By Omari Jinaki
S.O.U.L. Foundation Board Member and Student Sponsor
For me, service is a way of life. I’ve seen a wide range in the effectiveness of service. I spent my 20s lending support to a myriad of social causes: tutoring 7th graders, making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for food drives, counseling women to transition from homelessness to employment, and on and on.
I was left wondering what happened to the people I served. Did my tutoring actually make a difference? Did the women that I had a one-off resume review sessions and mock interview sessions with go on to find a ways to support themselves? Were my interventions too late? Too few? I yearned to know more about the aftermath. I yearned to see the faces of people that ate the lunches I packed. I yearned to talk to them. I yearned to know them and their stories.
Over time, I became increasingly selective in my decisions about how, where, and why to serve. With so many humanitarian challenges, I realized I must focus on one or a few to devote my life in order to achieve meaningful success. It became clear to me that education was a tool of great weight in driving humanitarian change, and it became the primary focus of my service.
With so many global service opportunities in education, I could have thrown a dart at a map of the world and found a place to serve and drive impact. I had no idea where to begin. The right film came into my life as the right time in 2007. Just as I was gaining greater clarity about my purpose to serve, my manager mentioned the film “Invisible Children” to me that a friend of hers contributed to. The film told the unimaginable story of refugees in Uganda, many of them children, who had no access to education at all. I could not stop thinking about all of the wasted potential. All the exuberance in their hearts that they would never get a chance to express. All of the creativity, insight, and inspiration that they would never be able to put into words, into action, into the world. I was crushed.
While I can’t that say Uganda’s education struggles are more or less important that those elsewhere, or that all of Uganda’s educational system is in a dire state, I can say that something stronger than me pulled my heart to Uganda. Though I needed to put my calling on hold for several years and at age 33, with no rhyme or reason, I decided that before the end of the year I would be in Uganda, no questions asked.
My ambition was challenged head on by pessimism. Some told me “No, don’t go to Uganda. You’re wasting your time and risking your life.” While I was invigorated and wide-eyed, I was not naive to the long-term commitment and enduring challenges ahead of me. Though I was taken aback by the response I received as I shared my plans with my circle of contacts, I charged ahead as I always have and couldn’t be more fulfilled by my decision to dedicate my life to education in Uganda. It has become one of the most enriching experiences in my life overall.
Stay tuned for part 2 of Omari's journey!