There are no words.


After a three-year hiatus post-COVID, I assembled a group of 12 people to visit the school @Ideba supports in Uganda this month – projects including painting; designing and stocking a library; and providing guidance for businesses that we helped to start – to provide work for graduates, and OPEX for the school. Plans were laid and then five weeks before we were due to leave… the unthinkable.

No one wants to receive THAT call. Friday, June 16, 2023, will be permanently etched in my brain as the night that everything changed. A massacre at the school by terrorists from the neighboring DRC had left 40+ students dead, and many buildings burned to ruins. It’s gut-wrenching and upsetting to see people you know in so much distress… to see a sign created with students by @Ideba team member @James Rice front and center on world news websites. I cried myself to sleep the next two nights, devastated for those impacted directly and indirectly. Six weeks later, and the pain is still there.

One of my strongest memories of the days that followed was a team call to discuss what had happened, and I recall @Jenna Whelan opening with the words “I’ve searched inside all weekend, but there are no words.” So true.

Memories of COVID

With a pre-planned trip just weeks away, I had to act quickly and decisively. I had been criticized in 2020 for not being more decisive and displaying more leadership during COVID (as if I had a playbook at a time when the world was paralyzed), and this time around, needed to balance leading by example, with a big dose of empathy for those in the party concerned about potential risks – including my own family.

Determined that evil will NEVER prevail over goodness, a plan was quickly hatched working with long-time partners on the project @barbgordon and my colleague @Dan Rosen – both of whom had traveled previously to the school and who clearly understood the needs, risks, and dynamics. My intent was to move forward with a sense of purpose, minimize risk, and ultimately support as many people as possible associated with the school. I was heartened by Dan’s shared determination to move forward, building on relationships formed over multiple years visiting the school – many of whom felt like an “extended family.” For Dan, it was “an instinctive decision to return, and provide aid in whatever capacity I could… and not let terrorist’s win. The urgency to help was overwhelming.”

Dan and I quickly engaged @Ideba co-worker @aaronbaldwin who had visited the school previously, and within hours, the three of us were closely aligned in our desire to go back. As Aaron recognized, this trip will be “nothing like the previous one,” respecting that he now had a young family of his own to consider. His initial thoughts said it all… “my heart is broken for the students, their families, and the entire community.”

UVA and Micro-Loans

Fast forward 72-hours to a call that included the party of twelve, and up stepped @quinnjackson, a student at the University of Virginia (UVA), and Ideba intern who last Summer donated 100% of his salary to the school. One selfless guy who is an amazing example to his peers. A brave and admirable decision by Quinn, who had highly personal reasons for wanting to go:

“I was never deterred, as my pre-existing goal remains unchanged: to help people. I know there will inevitably be a push/pull between our goals to help as many as possible and limiting risk. I’ve always loved the idea of visiting new places (especially far from home) and may not be able to capitalize upon this opportunity at any time soon. I’m excited to hear unique perspectives and hope to learn a great deal about Ugandan culture and what motivates them to keep pushing forward every day.

I am looking to see how micro-loans can be helpful, given some initial work on this area at UVA. This venture will give me a great deal of autonomy, more than ever likely, so hopefully I can use what I know and adapt my frame of reference to the Ugandan market while setting up others for success.  This will be by far the most unique trip I’ll likely ever go on, it’s an opportunity to grow, and to help others grow and rise above hardship. In a world where we are too accustomed to being in our bubbles that are free from any apparent risk, I would like nothing more than to open my horizons and offer everything I can to make a tangible difference.”

Teens with Big Hearts

In the weeks that followed, the four of us would engage in a lot of conversations with others about the trip… some supportive, and some (less knowledgeable) naysayers – we will all be forever grateful for those that supported and encouraged the four of us, including some that had no prior involvement, but who stepped up to see how they could help.

One other uplifting moment that sticks out is the way those in our party uncomfortable with traveling stepped up. Watching teens huddle around a dining room table, writing cards to surviving students, and nurses/doctors that treated wounded students was amazing. And others donated funds for supplies, despite losing some of their travel dollars due to late cancellations.

@juliajackson @crawfordsly @zacharyharmer @quinnjackson

Making use of our talents

We set off for Uganda on July 21, 2023; plans were to deliver medical supplies to the hospital receiving injured/murdered students, deliver books to schools in Kampala and Entebbe, and to help two associates that assisted at the school to start businesses – including creative work on logos and websites, where Aaron and Dan excel.

Like the crew we left behind, we wish there were things the four of us could do to help the local community in Bwera know we care, but ultimately recognize there is little we—as outsiders—can do near term. The community needs time to mourn, process, and figure out how they want to move forward.

Check out the next Blog post in 48 hours to learn more about how things transpired during our visit to Kampala and Entebbe.

Thanks for your support and best wishes!

David Sly – President