I spent last weekend in Glenwood, MN, with a fascinating group of people: the Ugandan Ambassador to the United Nations, my Uganda-born friends Tabitha and Magala, local dignitaries and business leaders, and our security detail. I’ve never been part of any group or activity requiring a security detail, and I was a bit intimidated at first. But it quickly became both comforting and reassuring to know they were there as we went about our business.

Not that there was anything dangerous or covert about that business. We toured a number of different facilities, including a hospital and a dairy farm. We learned about the history and culture of the area. We attended and spoke at a fundraising dinner, and we enjoyed a sunset cruise on Lake Minnewaska.

The purpose of the weekend, and the ambassador’s visit, had to do with a project we’ve been working on for the past five years – providing a better life for young women who are now trapped in a cycle of poverty and prostitution in Uganda. Sadly, this kind of life is not limited to a single group of people in a small, African country. In fact, one of the speakers at the fundraising dinner talked about internet crimes against children, and about the efforts being made to combat local sex trafficking. Local as in small-town, rural Minnesota.

The entire weekend was inspiring, especially when I looked around at the members of our group. I marveled at the fact that such a diverse group of people – of different backgrounds, different cultures, different worlds – could be so strongly united and focused on a problem that is both local and global in scope. It reminds me of a famous quote from anthropologist Margaret Mead, who said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

While I believe that’s absolutely true, I also believe it’s an oversimplification. It takes many, many people to help, support, follow through, and carry on with the work that needs to be done. In the case of our projects, it’s been members of Rotary International – from clubs both in Minnesota and in Uganda – who have been the most instrumental in getting the projects underway, and in turning a dream into reality. We still have a long way to go. But there’s no doubt in my mind that our efforts will be successful. And that they will change the world.

It’s ironic that over the course of the weekend, any television that was on – in hotel or restaurant lobbies, for instance – was featuring clips and updates on the current presidential debates and issues. Most of these consisted of the candidates either making accusations or defending themselves against the other’s accusations. In the meantime, we went about our business and continued making plans, gathering information, and enjoying the pleasure of each other’s company and the knowledge that what we were doing was going to make a difference in the world. And in the lives of desperate young women.

Last weekend was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. It was enlightening, educational, and enjoyable. It was a weekend well-spent.

The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on October 6, 2016.
©Betty Liedtke, 2016

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