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  • Empower Orphans

Uganda Blogs- Alison Barrett

This past winter break, 7 of our members had the opportunity to travel to an orphanage in Entebbe, Uganda. Now over a month since their return, they reflect on how this experience impacted them.

I grew up in a large family, surrounded by siblings, cousins, aunts and uncles. This upbringing has instilled in me a love of all things family – holiday gatherings, celebrations and traditions.  I have learned, however, that family comes in many forms, and I never dreamed that a second family would one day steal my heart. This family of which I speak is the Malayaka House family. Malayaka House is home to exceptionally special people who, the minute you meet them, make you feel part of a large, incredible extended family. If you speak to anyone who has ever visited and spent time with the children, aunties and volunteers at Malayaka House, I am confident they will all tell you the same thing:  It is unquestionably a uniquely special place.

I, along with eight others from Penn State University, recently returned home from a ten day visit to Malayaka House. This was my second visit to Malayaka House and I was so excited to reunite with my Entebbe family.  What was most amazing about this trip was that the children were on vacation from school, which meant we were able to spend our entire days together. Each day brought a new adventure, including a riveting soccer game at the local field, a trip to a nearby pool, countless Connect Four games, and endless messy arts and crafts projects. New Year’s Eve was filled with delicious food, dancing and fireworks at midnight.

It is very difficult to put exactly into words what is so special about Malayaka House or the feelings you experience when you are within the confines of the concrete walls surrounding the compound. When we first visited Malayaka House, we were strangers to the children, yet, within ten minutes of our arrival, a bond began to form. Returning to Entebbe ten months later, it was so special to see the children’s faces light up with recognition upon our arrival. Although a few needed a reminder as to our names, they all had distinct memories of our previous time together.

When we returned home from the trip, our Penn State group met to speak about our experiences at Malayaka House. Katherine, a senior who also attended the trip, stated something that resonated with me.  Malayaka House is characterized by small moments of joy. Not much is needed to create that joy, but the presence of joy is tangible and undeniable, whether it is created when a child grabs your hand and leads you to the library to read a book (or ten), or when one of the children scores a soccer goal (despite using your best defensive skills). The joy sneaks up on you when a child quietly gazes up at you with his loving eyes or makes you promise that you will write to her when you get home.  Although we were the volunteers, there to help the children in any way we could, it was the children who gave to us a week we will cherish for the rest of our lives.

As volunteers at Malayaka House, we leave much behind when our trip comes to an end -– toys, clothing, bedding, even our suitcases.  But something else is left behind as well — a piece of our heart. The children, the atmosphere, and the love that emanates from both leaves you with an insatiable desire to come back for more.  As a graduating senior, I cannot be certain when my next trip to Entebbe will be. But this I know for sure. I will be back. With each visit, another little part of you stays behind, and I look forward to the day when I can again reunite with those who have taken hold of my heart.  

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