a year. Yep, lots of all kinds of school supplies donated. I have to say that the rest of the questions seem like I'm getting cross-examined so if you really do love the blog, hopefully you know me well enough that you can give us the benefit of the doubt as to how we prepared, what we have learned and how we will go forward.

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  23. I can't believe how many uptight people that have commented! (some many, many times)!
    To do a trip this huge, had to take days, weeks, months of planning. There is nothing wrong with giving your children a wonderful service experience and what the heck, while you're there, do some sight seeing to even appreciate and learn about the country and people even more!
    If you have been a regular reader, or even pay attention to what the wrote in this blog, then you know she plans on staying active and involved with this charity, that she so carefully chose.
    This blog is more for her family records than for us, who she so kindly lets us read & experience along with her.
    Thank you Shawnie for sharing the wonderful things you do with your family! I wish all children were so lucky to have such wonderful, thought experiences with their families.

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    1. Thank you for this, jrm! I didn't see that you already answered the last comment for me before I wrote up there. xoxo

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  24. So many things to think about in all these comments! So many different opinions shared to learn from. One thing I hope we can all agree on is that we, as humankind, have the beautiful ability (and responsibility) to connect (and love and build and learn from that connection). That connection will look different for all of us since we are all have different interests/drives/talents/backgrounds, but the point is that we figure that out for ourselves, and do it! Whether it is moving to a foreign country and adopting a whole slew of kids (like "Kisses from Katie" did in the book I just read), volunteering regularly in a local food bank, taking time to really listen to a child, giving a sincere compliment to some stranger at the grocery store, taking a refugee family under our wing, there are so many myriads of things we can do to connect as humankind. And that's what makes life beautiful. Let's all go connect and serve in a new way today!

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