This first-person account from a clinical psychologist tells of the attempts of a small group of American women to improve the educational opportunities of the children of war-ravaged Uganda.
The women, calling themselves “The Team,” working with Ugandans, begin in the States, setting up a nonprofit to receive donations and arranging their passage to Africa. But before their flight, The Team is hit by a series of health, logistical and personal problems (with traffic jams, lost luggage, frantic phone calls, etc.). Yet these are nothing compared to what they face in Uganda.
The schools lack books and other educational materials, as expected, but the children, walking barefoot across vermin-infested ground, also need shoes to save them from infection. Meanwhile, the only nearby source of drinking water is often from streams polluted by agricultural run-off. Disease is rampant, particularly malaria and AIDS, leaving many students sick, orphaned or both. The Team, with its local allies, struggles to improve life and help rebuild schools destroyed by one or another of Uganda’s murderous tribal armies.
This last is the constant backdrop of the narrative. The author traces the country’s brutal history from the colonial period through the murderous years of Idi Amin and the sadistic butcher Joseph Kony.
Related with passion and commitment, this is a curious offering that mixes genres at a fearsome rate—from memoir to history to travelogue to cultural study and back again. This sometimes creates a jarring reading experience. Additionally, the author’s detailed account of the group’s travel problems before they arrive in Africa slows momentum, which is particularly problematic, as it comes at the beginning of the narrative.
The story’s strength is in its poignant account of the Ugandan children. Despite all the rigors of their lives, the hardships and dangers, the students are portrayed as hopeful, eager for education, ambitious and sometimes even joyful.
They are what make this book, despite its flaws, worth reading.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.