Peace Corps of One
We want to send our warmest hugs to Bonnie Bzdok and those she has the honor to serve and walk alongside. A woman we are so fortunate to know through yoga retreats. Thank you for allowing us a look into your hero’s journey Bonnie. Please read further for an amazing pursuit and personal blog contribution from Bonnie Bzdok.
Never had I dared to dream that I would become a Peace Corp of One. But, there I was, saving my money, with a simple plan; stay in Africa doing any sort of volunteer work that I could find when I arrived, for as long as my money lasted.
You know those moments in life when you’re sure you’ve been denied something, but later you realize you were actually granted a chance to experience something you never dared to dream? After traveling to every continent and spending nearly two decades wandering around the globe, incessantly observing how people lived so differently with so much less than what I was accustomed to, I felt a desire, more than ever to give something back. To somehow show my appreciation for all the opportunities and blessings, I yearned to help others thrive.
I applied to the Peace Corp in 2011, believing it was the best way to facilitate the experience. Living in their culture, while somehow, simultaneously, giving back to the people. The Peace Corps responded with a rejection letter explaining that nearly 12,000 applicants apply for their 3,000 positions and I simply was not qualified. I couldn’t have dreamed what would come to fruition instead.
There I found myself in February of 2013, my own Peace of Corp of one, in Kisoro, Uganda. Nestled in the beautiful SW corner of Uganda, home to the endangered mountain gorilla and bordering both Rwanda and The Democratic Republic of The Congo, this volcanic area is stunning. I decided to get off the bus in Kisoro because I saw the massive white tents and the distinct UN sign announcing a refugee camp. I thought, perhaps I could volunteer at the refugee camp, but I didn’t have the clearance or proper papers to even get in the gates. Instead, I found a nearby primary school bursting with children who wanted to learn. I wound up teaching English to the 3rd graders, those who struggled the most at Amazing Grace Primary School. While tripping over tree roots in the dirt floor, speaking slowly and enunciating each letter to be better understood, I spent 14 months teaching in Kisoro. At Amazing Grace is where I truly learned of the daily hardships of life in Uganda.
When there was no porridge served at the school for the third morning in a row, I learned first-hand the reality of not being able to feed hungry children. Hot porridge at 10 a.m. is the only food the students had to tie them over until their 1 or 2 p.m. lunch of rice and beans. 350 students had nothing in their bellies while they were expected to study and concentrate, because there was no water for the porridge. The school does have tap water from a city line that sometimes pours water freely and plentifully and at other times produces nothing for weeks or even months at a time. Thus, was the birth of Resilient Uganda. Through weekly e-mails updating many friends and family during my 14 months there, I found many generous people who wanted to help bring water to these kids, to help ensure they had breakfast at school each morning, lunch every afternoon and even water to bathe with each day.
Wilson is a 70 year old man I discovered living in the village in appalling conditions, he had so many jiggers (little bugs), burrowed into his feet from living in the dirt, he could hardly walk. His home was literally branches and sticks tied together and standing on end, a dirt floor that was so uneven the small wooden door only opened a few inches. With the contributions of many friends from Alaska, Colorado and Minnesota, we built him a small home with a cement floor. His jiggers had to be dug out and his feet frequently cleaned, but he now walks to town, just a 7 mile jaunt!
Life in Uganda is heartbreaking at times, there are no social services to intervene or protect people. There is no one to protect my sweet student, Christine, at the age of ten, who was being physically and sexually abused by her brothers at home. Today Christine lives at the school. I pay for her school and boarding fees and will continue to do so for as long as they allow her to stay there. She is happy and constantly making her friends laugh. She will never excel at her studies but with every year of education she receives, it is estimated she will have 15-20% less children and a 15-20% less chance of contracting HIV. Both population and HIV are major concerns in Uganda. The country is approximately the same size as Oregon, which has a population nearing 4 million, while Uganda’s population is approaching 40 million. That number is expected to double in the next 20 years!
This year we will build our 14th water tank for harvesting rain water. The tanks reduce the number of hours women walk to fetch water every day, an average walk of 2 hours, every single day, to fetch a 5 gallon jug of water and then carry it home. The water they carry home enables them to cook, do laundry and bathe their families.
As soon as a child is walking they begin to carry a small water vessel as well. By building the huge stone and cement tanks, the local builders and laborers earn an income to support their families. These jobs enable them to provide for their families, pay their children’s school fees and buy medicine, food and other necessities.
We have also enriched the lives of the five young ladies that work at our crafting co-op who are now able to provide for their families by sewing beautiful, colorful bags. The proceeds from the bags go toward building more water tanks.
I look into the big, brown eyes of all the children who are suffering and need help and all the children who have asked me to pay their school fees. They want to get an education but I cannot help them all. I think about Wilson and Christine and the students who are spending so much more time in class because they don’t have to walk for hours every day to fetch water. I recognize that we have improved their lives immensely and remind myself of Ronald Reagan’s wise words, “We can’t help everyone, but as long as everyone is helping someone.”
Who would have guessed that my 14 month adventure serving as a Peace Corp of one, (with the help of many) would lead to the building our 14th water tank this year? Having access to water is life changing for the villagers and enabling it has been life changing for me. In the most difficult times, the overwhelming moments when the reality is that there are just so many people to help, we cannot possibly reach them all. I remind myself that we have improved lives, we have given many a better chance at survival and a stronger, healthier self, but even that pales in comparison to what they have given me. The gratitude I have cultivated for so many things in life. The opportunities to serve others has actually served me and my self-worth far more than I could have imagined. Just as St. Francis of Assisi reminded us, “For it is in giving that we receive”.
Prayers, good thoughts, energy and vibes are all greatly appreciated as I travel to Uganda to continue our work there.
Check out the website at Resilientuganda.webs.com or send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org to follow this year’s trip and the progress of building the water tanks.
Namaste, in Peace, Love and Light,