Addressing the Elephant in the yard

Crossroads. After departing from Kibale Forest National Park, the team embarked towards the endpoint of the M’panga River we learned so much about – Queen Elizabeth National Park, the crossroads of Lakes Edward and George and the M’panga River. Noted as a “greatest hits” version of safari parks in East Africa, having 4 of the Big 5 (Lion, Leopard, Buffalo and Elephant) in large concentrations.

The story of the day doesn’t revolve around them but around something systemic to Uganda as a whole. Right at the Equator, at the entrance of QE National Park, we ran into a bus full of children going for a weekend field trip for their students. The school was Little Angels Uganda, a registered NGO and school/orphanage for children who have lost their parents. Just as Dr. Henri Boyi spoke about work with street children in his service-learning course, we got to speak with the volunteers at Little Angels, who had raised funds to bring the children on a trip. Being a registered NGO, both in Uganda and the United States gives the school a huge benefit fund-wise, with support coming internationally.

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The large amount of orphans in Uganda has been an elephant in the room since the HIV/AIDS crisis wiped a significant amount of the young adult population back in its peak in the 1980’s/90’s. A large amount of orphanages were founded, and there is a huge variation in their funding and resources for the children they provide for, mainly depending on the region they operate; rural areas deprived the most.

Just like the geography of the region, these children sit at crossroads in their lives; breaking the unfortunate cycle out of lost parents is a hard process however with schools like Little Angels Uganda we have to believe that their futures are brighter than their darker pasts. Just like the M’panga River itself, these children are an essential part of the building blocks of their communities and proper development and focus on their education and well-being is an essential undertaking to ensure they too want to sustain the future.

After arriving at the Mweya Lodge, right upon a hill overlooking a waterbed in between Lake George and Lake Edward, we embarked on a boat tour to see the biodiversity close-up. Diverse was an understatement, and so was quantity as we saw throngs of birds – king-fishers, eagles and pelicans, two dozen elephant and droves of hippos along our boat’s path. Beyond the obvious tourist draw of the boat tour, it really spoke to the sheer number of animals, many of whom share habitat with fishing villages grandfathered into the National Park.

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After an animal-intensive day, the team took respite for the evening… or so we thought. Reminiscing the warning of forest elephants, Jonah, the undergraduate team member, spotted something outside his bedroom window that almost paralyzed him in place.

Waiting outside his door was nothing but an elephant in all its glory. To have an elephant come visit you so candidly and nonchalantly is almost a religious experience, as he put it, and his way of addressing the elephant in the yard was the only way we can in the year 2015, with a selfie.

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It strolled around camp for 30 minutes, and while others feared coming near, our young team member became acquainted with the giant animal, until it decided to part ways back to the park. The crossroads of the day extended much further than the orphans we met, and maybe it is fear that keeps us away from confronting things that really aren’t as scary as they seem. We can assure you that addressing the elephant in the yard is something we can all take upon ourselves to do.

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