Daniel Dunn, South Orange, New Jersey
Uganda Study Tour Participant
What motivated you to sign up for the Uganda Study Tour?
I've organized 13 trips in the former Soviet Union, primarily dealing with Jews in the Ukraine. I haven't been back to Ukraine in three to four years now. The conditions have improved a lot there, and the needs aren't the same. So I decided I really needed to go on the Study Tour. I've been involved with AJWS for three years, and the Study Tour seems interesting. It's not so much for an "exotic travel" experience; I miss the emotional excitement that I got from the work that I did in the former Soviet Union.
There were two things I used to tell people when I organized trips in the former Soviet Union. I told them that they were going to see miracles happen, and that the trip was going to change their lives forever. I don't know if I will have a similar experience in Uganda. All I know is that I'm really excited about going!
Why are you excited?
I really don't know that much about Africa or what's going on with AIDS. Unfortunately, you can live your life and be closed off to the issues that are there. I'm sure I'll come back and be changed for a really long time. We're going to see levels of disease and poverty that I haven't seen before, and we're going to see it for days, and that will impact our souls tremendously.
What are your expectations for the Study Tour?
I want to get a better idea of exactly what AJWS is doing. I found AJWS three years ago after the tsunami happened. I wanted to give the money directly to an organization on the ground, and I was happy that AJWS was already on the ground. We were in Peru last year on vacation when the earthquake happened, and AJWS was on the ground there. And AJWS is on the ground in Darfur.
I'm also very excited to spend the two weeks with [AJWS President] Ruth [W. Messinger]; I think she's an extraordinarily dynamic person with enormous energy.
Now that you are back from the Uganda Study Tour, what are your feelings about your experience?
It's very easy, before you go [to the developing world], to think, "These people aren't Jewish, it's their issue." But there's no way you can turn your back on the warmth, the friendliness and sincerity of the people in Uganda. They don't have anything. Kids don't have shoes, there's no school supplies at all, there's one piece of chalk per chalkboard in a classroom. But people still have their smile, their feelings, their touch, and it's pretty tough to walk away from that.
I've been trying to integrate the experience in Uganda with my experience going to the former Soviet Union 13 times and Cuba once. It's hard not to compare what I saw [in the FSU], 15 years ago, to what I saw in Uganda. In some ways the level of poverty is similar, but that's where the comparison ends. The magnitude of the issues that they're trying to deal with is really overwhelming.
Is there a memory of the trip that stands out to you?
Every town we went to, the community members would welcome us. They danced, they sang in ceremonial dress, all the people in the town came – administrators, beneficiaries, government officials, on and on. One woman told me: "I never thought I'd see a white person."
One day, we drove past a school. As we drove down the dirt road, 200 children ran after us. We stepped out of the car, and the kids were very apprehensive. I put out my hand and they stepped back more - the whole school had never seen a white person. Finally, I went up and started shaking one kids' hand, and another, and another, and the kids were so excited, they were running their hands across my arm. It was totally unbelievable. They would do a curtsey - every single kid. The respect and honor they showed us - it was pretty unbelievable.
Did the Study Tour meet your expectations?
Ruth is a pretty amazing woman. Her energy level, her insight, her passion, her focus, her commitment is profound. Obviously, it was really sensational to spend ten days with her in such a small group.
AJWS's desire to help everybody and anybody was evident on this trip. It was all very interesting. AJWS looks for partners that share a similar synergy and philosophy, irregardless of race or nationality. I like to say that AJWS is an angel investor doing micro-investing.
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