Africa Trip: Day 1, Maura

In today’s guest post, Maura Varian, the Managing Director of our UK operation shares her thoughts as she participates in the Better World Books Africa Trip.

The Journey

Most of us started in the states, and it has been a multi-leg excursion.  South Bend – Chicago-London-Emtebee-Gulu.  All total 15 hours over two days, will it be worth the trip?

I don’t know about all the others on this journey but there are some of us that had no idea what lay ahead or what to even expect.  What will the people be like, what will the temperature be, what will the places we visit will be like and what will folks think of us are all questions that were going through my mind.  I know for me I had no point of reference whatsoever.  Yes, I’ve seen the charity advertisements on late night TV, but that couldn’t be what it is ALL like?  Yes, I’ve seen movies like Out of Africa, but come on – that is just a movie and not about current times.  I’ve seen the videos our literacy partner Invisible Children has produced, but that can’t be what it is like now, things have changed, right?

So for some of us, we had no way to be prepared for this trip.  I chose before coming not to think about that.  I chose to realize that this was an opportunity of a lifetime and I was taking it.  For me this was fulfillment of a life-long dream.  I always said I wanted to go to Africa before I was fifty…I only missed it by a couple of days!  (OK now everyone knows how old I am)

The journey was topped off with a 5 hour drive from Kempala to Gulu.  We travelled through several villages, passed many primary schools, crossed the Nile and even saw monkeys.  I have to say by the time yesterday ended…I felt complete and the actual trip hadn’t even really started.

On the Ground

I can only say that this has been so far an amazing experience and I am only 3 days into it.  I can only equate it to other places I’ve been by saying it is like some of the less developed islands I’ve been to in the Caribbean.  However, for most of those trips one had the resort to go back to at night or the cruise ship, so in that way, being and living among the people has been eye opening to say the least.  Accommodations are superior I’m sure, but if you are expecting someone to turn down your bedding or bring you room service, that just won’t happen.  In fact if the generator stays on while you are getting ready for bed, and there is water in the shower you are doing well.

Please don’t think this is a bad thing.  It isn’t, who needs the lights when they are sleeping and a trickle will do what you need it to in the shower.  I’ve figured out the mosquito netting, and realize why the room comes with flip-flops…so I figure I’m ahead of the game!  Food has been awesome and I’m happy to report that you don’t have to worry about the water when it comes to coffee…warm milk mixed with instant coffee…again, does the trick.  OK it isn’t Starbucks, but I have to say this morning sitting on the porch with this wonderful group of people hearing the roosters….it had to be the best cup I’ve ever had.

We set off today to visit 4 schools with our partner Invisible Children.  All were secondary schools or as they refer to here senior schools.  Apparently most of the government and past NGO support has gone into primary schooling.  Invisible Children has made a decision to invest in secondary schools and universities with programs like Schools for Schools and Legacy Scholarship Programs.  These programs deal with funding a particular students studies, building libraries or improving water systems within the boarding schools.  They have done and continue to do great work here always keeping in mind sustainability and giving those that are receiving the ability to carry it forward and make it grow.

I have to admit one of the things I was worried about was that I would be depressed seeing the conditions people live in and seeing the lack of books in the schools, but I don’t find that I am feeling at all like that.  I’m excited to see that things are being done to correct a situation that has been fueled by war and displacement.  I am happy to know that perhaps in a very small way I have done something by working where I do that may be helping.  I also find that the people here are happy.  Interestingly enough, one doesn’t need what we in the western world think we do.  Family is important here, friendship and community reign supreme.  Definitely a reality check for me!

Tune in again…

— Maura Varian, Managing Director, UK Operations

Check out the earlier Africa trip posts:

On the ground in Africa
Africa Trip: Day 1, Audrey


  1. Martin Lawlor says:

    I hope everyone travelling with you in Uganda is safe, particularly after that horrific terrorist act yesterday in Kampala. With deep sadness I understand that Invisible Children was directly impacted and we hope you’re OK

    Be safe and let us know you’re doing well.


  2. Pingback: Africa Trip: Day 5, Audrey | Better World Books

  3. Peter Watson says:

    “Interestingly enough, one doesn’t need what we in the western world think we do. Family is important here, friendship and community reign supreme. Definitely a reality check for me!”
    says it all.

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