by Alicia Wainwright
While most college students went home to their families for winter break, one local student saw this time off as an opportunity to embark on a selfless venture. Alyssa Miller spent her holiday season on a volunteer mission to Uganda.
Miller spent three weeks volunteering at an orphanage in East Africa. She had always had wonderful Christmas celebrations, and she wanted to share that love and happiness with those less fortunate.
"I wanted to experience this holiday with children who would not be focused on the material aspect of the holiday," she said.
Miller stayed busy helping the children with everything from laundry to sorting beans. While in Uganda, two girls became stricken with malaria. Miller aided in bringing them to the hospital, as well as looking after them upon their return to the orphanage.
There was also a schoolhouse on the orphanage grounds. This school, Wakiso Children's School of Hope, needed a lot of fixing up when Miller arrived. The volunteers cleaned and painted the rooms, fixed the windows, made posters to hang on the wall, and did work on the outside of the building. The schoolhouse was nearly complete by the time Miller left. Wakiso Children's School of Hope teaches students of all ages to speak English.
Despite all of the hard work and physical contributions to the orphanage, the most important thing Miller did while there was to be a friend to the children.
"Our hugs and attention means more to them than anything money can buy," Miller said.
Two boys, in particular, had a lasting impact on Miller. She had the rare opportunity of befriending a typically quiet 11-year-old boy named Junior.
"It's interesting how something was just there between us that made him want to open up and confide in me," Miller said.
She remembers that he would love to hear about her family and friends and her life in the U.S. He opened up to her one day and told her how he wished to go to college in the U.S. to become a doctor and a professional soccer player.
The other boy, Isaac, was 12 years old at the time. Miller described Isaac as "the life of the party kind of kid." Isaac enjoyed going for walks to nearby villages with Miller and listening to her iPod. But their friendship was molded around the simple act of brushing hair.
After Miller would get out of the shower, Isaac would brush her hair for her.
"I'm not sure why he was so fascinated with it, but he loved it, so it became a daily occurrence," Miller recalled.
While reminiscing on her time in Uganda, Miller quoted Ellie Braun-Haley: "Often we set out to make a difference in the lives of others, only to realize we have made a difference in our own," she said.
Miller spent three weeks giving her time and wisdom to improve the lives of orphaned children, only to find it was the children who would change her life. She learned the value of hard work; the pureness of simplicity; the power of love. The kids knew they were abandoned or orphaned by AIDS-stricken parents, but this did not hinder their ability to dream. She saw children who had overcome the most awful circumstances and still found a reason to smile.
"They have another day to live, and that is more than enough of a reason to be happy," Miller said.
While in Uganda, she lived in housing next to the Bulabakulu orphanage with other volunteers from around the world. There were three dormitory buildings housing around 100 children. The orphanage also had 10 houses built for women and their children. These women became residents after losing their husbands, and were not able to afford to feed their children.
"I have made a promise to myself to stay connected with my new family in Uganda. I would love to be able to send money to help fund the orphanage operations and ensure these children, with so much potential, have a chance to get an education," Miller said.
Miller is a native of Lewiston. She is currently studying at Niagara University. She will be graduating in May with an MBA in accounting. She already has a full-time job offer on the table.
Miller did her volunteer work through a New Zealand-based organization, International Volunteer HQ. They have numerous options as to which country to do service in and different programs to choose from. Anyone interested in participating in a volunteer mission similar to Miller's can find out more online at www.volunteerhq.org.
For more information, or to make a donation to Miller's cause, contact her at [email protected].