Editor’s Note: The below post was originally featured on the Dolenan Office of Community-Based Learning Blog on August 9, 2019. You can find the original post at https://communitybasedlearning.me.holycross.edu/2019/08/09/tattoos-on-my-heart-reflecting-on-my-summer-research-experience-in-uganda-delaney-wells-20/.
CBL Intern, Delaney Wells ’20 spent her summer as a Research Fellow at EmbraceKulture. The organization works to develop the capacity of organizations serving children and youth with developmental and/or cognitive disabilities in Africa. Specifically, Delaney researched the Amaanyi Center, a project of EmbraceKulture and the first and only center in Uganda dedicated to empowering youth with special needs to achieve their potential. The following post is Delaney’s final reflection on her experience in Uganda and how it relates to other experiential learning experiences she has had at Holy Cross (Community-Based Learning, the Spring Break Immersion Program, and the Washington Semester Program).
Crazy, crazy to think that my almost 10-week experience in Africa is concluding. I contemplated for a bit which word to use in place of “experience” in my last sentence, but “visit” did not feel just right. I am very aware that I am a visitor here, and there is so much to learn about where I am. Yet, Lunyo Village has truly begun to feel like home to me. From early morning singing during Assembly, walks to church, the neighborhood goats and chickens that roam about, it is hard to believe that very soon this will not be my reality.
The last few weeks have been very special… beginning to realize my time was winding down, I was able to reallllly think about and practice living in the moment. There have been many situations that have served as reminders of the importance of presence. The very, very finicky wifi and electricity which initially was very frustrating quickly became opportunities where I could step back and take a deep breath; to learn to live in the moment. I have found that sharing time at L’Arche communities (which I did through the Spring Break Immersion Program and the Washington Program) has really reminded me of intentionality and presence, and the Amaanyi Center (where I have been spending my time this summer through the Summer Research Program) is no different. Within Disability Theology there is a writer who wrote of L’Arche and “time as experienced in L’Arche”. This revolves around the idea that time does not exist in relation to real life, things move at a truly human pace. This allows for core members and assistants alike to appreciate each moment, and feel no pressure to rush (I wrote about this a good deal in my thesis if you have more questions !!). This means that a walk that may take one person 20 minutes may take a core member an hour, and there is no shame or annoyance in that. Rather, there is just an appreciation for living life at the speed we dictate, instead of society and others dictating for us. I can attest that time as experienced in the Amaanyi Center is quite similar. We have a schedule for classes and meals throughout the day, but this is in no way binding. If our students using walkers are not in Literacy right at 9 a.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays, we do not rush them. This applies to all members of the Amaanyi Center if teacher Rosemary needs another moment before class to finish preparing for our lesson.
I think that is where the beauty of L’Arche and the Amaanyi Center lies, in the recognition of the inherent importance of a person. Once you prioritize the person instead of the event you are late for or the deadline you are rushing to complete, you can fully appreciate them as a human being instead of a nuisance or something slowing you down. Yes, this may sound incredibly similar to the practice of patience, but I believe it is much greater than that. I just wrapped up my first flight from Entebbe and I re-read parts of “Tattoos on the Heart” by Father Greg Boyle as I tried everything I possibly could to distract myself from the mix of sadness, appreciation, love, and loss I felt after leaving the most special students behind (I think the woman next to me on the plane thought I was truly a mess). Father Boyle speaks of a parable involving a woman named Carmen, who came in to talk to him at what he felt was the wrong time. He was rushing to a Baptism and didn’t want to be bothered with whatever trouble she had gotten into. After she opened her heart to him, explaining her story, he writes “suddenly, her shame meets mine. For when Carmen walked through that door, I had mistaken her for an interruption”. In such a fast-paced world, everything that is not matching or exceeding our speed slows us down and is annoying to us. What if we spend time slowing down, to walk with someone, like Maureen, who moves more slowly? Or spent time really ensuring we hear what someone who may be hard to verbally understand, like Ketty, is saying? What if we could take the rush out of our lives and just appreciate the company of one another being human in this journey together?
Through CBL and other opportunities at school and outside of campus, many of us have come to understand the power of presence; of sitting, or standing, with someone else and engage. To truly value humanity you must spend time with the other, this is the importance of mutuality-in-community where a relationship can be introduced where people are transformed and taught how to be human. Transvaluation, a notion held central to Disability Theology and one that KEEPS coming up in my life is discovered in personal encounters with people with profound developmental/intellectual disabilities and initiates a movement towards a radically new system of evaluation. When people meet together and engage in mutually constructive relationships of friendship with people who have profound developmental disabilities, they are changed and transformed. Disability is no longer seen as an inconvenience or devaluing concept, simply just differences among people. Really, it is the practice of engagement with respect for all involved that can allow for genuine humanity to be practiced among one another. This is something that takes practice, but what a beautiful skill to hone. If this could be the reality of our world, a real inclusive society built on genuine respect for one another, a gospel of love that is lived out instead of just a faraway notion that is easily forgotten in the day to day busyness.
Father Boyle’s book title is the perfect description for the lessons I learned through my fourteen most amazing students, the staff, neighbors and all who I encountered during my time in Lunyo Village, they have truly left tattoos on my heart. I hope we can all try to take a moment to remember and recognize the humanity among us all as we move to transition into another busy (in a wonderful way!) year. Through this, we can begin towards the inclusion we ALL, people with and without disabilities, need in order to allow for humanity among us all to be celebrated as it ought to be. Love and care for one another, how can you say no to that?