By Pixie Sulser
When school resumes each fall many students are full of stories revolving around family vacations, beach days, first jobs, and long lazy afternoons.
Then there are those young people who have amazing journeys to tell about, students like Ramona High School senior Samantha Stotts.
Sammie, as she is known by friends and family, chose to spend two weeks of her last high school summer traveling to Uganda as part of an outreach program organized by Believers World Outreach.
Of the 48 people in her travel group who were from all over the United States and Canada, Sammie was one of 15 from San Diego.
Her decision to travel to Uganda originated when she joined the Invisible Children Club at RHS.
“Since then I had a fascination with Africa and the people who live there,” said Sammie. “Then one Sunday morning at church, I saw signups to go to Uganda for two weeks in June 2012 with Believers World Outreach. I jumped at the chance!”
That choice meant fundraising the $4,000 needed for travel expenses as well as preparing mentally and physically.
“I had to get about eight different shots along with taking medicine to prevent malaria,” she said. “Twice a month I met with other people who were taking the trip. I had to buy the right kind of clothes, learn to try new foods, and prepare emotionally, which there was really no way to prepare for what you actually see there.”
The group spent 15 days total in Uganda—a week in Jinja and a second week in Masaka.
Both are villages along Lake Victoria. Sammie worked in four different orphanages over the two weeks helping the medical team provide physicals and shots to the children.
“The most rewarding experience had to be when we visited a village across Lake Victoria. The people who lived there had absolutely nothing, but the children were so happy,” said Sammie.
As an aspiring photographer, Sammie had her camera in tow to chronicle her journey, but she found the big Nikon made her the hit of the village. She explained that the best part wasn’t even taking the pictures but rather showing them to the villagers who have never seen their own likeness.
“They do not own mirrors, which is something that here in America we take for granted,” she said. “The look on their faces when they actually saw what they looked like was truly heart- warming. There really aren’t words to describe the feeling I had in those moments.”
The most challenging experience, however, was not when Sammie had to leave her own home to travel to an unknown country with people she had just met, but rather when she had to leave one of the orphanages.
A little girl about 4 years old glued herself to Sammie’s side the entire two days she worked at the orphanage.
“On the day we had to leave, the little girl walked with me down the hill toward the lake. She knew I was leaving, and the closer we got to the lake, the tighter she squeezed my hand. When I climbed into the boat, she did, too, and one of the villagers had to take her back out. I just sat there and cried as the boat pulled away. I was so worried about her because she has no family. The last thing I wanted was for her to think I was abandoning her. I think about that day all the time.”
In spite of the heartache, the shots, the fundraising, and the hours of travel, Sammie describes the trip as the “most amazing experience of my life,” and has signed up to return next year.
“I honestly think every teenager should go to another country to do something for other people,” she said. “It really changes your outlook on life.”
She described the people of Uganda as being personable and engaged in the moment.
“They react from the heart,” she said. “My time with them has changed the way I view others, the way I spend my money, and even how I treat those around me is totally different. I am much more content and relaxed with life.”
Sammie graduates in June and hopes to attend Texas Christian University to study business and photography with a goal of some day owning her own photography business.