Nichole Cirillo, UUSC’s campaign manager, reflects below on the ingredients of a successful experiential learning trip: the partners, effective planning, and — most of all — engaged participants.
A month ago today I set out for theJust Journey to Uganda. As the trip’s leader, I was unsure of many things then — whether everyone would arrive on time (they didn’t), whether the transportation across bumpy roads would be smooth (it wasn’t), and, mainly, whether I could provide the kind of experience that would bring the issue of our partner’s work in northern Uganda to life. To animate it in a way that would make people truly understand what was at stake and how complex the process to restore justice to those affected really was.
On the way back from the airport that first night with a load of weary just-arrived participants in the van, I asked the young woman sitting next to me why she decided to come on the trip. She was effusive: the description sounded amazing, she’d never been to Africa, someone in her congregation had read about UUSC’s work. “Lots of reasons,” she said, a little bleary-eyed but happy. “But really, it was just a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I couldn’t pass up!”
Her words made me nervous, and all the way back to the hotel I worried about the sacrifice it had taken for her to get here — the cost, the time away from work, the toll of the international flights. Had I done enough, I wondered, to ensure that this woman would go home saying that this indeed had been a once-in-a-lifetime trip?
The thing is, at UUSC we can only do so much. We have fantastic partners, and our work with Caritas in Uganda is no exception. They are people who have put their lives on the line so that those ripped from their communities during the brutality of the civil war with the Lord’s Resistance Army can go home again. They are an inspiration to all those who work on behalf of justice. Staff at UUSC work hard to construct pedagogy for these trips and to lay out what we hope participants will take home with them.
But ultimately, that learning is up to the traveler. And once the plans are made, the speakers lined up, and the transportation seen to, we put our faith in those who opt to come along that they will let themselves grasp the true meaning of being there.
“The longest journey you will ever make in life is from your mind to your heart,” Chief Joseph once said. That night on the bus, I couldn’t have foreseen it, but everyone aboard would indeed be making the trip of a lifetime.
For more information on UUSC JustJourneys, please contact me, Nichole Cirillo, at email@example.com.