In April of 2016, I received an email from a cohort member letting me know a local nonprofit that she volunteered with was having their gala and they needed a photographer last minute. Stephanie knew I was passionate about East Africa and thought I would enjoy learning about and volunteering with this nonprofit called African Road (AR). I discovered AR partners with locals in East Africa to bring about true transformation and development in communities. They work with local change makers to lift communities out of poverty. And their office was located 10 minutes from my home. I decided to send an email and offer my time and photography skills. Though my photography skill set was in outdoor portrait photography, I figured I could step outside of my comfort zone and do the best I could. The gala had beautiful tables displayed with photos and African décor representing each project AR had helped facilitate. I felt immersed in the stories of hope and transformation. The passion and love put into the displays was apparent. I knew AR was a small organization and though I had read through the website before the gala, I had no idea how truly unique and amazing the ladies of AR were. I had been emailing with Jennifer about volunteering. She replied quickly with all the answers to my questions. I was impressed. I did meet her at the gala for quick minute. She was busy gathering and training volunteers and I wanted to get some shots of the displays before guests arrived. We would connect at a later time.
The gala was so different than the three fundraising events I had been to as a guest in the past. I loved every minute of it…the African dancing group, the food, the drums, and the speakers. At the end, I met Kelly, and after meeting her I saw the love and passion that I had witnessed in the displays. She stopped to chat with me and thanked me for taking photos. I had met other directors before and she was different. I didn’t know it at the time, but I would learn more about her journey in starting and leading AR and why I had a feeling she was unique, a servant leader.
I had been jumping around volunteering with different nonprofits but really didn’t feel a connection so I started volunteering with AR. I was working on my master’s degree at Multnomah University in global development and justice at the time, so my spare time was limited however, while volunteering; I was able to learn more about AR. I ended up with an assignment in my nonprofit leadership class and decided to focus on financial management. I had to pick a nonprofit and interview someone who could provide me with information for my research topic. I interviewed Kelly, not realizing Danielle was AR’s financial guru. After hearing Kelly’s story of how AR was formed, I was inspired. Kelly’s heart to see other’s succeed was contagious. She suggested I meet with Danielle for more information. The fact that Kelly and Danielle agreed to meet with me, I was surprised. I was used to hearing the “I’m busy” response or not receiving a reply at all. Although it can seem frustrating, I was asking Jesus to lead me where he wanted me to be. No response meant that Jesus had something better for me.
Kelly was different. She replied promptly to emails and even Facebook messages. She engages with people and it was apparent she truly cares.
After completing my financial management research, I started to stress about completing an internship after talking with my professor around August. I decided I didn’t have the time during this upcoming semester (January to May) and would wait until the summer of 2017 to complete my 300-hour internship. I was happy with the decision.
Come December of 2016, near Christmas time, I checked my email and unexpectedly received an email from Kelly. She informed me that AR was looking to bring on their first intern and she encouraged me to apply. What? Really? I was again surprised. The director emailed me? I replied saying I’m was unsure if I would have the time to commit. Before I realized it, I was emailing Kelly my resume and cover letter. I knew it would be a busy and hectic semester, but I was ready to experience the nonprofit world with three wonderful ladies. I had never worked for a nonprofit before. My past working experiences were medical coding and billing and child protection. Kelly and I met and it felt right. Where Jesus wanted me. And I was willing to say yes. I had learned that by saying ‘yes’ I knew I would be creating new opportunities. AR was ready to invest in furthering my education. I was grateful!
During my 150 hours with African Road, I was able to experience the process of gala planning from the beginning to end. I learned about Burundi and VICOBA. I was able to meet David and even help with the formation of the theory of change. I helped with volunteer coordination, and researched different methodologies for monitoring and evaluation (M/E) along with overall approaches to project management. I realized that classroom learning is important, but real learning comes from being immersed in the work in the real world. I was able to meet with an M/E specialist from Mercy Corp with Jennifer and felt honored to be able to learn so much more in depth about M/E. I was able to sit in on various AR meetings and hear how they listened to each other and would end up with a plan.
I have to share one moment in particular. The gala committee, which I participated in as part of my internship, was a true eye-opening experience. Many others and myself had looked over the gala invitation. It was beautiful with the continent of Africa outlined, a compass, and African fabric pattern as a border. The colors were perfect and all the important details were listed except one minor detail….the address of the location. How did we all miss that? Danielle discovered the blunder. Jennifer and I laughed and then we instantly started talking about how to fix it since all the envelopes had been sealed, stamped, and ready to go out that day. Kelly walks in the room and my first thought is how will she respond? I felt tense while Danielle explained the mishap and Kelly laughed. Wow! At that moment I realized how truly amazing and fortunate Jennifer and Danielle were to have a servant leader as their boss. We decided on making an insert with the address and a map of where the venue was located and where to park. As far as opening the letters, a steamer would be used along with the freezer. I remember steaming open the invites, laughing that my internship was entailing thinking outside of the box. We ended up gluing the invites back together and placing a fancy AR logo sticker in the center of sealed envelope. I received my invite in the mail and couldn’t help but laugh!
I gained experience with in-kind donations. This was a new concept. I could send emails or apply on websites for bakeries and breweries to donate their baked goods and beer to the gala. What a concept! The whole gala committee was on board with this effort. Out of the seven bakeries I contacted, two ended up donating. I was honestly surprised. As far as the breweries, I contacted at least ten breweries and in the end we ended up with 12 bottles of vodka. That was another laugh Jennifer and I shared. I thought it was funny the person who knew nothing about beer was requesting beer donations and ended up with vodka being donated.
The gala this year was even totally different than last year and just as beautiful. It was a blast helping to set up the gala and chat with guests.
The experience I gained with AR will forever remind me how much I have grown in becoming more like Jesus. I am forever thankful for the experience. I look back and would have loved to have hard more to time to focus only on AR instead of dividing up my time between classes, homework, work, and family.
Kelly, Jennifer, and Danielle are truly hard working, dedicated, compassionate, loving women that I will forever be thankful for. Not just for investing in my transformation but the transformation of many communities throughout East Africa. My time with AR felt authentic and not transactional and for that I am extremely pleased!
Another funny moment was when they surprised me with a birthday cake. I was like it’s not my birthday and we laughed. They were a couple weeks early but I was blown away by how thoughtful they were. Amidst all the busyness they planned a surprise for me. I didn’t think I was going to be in the office closer to my birthday as that was also the week of graduation. They ended up surprising me again with another cake closer to my birthday!
My second internship will entail traveling to Uganda. I plan to meet up with Jennifer at the Kitega center, the birthplace of the VICOBA program. I had met David in Portland and looking forward to meeting him again in his home country to learn more about his mission. After the center, I will head to spend time with my friend, Lufafa, near Jinja. Jennifer is planning to spend a couple days with us.
Although I have no idea what the future holds, I am confident and keeping the faith that Jesus will direct my steps. I had the hardest time deciding if I should travel to Uganda. In the end, I felt peace about saying yes. I am excited to see what outcomes come out of that “yes.” I’m leaving my comfort zone and allowing things to happen. I have a few things I hope to do while in Uganda, but for the most part, I want an unexpected itinerary.
Sometimes my dreams feel impossible, too big, but I’m putting my trust in the One who brought me out of darkness and into light. I’m learning patience and that “purpose is found when you stop thinking about how you exist in the world and start trying to figure out why you are here” – Adam Braun.
My life is becoming a story I am excited to tell and after my adventure to Uganda, I have a feeling I will be ready to share it with everyone!
Thank you to all my friends and family for their prayers and support!