Friday, May 24, 2019

Students Share Experiences from Jan. Service Trip to Uganda




On Thursday, Feb. 16, at 4:30 p.m. in the Rittenberg Lounge of Mather Hall, students and faculty gathered for the opening event of an art exhibit entitled, “Uganda Reflections.”  The photos that are now on display in the Mather Art Space capture the students’ experiences in a recent service trip to Uganda. Trinity’s own Shawna Berk ’13, Rebecca Levy ’12, and Jillian Zieff ’14, who were joined by students from Wellesley College and Babson College.  At the event last week, Trinity students presented some of their personal reflections from the trip and described what they saw and learned from their experience over winter break. 

The trip was coordinated by Director of the Trinity College Hillel House Lisa Kassow, who was also responsible for putting on the event.  In addition to taking the pictures and putting them on display for the Trinity community to see, Kassow went above and beyond in preparation for the afternoon’s activities. 

Before the event, she asked Chartwells Chef Brendan to prepare some Ugandan inspired appetizers. “We were presented with beautiful platters of scrumptious fruits, vegan vegetable stews and chapatis (similar to a lightly fried pita, served at every meal) inspired by a photograph of a feast we had at the home of our guide, Samson Shadrak,” Kassow said. Kassow and the students were intent on giving those in attendance a memorable and moving insight into what life is like in Uganda and what they got out of their short experience in Africa.  Kassow organized this trip because of her daughter’s experience two years ago going to Uganda with the American Jewish World Service. 

In this most recent trip, students went to eastern Uganda to visit with a Jewish community called the Abayudaya, Ugandan for “Jewish.”  The group left the states on Jan. 5 and returned Jan. 16.  Though the objective of the trip was not clearly defined, it quickly become obvious that their help was much needed and appreciated.  Before setting out to Uganda, students thought they would be tutoring children in basic math. 

However, according to Kassow, “when we got there we were told there were other more pressing needs.”  Their first assignment was with the Hadassah Primary School, where the group was asked to paint the dormitory and classrooms, clean the library, and dust hundreds of books, all of which were in poor condition. 

At the event, the Trinity students reflected on what they saw on their trip that was particularly moving.  There is no running water or electricity in the community, and water is drawn from a nearby well.  The quality of life is much different than anything in the United States, and the group helped as much as they could in the eleven days they were there by cleaning and renovating some large, common spaces that members of the community frequently use.  In addition to doing service work, the students were also exposed to the religious aspects of the community that are particularly important to its members.

Though several participants on the trip are Jewish and it was organized through Hillel, some students were not familiar with Jewish practices.  Nevertheless, everyone participated in the Shabbat service, and even those that did not practice a religion found it to be a very powerful experience. “After services, the people congregate outside under a tree for an hour or so of Torah talk,” Kassow said. “Rabbi Gershom leads a discussion about Moses. How did Moses present himself to Yitro? As a Hebrew? As an Egyptian? The whole community is engaged in this highly passionate, literate exchange of knowledge and ideas. They discuss the concept of free will, while the Americans are getting increasingly hungrier in the heat. And then we all eat lunch together – goat.” 

The major differences in values in this community gave the students a new perspective and respect for the Jewish culture in other countries.  According to Kassow, “Meeting a viable, well established, indigenous African Jewish community that integrates the Jewish concepts of tikkun olam and tzedek – repairing the world and social justice – into every aspect of their community life had a profound effect on all of us.”   The art exhibit will be open for public viewing until March 2.

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