11-Parable of the Stars and Starfish

Picture from the hotel in Adjumani

I promise you that this picture is of something amazing. My phone’s camera is very limited and could only capture a white dot and noise. Even if the photo was better, it wouldn’t give you the experience I’m having. Such is the limits of communication. I am experiencing the night sky in its raw beauty. Although this post won’t be adequate, it is worth a try to communicate this picture and my experience because it is so beautiful.

Over the trip, I have experienced the raw beauty of humanity. Unadorned by fancy clothing and hidden motives, it ripped my heart open and planted itself there. Now, these memories beat with my blood and will grow and provide bountiful fruits for the picking. They have become the star to my wandering bark.

The seed first found my heart at St. Mary’s Adjumani Girls’ Secondary School. After a long day of filming and interviewing, the girls gave a performance. Their performance of a poem struck me like lightning did to Benjamin Franklin. I totally didn’t expect it. The flow, emotion, and power of their performance shook me. It was very different from what I have experienced. In America, I’ve been to Christmas recitals where the kids memorize the words and sing angelically. I’ve seen piano notes memorized and played flawlessly. But, here, the girls memorized but performed naturally. Even thought it was memorized, they made the words and gestures their own. Their bodies pulsed with every word. The raw intensity of their voices came from a place of struggle they knew personally. It gave a liveliness to their words that can’t be memorized. Throughout their whole performance, my heart felt a joy seldom felt before. It blew my mind that these girls who had nothing when they came from the border could still create such magnificent beauty. The hope that it mustered in my heart was untamable. However, out of all the amazing things I saw, none could match their smiles. Just one of their genuine smiles emanating from such deep gratitude was worth all the pain and effort that it took to help them get this far. It was a smile of a life changed, of struggle turned to glory, of something created out of nothing.

Seeing their smiles made me finally understand a story about starfish that I have been wrestling with for a long time. During a dark and stormy night, thousands of starfish were hurled upon the land too far for them to crawl back. The next day, a boy came along and started to throw them one by one into the refreshing sea. An old man happened to come across the boy and was confused. He asked the boy, “what are you trying to do? Look at how many starfish there are on this land. There is no possible way for you to throw them all back in the sea. The difference you make is meaningless. Why bother?” The boy bent over and picked up a starfish. He whipped his arm and sent the starfish back to its home in the sea. The boy replied, “I made all the difference, a whole world of difference to that one.” For a long time, I knew this intellectually, but never really understood it with my heart. So, it meant nothing to me. Now, after seeing the girls’ smiles, I understand the meaning of the story with my heart.

The hole was dug at one of the settlements. Talking to the teachers, I realized that Uganda would be much further from poverty if it was given the opportunity, the job opportunity. There are tens of thousands of students who can’t find work. Even the educated ones have trouble. Regarding the refugees, they have skills and talents that they have brought with them but can’t use because they aren’t given the opportunity. If only they had jobs, they could be independent.

The seed was planted at the UNHCR checkpoint. I was sitting and talking to Judith when a bunch of refugees fresh off the bus came. I was sitting on a bench and watched as Judith gave them soap and ensured that they were okay. The father of the family sat right next to me. He was wearing a dirty dress shirt and pants. I could see the concern still present in his face even though he got across the border. His daughter was next to him. She looked about the same age as my youngest brother who is 11. She had a tattered and dirty pink dress. She was munching on the biscuits hungrily. As she sat, she was looking around curiously at the different things in the room. My heart broke. Here I am sitting with not a care in the world. I had almost $200 dollars in my pocket for doing nothing but being born to my parents. These human beings had nothing but the clothes on their backs. Apart from looking poor, they looked like normal people who I would never have guessed were refugees. I was completely dumbfounded that our situations differed so much just because of chance. It felt as far from right, as far from justice, as I could imagine. I wanted to do something.

The seed sprouted as I interviewed Enid. At the UNHCR headquarters, I got the honor to conduct my first interview of the trip. Enid is the head of security for all the refugees in northwestern Uganda. She talked about how she changes lives by helping refugees get food and education. Hearing the lives of the refugees being changed by her was life changing for me. She is motivated by changing lives, making children smile, bringing children from the border where they have nothing and hearing them call 20 years later as lawyers and chefs. No money is worth that feeling. My currency is smiles.

The seed has been sowed and it will take a long time before it is reaped. My life is between those two events. Hearing all the stories, I feel like economics is the best path for me to take. I have realized that work is a large factor for independence. It is the gateway to freedom in our economy. It affords human dignity. It determines a large portion of the quality of life a person has. We either need a new economic system or need to change something. War has probably created people with the deepest need, but only a few countries are at war. I’m more interested in developing economies where billions are in poverty.

However, no matter how independent we get, we are not in control. Dependence is woven into human nature. Bad things can happen to anyone. It is the flip of a coin. Even though the night sky is dark, there are still stars to guide us and remind us of the light. I hope to be one star. I hope to help at least one starfish.

About Ben Fernandes

Howdy, my name is Ben Fernandes. My state in life is a sophomore at Creighton University who is trying to get as lost as I can in the opportunities of college so that I can one day find who I want to be as an adult.

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