Families across the country gathered around their tables this Thanksgiving filled with turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes. My family’s table, however, looked nothing like that.
My family spent the holiday in Entebbe, Uganda, volunteering at the Malayaka House orphanage. The orphanage was founded by California native, Robert Flemming, in 2015 and is now a permanent home to over 40 children.
I was first introduced to Malayaka House as a junior at Champlain College in 2013. What I thought would be a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to go to Africa quickly turned into a life-long commitment.
While my friends in the U.S. were filling their plates with the typical thanksgiving treats, we enjoyed a slice of pizza at the orphanage. The ‘Malayaka House Pizza Night’ was created as “a vocational training restaurant that helps our children acquire necessary skills to support themselves in the future.”
Over the past 6 years, I have seen first-hand how this restaurant has empowered young teenage girls to become confident entrepreneurs. Many, if not all, of these teenagers (now women), have moved out of the orphanage thanks to their earnings from Pizza Night. The pizza is delicious, but it tastes even better knowing you’re supporting such an amazing cause.
Pizza Night also offers the perfect place to meet new people. Each picnic table seats a dozen, so you are bound to make a new friend or two. The Malayaka House attracts an array of people and organizations, including the United Nations, US Military, Center for Disease Control, Doctors Without Borders, international volunteers, tourists, and of course Ugandan locals. You never know who you will meet, but you are sure to have a meaningful conversation with someone!
This year eight of us ordered our slices and grabbed a seat at a table; four Americans and four Europeans. I could not help but notice that only one person needed a menu. It was a woman from Germany, making her first trip to the Malayaka House. The remaining seven at the table had volunteered at the orphanage more than once before and some could not even remember how many times they had visited the House!
That sudden realization showed just how remarkable this place truly was and the impact it has made on volunteers across the world. Those who visit quickly come to find that the children are happy and in great hands with Robert, Bea, and the aunties. So why do we all keep coming back? How are we really helping? Well, those are questions I can answer in a future blog post. In short, people return for everything that makes up the community of Malayaka House, including the pizza! This Thanksgiving we were just thankful for being part of their community and will be something I think about every time I pick up a slice anywhere in the world the rest of my life.