This summer I had the privilege of travelling with Innovation Africa to Uganda for one of the most meaningful experiences I’ve ever had. Innovation Africa brings necessary solar energy and clean water to remote communities across the continent of Africa and during my trip I visited dozens of schools, medical clinics and orphanages in Mbale to see the efforts underway and the work still needed.
The trip last summer awakened me from my surroundings here in Manhattan as the Founder of The Meeting House. It pushed me beyond my local community and forced me to contemplate areas regarding the global community in both a personal and philanthropic way. The scope and depth of international development work was humbling, because with relatively small amounts of money from me they could efficiently save thousands of lives through disease prevention and improvements in medical care and education.
My personal experience with those desperately in need of basic necessities illuminated the plight of third world families to me in the most intimate of ways. Meeting so many grateful people who had relative safety at one moment, but might be under siege before the day was over, helped me understand the critical relationship between resiliency and community — and how the resiliency of youth and women, in particular, define communities.
What amazed me was that despite the poverty and difficulty that each village faced on a daily basis, the Ugandan people had an intangible inner resource to live happily despite their lack of just about everything material. Their resilience manifested itself in warmth, perseverance, optimism and a pure generosity of spirit. The rhythms of their extended, tightly woven community offered them all a certain strength and held them together through the daily experience of communal chores like childcare, food preparation and water collection.
The lessons I had learned all snapped into sharp focus on November 9th when I read The New York Times Jake Silverstein essay titled, The Displaced, An Introduction. Writing about children and their confounding ability to be resilient in touching and insightful terms he said:
“The kids have no choice in the matter. They cannot be any other place or any other age. They can only be resilient, miraculously so. Where does this capability come from? Are children able to recover so quickly from adversity because of their inexperience, because they don’t realize quite how bad things really are? Or is it because they have a greater capacity than adults to live entirely in the present, to lose themselves in a game of soccer or tag? Or perhaps resilience is a concept supplied by adults, who would like to believe that children will overcome the terrible experiences we foist upon them.”
As I begin to reflect on my personal gratitude and count the blessings in my life I am left with more than my photos and memories of the beautiful smiles of the many, resilient Ugandan children that I met in June. This holiday season I celebrate how their resilience has inspired me. The magic of this human quality taught me motivating lessons—elevating my thinking about survival and the impact of community at home and abroad.
As we begin to celebrate the Thanksgiving season in America, I celebrate them, as well as the children of The Meeting House, who each week demonstrate their own inner reserve, emotional strength and resiliency in overcoming their personal challenges. I reflect on how vastly different definitions I am using as I contextualize resiliency in Manhattan for Meeting House students and compare and contrast the nature of resiliency in Africa. I also reflect on my own tremendous gratitude towards so many friends and family in my personal life as well as the families and professionals that I work with at both The Meeting House and Innovation Africa.
Paula Resnick is the Founder and Executive Director of The Meeting House.