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My Greatest Privilege: The Ability to Travel

The first month of 2019 is off to a blistering start, as it seems just yesterday I was enjoying the snowy holidays with loved ones. 2019 has already had ups and downs for RUFC. On the up side, we have sold out our 2019 Youth Vision Trip and collected and dispersed tuition for 12 kids to start their new school year. However, on the down side, I began a push at the end of last year to fund my friend and colleague Meddy’s trip to Chicago to assist in presenting our research. In a heartbreaking turn of events, Meddy’s US visa was declined, and he will be unable to join us at the Consortium of Universities for Global Health (CUGH) annual conference.  I have traveled to a multitude of countries (16) across five continents and have been met with nothing but hospitality. Never once have I been denied a visa to any of these wonderful places. I’ve never even worried about it. To be able to explore the world as such is a privilege, I know, but the robbing of these same opportunities to others by those in power is unforgivable. Travel (freedom of movement) is a basic human right. 

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As an American, I am ashamed. I have now had two virtuous friends denied traveling permits to the US, Meddy and #morethanadriver Abdul, based on unfounded American preconceptions and prejudice. These two responsible men represent no threat and neither would remain in the United States. However, our government is now practically unable to function because of the fear of ‘non-Americans’ entering into our “free” country. Many (like our current President) argue that allowing too many outsiders into our country poses a physical and economic threat. These arguments have been repeatedly proven to be false and, well, in my evidence-based opinion, the United States would be better off with diverse people like Meddy and Abdul in it. A great blog I found about the freedom of travel (and benefits of immigration) can be found here. The real harm of denying our partners’ visas doesn’t lie the US. Our RUFC Ugandan partners serve as role-models to the upcoming generation of East African youth and have an irreplaceable role to influence positive change. Allowing them the opportunity to travel, share and learn is critical in developing them into future leaders. If youth with ideas and talents to share are not given the chance to overcome their perceived status, then how, as a society, can we ever progress? If important colleagues and workers are denied the right to travel and present their own ideas, will prejudice not remain?  Are we Americans supposed to simply stand in and deliver the work of the passionate volunteers and social revolutionaries with whom we work?  Yesterday I was blessed to listen to a selection of stellar poems by Emtithal Mahmoud, and it reminded me that all across the world stories are being silenced. She spoke about her Father’s best friend being killed because he knew too much about government corruption and how the government covered it up. She spoke about how it was our responsibility as global citizens to keep record so those in power do not tarnish the reputation and legacy of those we hold dear.
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 Here is my record: The RUFC research to be presented at CUGH belongs to my Ugandan colleagues and it matters who presents the data. I believe that as Americans involved in development programs, we must insist that the intelligent men and women who are doing their utmost to help those in need in their own communities are able to tell their own stories, in their own voice, in person to audiences all over the world. The stripping of such opportunity is synonymous with robbing them of their human rights to equality, movement and expression.

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