Sara Moore Litt

 

Sara Moore Litt, New York, New York
AJWS Board member and Uganda Study Tour Participant

Before:

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

I wanted to see the work of AJWS firsthand, and I wanted to visit Uganda and get a perspective on the country in a way that I couldn't get by traveling there myself. I've been on two previous Study Tours with AJWS, and they were terrific. The work that the project partners do is really interesting, and the people that we meet are very often inspiring.

Why are you excited?

The only other place I've been to in Africa is South Africa; I went there last year with AJWS.  I think South Africa is really different than from other parts of Africa. Because South Africa is so different from the rest of Africa, in some ways I feel like I've never been to Africa. So I'm very excited to go.

What are your expectations for the Study Tour?

My expectations are to see a part of the world I've never seen and to come away with an understanding of Uganda. Uganda isn't representative of all of Africa, but you have to start some place! I think it's interesting to see the world and see how people are approaching and solving the problems they face.

The project partners are what make the AJWS Study Tours unique. You're not touring to primarily see the cultural sites, the buildings or the animals; you really get a deeper understanding of the people.

After:

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

The trip was great. It was fascinating but confusing, or fascinating because it was confusing. Our experiences were full of contradictions. Uganda is both an extremely fertile country and an extremely poor one. The organizations we met with were led by inspiring activists, making extraordinary change in the most difficult circumstances. Yet we were surrounded by so much systemic poverty that at times it seemed overwhelming. Of course, everything we experienced made me reflect on my own life of privilege and what it means and requires to live that life.

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

The most powerful memory of the trip for me was really a repetition of related moments. It came at every visit to a grantee. When it was AJWS's turn to introduce ourselves to the grantees, one of us would explain to the Ugandans who had come to meet us, "We are from American Jewish World Service, and we are here because our tradition teaches us that helping to repair the world is our responsibility." And that was all; no proselytizing, no lecturing, just a simple declaration that as Jews we are committed to working for social justice, not only inside our own community and but also far outside it.  

Each day when I heard some variation of these words I was vividly reminded of what we are really doing in these places and why we were doing it as American Jewish World Service. I was always struck that we had a found a space where the things that, unfortunately and all too often, we allow to separate us from each other: levels of observance, differences in denomination, degree of affiliation, on the left or the right regarding Israel's politics; these things were irrelevant to the way we presented ourselves as Jews to the Ugandans we met and to each other. 

Did the Study Tour meet your expectations?

The ST exceeded my expectations. We really had an opportunity to meet people in very small groups so that we didn't feel like tourists. We had a number of opportunities to speak with experts, experienced activists and US government officials who were able to give us a social and political context in which to understand what we were seeing.

Is there anything else you'd like to say about your experience?

I would recommend that anyone who is interested in the work of AJWS and issues of international development go on a Study Tour or a service program. There's no substitute for seeing the work of AJWS on the ground. Even the bad roads and the sweating are important parts of the experience.

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