I remember with perfect clarity the night in September 2006, as my two months in Nimule, South Sudan was drawing to a close, when I decided that two months didn't seem like nearly enough time. I was lying on top of my impossibly thin mattress that somehow had provided me with a good night of sleep night after night, even the nights when the wooden bedframe broke and jarred me awake. I had just tucked in my mosquito net and lay there, completely restless from what felt like an electrical storm going off in my head as one thought catalyzed a dozen more, culminating with the epiphany that I would spend my life doing this work of loving and serving people in poverty - no matter how difficult it might be and no matter how ill-suited to it I might be - for the simple reason that it was fundamentally right and just.
It was a realization both exhilarating and disheartening - exhilarating for the tremendous clarity and peace that it brought me and disheartening for the knowledge that I had no idea whatsoever how to do what I was proposing to myself to do and the awareness that two months had cultivated in me that I didn't have a magical ability to integrate myself into a very poor, very rural, very African community.
I left Nimule a few days later feeling a deep emotional and spiritual connection to both the people and the place, and I came back to my life in Denver, Colorado, with the conviction that if I ever wanted to make it back there I'd need to develop some sort of skill that would make me useful to the people I wanted to serve. Through months of searching and a convoluted series of events, I ended up as a middle school history teacher in a high-poverty, multi-lingual, urban charter school. And there my education began.
In the years since then, I have learned more than I knew there was to know about data collection and analysis, rigorous assessment, and project planning and implementation. I have grappled with how to maintain idealism and hope in the face of sometimes crushing realities, and I have seen my hope bolstered through it all. Somewhere along the way I fell in love with an amazing woman who adopted my dreams as her own. Together with Sarah, I have researched an obscene number of innovative and exciting NGOs whose existence I was completely unaware of the night that I lay in that bed.
As I write this, there's a large part of me that doesn't believe that what I set out to do three and a half years ago is now actually happening. And at the same time that I try to comprehend that, I'm also in the process of remembering the breadth and depth of my vision for Nimule. I don't imagine that I am completely capable of achieving it all right now, but when I consider what I have learned and the skills that I have developed in the time since I first began dreaming, it all seems very possible.
We'll start with the kids at Cornerstone Children's Home, and we'll do everything we can to build them up so that they can lead meaningful and fruitful lives, and from there I hope it will spread throughout Nimule. Our hope is nothing less than seeing an entire community revitalized.
I have dreamed about this for a very long time, and I'm ready now to see it become a reality.