Thankful Thursday: Shawna Brinson

After three years of working at MPA, I finally traveled to Africa in January 2019. Before we left, Executive Director Heather said she would be expectantly watching me for a “mindblown” look on my face as a first-time visitor. I don’t know how all of my expressions showed up in person, but the feeling was undoubtedly there.

Overall, it was an intense trip with an ambitious sun-up to sun-down schedule across three countries. MPA’s intrepid group of six women undertook a series of site visits, piglet handoffs, a groundbreaking celebration and more. I didn’t snap many pictures (that was Julie’s department), but my trusty notebook got a daily workout. It was used to steadily capture meeting details, names and stories of people that we met throughout our journey. I reviewed it every night to write updates and attempt to process the day.

Looking back at the notebook, there were many epic experiences during the trip. I think it was our visit to Nairobi slums that hit me the hardest. Jamii Bora’s social workers led us through a seemingly endless labyrinth of dusty streets, alleyways, stalls and makeshift homes. It was a shocking contrast to the lush greens of rural Uganda, with its frustratingly muddy roads and breathtaking hills. People in the slums shared their life stories and progress through income projects and Jamii Bora, but I often could not beat back the sensation that the place was closing in around us. It was a humbling and overwhelming maze of people and noise, and so many things being made, moved and sold.

At first, I felt like this might be an impossible place to be happy, but there was laughter and curiosity along the way. There was also outright joy. At one point in the day, a gathering of Jamii Bora women swept us along in a jubilant parade along the main stretch of Carton City. Its name comes from the boxes that were its residents’ original homes, and the women were so proud of how far they had come, too. The unpaved road seemed to widen as we all danced down it together. I remember breathing deep and singing along with a surreal sense of calm and celebration of strength.

After the procession, we met in a small clearing and the Jami Bora women shared gratitude for everything they had achieved, even the most gradual improvements. Progress meant a coffee carafe, medication for a baby, or a slightly better roof over one’s head. They earnestly thanked us for MPA’s help, too, and applauded us for making such a considerable effort to visit them. As our group sat there and took it all in, I admired their optimism, perseverance and unshakable sense of community. It was a “mind blown” experience, one that I often reflect upon and am thankful for beyond measure.

– Shawna Brinson

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