While I was packing and preparing for my trip to Uganda, I joked with family and friends that I’d need to dress in layers for my trip. Not because it was going to take a long time to get there, or because it’s so chilly in airplanes – although both are true. Instead I was afraid I’d have to go more than a week with just the clothes I was wearing, since my luggage was filled to the max with donated clothing, books, and supplies I was taking with me to Africa.

Although I was able to pack enough clothes to get me through the trip, I still packed light, because my suitcases were, indeed, filled to capacity and within ounces of the weight limit with donated items I was delivering to different people and places in Uganda.

One of the most rewarding aspects of my trip was being able to distribute the donated clothing and supplies directly to the people who most needed them. We handed out newborn kits – consisting of a baby outfit, blanket, crib sheet, gloves, and soap – to new mothers in a government-run hospital which was so overcrowded that there were women and newborns lying on mats on the floor.

We gave out shirts to members of a soccer team that consisted of young men who would be living on the streets if it weren’t for the program in which they were now taking part. The coaching and training they received was not just for soccer, but for the education and skills that promised a better, more fulfilling life.

We looked through a photo album filled with pictures of newly-married couples from a group wedding ceremony that took place recently. The beautiful brides in the photographs were wearing some of the donated wedding gowns that I had brought over on my last trip to Uganda.

But the place that most touched my heart was Ki-Mombasa, where we distributed donated undergarments for the young women, and t-shirts for their children. One of the most haunting photos from my trip last year is of a young boy wearing a shy smile and a dirty, striped t-shirt with half a dozen holes across the front. I didn’t see that same boy when I was there this year, but I hope he received one of the shirts we distributed.

Although it was other people back in the States who collected and donated all these items, I was the one who had the privilege of seeing and experiencing firsthand the delight, relief, and appreciation of the people who received them. I found myself wishing there were some way for me to bring home the words of thanks, the tears of joy, and the hugs of gratitude, so that the people who donated everything I delivered – and everyone who has ever donated clothing, cash, time, equipment, or supplies – could see what a positive and powerful difference they really were making in other people’s lives. And how much it meant to the recipients.

As gratifying as it was to be able to distribute the donations to those who most needed them, it was heartbreaking not to be able to do more. To give more. To offer more. To have more resources to help ease the burden on people who didn’t deserve the pain and suffering that were part of their everyday lives. Mothers who had sick or deformed children and who couldn’t afford proper care or treatments for them. Girls in Ki-Mombasa who had injuries and diseases that could have been cured easily and inexpensively at an earlier time, but were now life-threatening and often untreatable. And students who were forced to drop out of school for lack of tuition payments, and who would be struggling – perhaps for the rest of their lives – to earn a decent living or provide for their families.

I think often of the tremendous waste I see in so many areas of our society today, and of the ways and places where just a little care and attention – as well as donations both humble and huge – could go so far and bring about such enormous changes for people we may never know.  People in faraway places, but also many who are closer to home.

Whenever I’m making a donation now – to church or charity or any other collection – I’ll try to stop feeling anonymous and small and wondering whether my gift is really making a difference. Instead I’ll picture the faces and the places I’ve seen myself, and know that it is, indeed, making a difference. To some people, in fact, it makes all the difference in the

The column “Find Your Buried Treasure” appears weekly in the Chanhassen (MN) Villager. This column was published on October 4, 2012.

© Betty Liedtke, 2012

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