By Kate Young ‘14
What are you passionate about? For many people, it took them years to figure out the answer to that question. Many others still might not know the answer. For Nicole Handel ’15, all it took was one trip to Uganda.
Her very first year at Champlain, Handel was given the opportunity to go on a service trip with the Center for Service and Civic Engagement to The Malayaka House, an orphanage in Entebbe, Uganda. Since the age of 6, she had been telling her parents that she was going to work in Africa some day, and here was her chance. On the trip, something clicked. “I fell in love with the kids and I knew that I wanted to go back as soon as I could,” she explains. So, that is exactly what she did.
Handel spent the past year figuring out how she could get back to Uganda. She was prepared to go on the trip again, but the dates weren’t fitting and she wanted a more immersing experience. Her first step was raising the money to get there on her own. She decided to compete in the Champlain Elevator Pitch and talk about the Malayaka House to begin funding of the trip. She won first place and $500 and the fundraising was off the ground! She created fundraising websites to share with friends and family, sent out letters to organizations, individuals, and companies, and by the time she was done, had raised over $3,500. Handel and one friend, Chelsy Pillsbury, Champlain class of 2012, were ready to go.
Handel used $1,500 of the money for her plane ticket and expenses and donated the remaining $2,000 to the Malayaka House for school tuition. When she arrived she spent two and a half weeks helping with a lot of hands-on projects like sanding bed posts, helping with planting new gardens, cooking, cleaning, washing dishes and laundry. She was able to become friends with many of the locals and UN members who are stationed in Entebbe. By traveling without the Champlain group she explains that she was forced to make her own connections and relationships in Entebbe, not just with Champlain students.
“My favorite part was obviously playing and learning with the children. I have two albums on my Facebook that have tons of photos of the kids; one is just general photos and the other is all portraits that I took.” -Nicole Handel ’15
After being home for just a few weeks, Handel is already thinking about her future with Uganda. If she doesn’t end up joining the Peace Corps, she may move there after she graduates in 2015.
This summer, a group of Champlain Students also went with the Center for Service and Civic Engagement to the Malayaka House. Everyone is invited to the Morgan Room on June 20at 12pm to see a presentation from these students. There will be refreshments, photos and stories shared! Also, stay tuned this summer for a story about their experience in Uganda.