Dear Reader, I am incredibly excited to introduce you to my sweet friend Rebecca Bedard. Rebecca is heading to Africa on October 3th for 6 weeks of volunteer work. Read on for inspiration! I'll also be interviewing her when she gets back, so stay tuned for that update!
(Photo credit: Karin Prescott, former TASAAGA volunteer)
K: You are going to Uganda! Tell us a bit about your upcoming plans.
R: I'm leaving October 3rd, and will be away for 6 weeks (starting to worry about how much stuff I need to bring, yikes!!!) I'll be working with a local non-governmental organization (NGO) called TASAAGA which is based in Kampala. They've been in existence since 1995, and have grown tremendously since then but retain their core mission - to educate people about HIV/AIDS, and provide support for those impacted by the disease, especially women and children. They have several programs, including a youth empowerment program that teaches kids the game of soccer, and incorporates a lot of HIV education to hopefully reduce risky behavior and prevent the spread of the virus in younger people; they run children's support centers and a primary school in a rural village called Sitabaale, and again incorporate HIV education - these centers primarily work with and provide primary school education for children who have been orphaned because of HIV/AIDS; they work in medical clinics and provide community education about HIV in rural fishing villages, as well as provide home visits for people living with HIV/AIDS; they run a micro lending program for women in villagessurrounding the village of Sitabaale - the women receive business skill training and HIV education and a small loan (initially about $60) to begin a business that can become sustainable income for them to provide adequate food and education for their family.
I will primarily be working with the micro lending program, and when I'm not busy with that, will be working at the children's center in Sitabaale doing whatever needs done - stitching boo boos, doing laundry, teaching.....whatever it is, I'm up for the challenge!!
K: How did you learn about this opportunity/ organization?
R: I spent about 2 months researching NGO's in East Africa online, focusing on Tanzania, Uganda, and Kenya. In the end, TASAAGA was the organization that did the work i was most interested in, that had been in existence for a long time, and had a great reputation. A couple of the reasons I chose to work with them was how open, friendly, and available the executive director was to answering all of my questions (he called me one afternoon after a brief email exchange to make sure he had answered my questions fully enough, and had me talk with one of the volunteers!) and the fact that in my research I found out a women who had been a volunteer there had been so moved by the experience she created another small NGO (collaborating with TASAAGA) that worked with children in some of the refugee camps in Uganda.
K: A lot of people have plans to go to Africa (or somewhere) and volunteer (myself included!) but never get around to fulfilling that dream. How did you decide to jump in and do it now?
R: I wanted to do something like this a few years ago, but on a smaller scale. i had been discouraged from doing it then by receiving feedback that to go to Africa for 2 weeks to volunteer would not be helpful - by the time i would get there and be trained, it would be time to leave, which would make the experience likely wonderful for me, but ultimately would waste limited resources of the program. So i waited until i had the financial resources to go for an extended time, and also a boss who was willing to let me go and hold my job for me! But that is the practical side of it. Truly I decided to go now because I had been feeling like I was meant to do something, but wasn't sure what. I had also been reading the book Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristoff, chronicling the resilience of women worldwide against arduous, violent, and oppressive circumstances. So I started praying for the Lord to use my talent, skill, and desires in whatever way would make a difference. I started volunteering in an after school program, thinking it would be that " something" but it wasn't. One morning in church, listening to the sermon it hit me that i was meant to work with women, to help them improve their lives. for reasons I'm still not clear about, I just felt drawn to East Africa. I chose to work with the micro lending program at TASAAGA because I want to try and make a sustainable difference in women's lives - even if one woman I work with is able to start a business so she can reliably feed her children, send them to school, keep herself and her family healthy it will be the most amazing satisfaction. But I fully expect what i gain from the program, and particularly from the shared experience with the women, will be so much more than I am able to give to them.
K: You have a HUGE dog. Where is Kane going to stay while you are in Africa?
R: Kane will be on "vacation" at the "spa" In other words, he'll be staying at my parents, receiving innumerable treats, bellyrubs, attention,.....I will surely have a hard time "deprogramming" him from it!
K: How can NCB readers support you?
R: TASAAGA is a non-profit organization that runs totally on donations. currently they are fundraising for two projects - the second phase of the micro lending program: the goal is $1200 for a group business - 6 women are looking to open a bakery, with all of them working, sharing profits, and repaying the loan. And the bigger fundraiser is to start a medical clinic in the village of Sitabaale, which will serve it, and the surrounding 5 villages. currently people in these villages have to walk for 3 hours to the closest government clinic for medical attention (imagine walking 3 hours with your very sick child, or with a broken leg......) The website for TASAAGA is www.tasaaga.orgOn there you will find a link for a donations page. Unfortunately they do not have means for electronic donations. If you decide to send a check, please just write my name somewhere on it - once a volunteer raises funds, I have oversight of them, and I want to be able to contact you and report how your donation was used!
K: Is there anything else you want to add?
R: I can only encourage your readers to think about how they want to make a meaningful difference in the world, and go out there and do it. You can make a difference in so many. many, many ways - be creative, follow your heart, do what moves you. but most of all just do it!
Here's a bit more about Rebecca in her own words:
I've been a nurse for 14 years, and specialize in psychiatry. I also have a master's degree in public health, and have spent time doing health coaching (where I luckily met Kathianne!), managing grant projects, and running an outpatient clinic. I've lived in Boston the majority of my adult life, but am ready to move somewhere I no longer have to shovel snow! I have the most awesome dog, a 140lb bullmastiff named Kane - he really is like an enormous non-verbal two year old : )
Bon Voyage Rebecca! Safe travels and we can't wait to hear about your adventures (and see some photos) when you get back.