Snapshots #19: Last Day in the Field

*this post could also be titled: Reason #346 why I love IJM Uganda.

Yesterday I went out to the field with Claire. It was a spur of the moment decision – I had plans for work in the office – you know, really fun stuff like receipt reimbursements, scheduling meetings, drafting briefings, etc. But Claire stopped by my desk as she was on her way out the door and asked if I wanted to come, and after a brief moment of consideration, I realized that this may be one of my last days to go out to the field… maybe ever. My boss arrives back next week, my replacement comes in 8 days, another new intern comes in 14 days, other visitors from the US arrive in 22 days (they actually arrive the day after I leave, but there are a ton of pre-logistics to sort out before they arrive). So I jumped at the chance, and headed out.

Going out to the field is always a rollercoaster of emotions. There were moments of sadness. Claire was shaken after visiting one elderly client who is severely disabled, living in extreme poverty. Her children are not a part of her life, and although her husband cares for her as much as he can, he is also elderly and can’t take of her every need. Another one of our clients we went to visit was gone, having been admitted to the hospital due to HIV/AIDS. She had been taking ARVs but when she recently fell sick, she gave up hope.

But there were moments of joy, too – oh, such joy! While we talked with one client who had previously struggled to provide basic food for her malnourished family, I snapped pictures of her youngest son, now a bright-eyed toddler with rolls of fat on his roly-poly legs, all indications of a well-fed, well-loved baby.

On the way back through the village to the car, we met another client (Annet, if you remember back to the client story I posted in May). I had long been wanting to meet her (her bubbly nature is famous in the office), but we weren’t planning to stop by her house that day. We were amazed to find her on the footpath, a few villages away from where she lived. Her already-high spirits were higher than ever, as she animatedly told Claire that she was walking with a broker to see a piece of land that she would like to buy for her family – a place where she could build a home all her own.

All in all, it was a simple day. I didn’t save anyone’s life. I basically followed Claire around with the bag of food we had come to deliver to clients, and asked silly questions along the way. Most of the words I spoke to clients were perfunctory phrases in Luganda, coupled with many heartfelt smiles as I could muster – hoping to convey something deeper than just the surface greetings that we exchanged.

Selfishly, I still felt disconnected from the clients, wishing I could interact with them on a deeper level, wishing I was more a part of their lives than just a random mzungu that comes along with Claire to snap some pictures. But then I remembered that this sort of structure is exactly why I love IJM. I love that our clients don’t see rich Americans coming into save the day. They see Ugandan lawyers and aftercare specialists listening to them, representing them and advocating for them. I am not the face of iJM to our clients, and that’s exactly the way it should be.

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