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The driver of our van made all kinds of hand gestures as passenger vans headed the opposite direction.

At one point, his hand made a waving motion, like rolling over three hills, then his index finger pointed straight down.

“What are you talking about with the other drivers?” I asked

With a sheepish grin, he replied; “We’re telling each other where the police are hiding.”

After a pause, he asked, “Don’t they do that in the United States?”

Being the son of a truck driver, I was already well aware of what he was doing. Memories floated through my mind of my father doing similar things while I road with him as he drove a truck for MTR out of Fremont.

“Yes, sometimes they do,” I answered.

I have learned to trust the drivers when traveling in different countries. They never seem to panic when someone is passing on a hill or in the face of oncoming traffic.

The University of Nebraska Sig Eps had arrived in Uganda, and we were on our way to the Soft Power project at the Kagoma Saint Gonzaga Primary School.

The Kagoma Saint Gonzaga Primary School is located in the countryside not far from the city of Jinga. It needed some extra attention and care. The school principal, George, had reached out to the Soft Power organization for assistance.

For seven nights, we would call this place home. The desks were removed from two of the classrooms; this gave us space to spread our stuff. We strung ropes across the classes and attached our mosquito nets; these were draped over our thin mattresses. The older I get, the farther down the floor seems to be.

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There was no running water, just bars on the windows.

Our mission was to transform neglected walls with fresh paint. The Sig Eps provided the paint, the brushes, and a commitment to be of service.

Our Soft Power representatives, Danielle Griffin and Josh Ely, welcomed us to the community with broad smiles and enthusiasm. With beautiful senses of humor, they helped us forge a connection to the local community and school administrators.

There was one difference with this trip from the previous journeys I had led. Recently, I invested my time and energy to become a certified life coach, and I was excited to add these activities to what was already a powerful experience.

Travel changes you, it challenges you, and it inspires you to be engaged with the world. Now I had new tools and training to take the journey farther for those who were willing to learn and grow.

Each morning and evening, we worked on ourselves. During the day, we painted. By the time we had transformed the school with new paint, we also transformed ourselves into something better. With determined hearts and minds, we jumped into the challenge wholeheartedly.

Eyes peered from around the corners from school children, curious to know who all the strangers were in their village.

We smiled, and they smiled back.

In these moments, I am always touched by how curiosity has been replaced with fear in the United States. I don’t have an answer. But it left me wondering if we will ever get to a healthy sense of community by teaching our kids to be afraid of everybody.

Darkness comes fast and consistent on the equator, 6:30 a.m. sunrises and 6:30 p.m. sunsets, 365 days a year. After the long journey from the United States, we were ready to get some sleep. When you are really tired, thin mattresses on cement floors do the job just fine.

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Dean Jacobs of Fremont is a world traveler.

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