Eric Joss

 

Eric Joss, Chicago, Illinois
Uganda Study Tour Participant

Before:

What motivated you to sign up for the Uganda Study Tour?

I'm interested in the work of AJWS and how services are provided from a charitable point of view. I want to see how AJWS makes a difference to these organizations. It's such a difficult problem - how do you make time and dollars count? Also, I was brought up in South Africa, so I'm curious about Africa.

Why are you excited?

I'd love to see Uganda. It's supposedly doing significantly better than neighboring countries in infrastructure and governance. I'd like to see what they're doing differently from the rest of their neighbors.

What are your expectations for the Study Tour?

I'm very interested in seeing the Abayudaya [the Ugandan Jewish community]. My expectations are that we will see off the beaten track service providers and the people they're serving.

After:

Now that you are back from the Uganda Study Tour, what are your feelings about your experience?

It's kind of a weird feeling, coming back and reemerging in American reality after being in Ugandan reality, which is so different. The Ugandan reality really seeps in. In the last week, every restaurant I've been to, doctor's office I've visited, group of yuppies I've seen has really been juxtaposed against what we saw in Uganda. There's definitely a lingering effect, and I think it will stay a long time.

The experience was very powerful, in that we got to see other peoples' lives in a way that would not have been possible with individual travel. We met with Ugandans who are working and volunteering at NGOs.  They are mostly in their 30s, not getting paid or getting paid minimally. We asked them, "Why are you involved in these causes?" They said, "We don't have employment otherwise, and it gives us respect in the community," and they felt that it increased their own self-worth because they were doing well. A couple of them expressed interest in going into politics. It was very powerful, to find out about the social makeup of these organizations.

Is there a memory of the trip that stands out to you?

One is when kids crowd around you, and they're curious to see you and they engage you, all smiles. They want to touch you or shake your hand. I felt it was incredible: no talking, we just stood there looking at each other.

Seeing the Abayudaya was a very powerful experience. Sitting in their synagogue, singing songs with everybody participating in African harmony, with the kids playing outside the window, it was a very powerful experience. We saw them in an equal situation on Shabbat, but their regular lives are so different. When I went back the following day and met the people, I found that they were cow herders with half a dozen cows. I saw a kid was pulling a multi-gallon container, a woman cooking outside and putting laundry outside. Also they live adjacent to a Muslim village. You couldn't tell where one started and the other ended, but everyone was doing just fine.

Did the Study Tour meet your expectations?

Yes. A highlight for me was having the "light bulb" going on, and understanding the concept of the NGO industry and conflicts such as Darfur.

There were many moments and discussions with the group that were quite powerful. We hit on some truths and held excellent discussions. We really got to know each other; the group got along very well, from the very Jewish to the not very Jewish, and everyone worked really well together. It was definitely a very positive experience.

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