Did you know that Uganda was named #1 Travel Destination for 2012 by Lonely Planet? The Top 10 list, which includes countries as diverse as Jordan, Cuba and Switzerland, was compiled “based on topicality, excitement, value and that special X-factor”.
Indeed, if you are longing for lush landscapes, diverse wildlife and a wealth of culture, Uganda is a perfect destination. Kampala is rated one of Africa’s safest capitals. A visit to the city or a safari through one of Uganda’s spectacular national parks makes it easy to fall in love with the Pearl of Africa. But for me, the special X-factor that makes Uganda a true gem is the people! Friendly, joyful, and full of light, Ugandans are welcoming, authentic and unforgettable.
In 2010 I had the honor and privilege of travelling to Uganda to meet BeadforLife Members and staff working in Kampala and Otuke – an adventure I will never forget. It is a trip I recount each day as I tell Europeans about the incredible women we work with and the amazing progress we are making together.
Besides the obvious excitement of tracking lions or camping on the delta amongst the hippos, my Ugandan X-factor had to do with real human connections. I met Sarah Omollo, a member of the BeadforLife Shea program in Northern Uganda with whom I had a natural “tall girl” bond and exchanged experiences on being a mother. I was also fortunate to interview other beneficiary members like Eunice and Grace who openly shared their stories of suffering, fear, great hope and empowerment. And back in Kampala, I enjoyed putting the world to rights over lunch each day with BeadforLife Uganda staff. I had travelled thousands of miles to another continent to simply enjoy meaningful conversation with beautiful people.
Travel writer Pico Iyer sums it up best: “We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again- to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more.”
Eye-witnessing the ravages of extreme poverty, but also the force and effectiveness of our programs based on exchange and mutual respect, has been an invaluable resource of energy and information for my work at BeadforLife Europe. Don’t get me wrong, I will never forget camping with the hippos, but what makes Uganda my #1 travel destination is definitely that special X-factor – Sarah, Eunice, Grace, Collens, Irene, Phoebe…