Whitney Deal is taking a 14,000-mile detour in her trip home to Dalton, Ga., for the holidays after exams at the College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences of Mercer University. She and eight other Mercer pharmacy students boarded a plane to Kampala, Uganda, on Tuesday, Dec. 11, to volunteer at Dwelling Places, a transitional rehabilitation that fosters children who have been affected by a variety of things, including the nation’s recent civil war, or who have been orphaned by the AIDS epidemic.
“It came about last year when a few of us wanted to plan a mission trip to Africa,” said Deal, president of Mercer’s chapter of Christian Pharmacist Fellowship International. “There were some open doors for us as I was doing research on finding a trip. Those open doors led us to Dwelling Places, and everything has fallen together nicely. It really seems meant to be.”
Volunteering along with the nine students are two Mercer alumni and two friends of the group. While in Africa, they will work in a destitute area of the city called Katwe, where they will repair homes, plant gardens or work and play with children. Aside from the service work at Dwelling Places, the group intends to become immersed in the African culture, attending a church, traveling in the community and teaching and playing with the children in the homes where they are staying, before arriving back in Atlanta on Dec. 22.
Each individual was responsible for raising funds needed for the trip. Most are being supported through their churches, family and friends, while others put aside money from their work. For the past two months, they have been busy soliciting needed items and supplies to take to the children with whom they will be working.
“When I first got the list of items that Dwelling Places needed, I was overwhelmed and just knew we wouldn’t be able to collect everything,” said Deal. “But, I have been completely overwhelmed by the response. We have surpassed out goals.
“We asked a local private Christian school to donate their old black shoes that are similar to the ones that the children wear to school in Uganda,” added the third-year pharmacy student. “We have about 50 pairs.”
Among the many items going in the big plastic storage bins that the students are taking as part of their luggage are bed linens, toothbrushes and toothpaste, soap, school supplies, socks and underwear.
In addition to Deal, Mercer students involved include third-year students Nadeje Aurubin of Miami, Fla.; Tanea Chane of Minneapolis, Minn.; Amanda Karwisch of Fayetteville, Ga.; Brian Keys of Tucker, Ga.; Cimeon Koebel of McDonough, Ga., and Evan Nix of Norcross, Ga., and second-year students Chloe Ledford of Calhoun, Tenn., and Ashley Patrick of Ringgold, Ga. Others on the mission trip are Dr. Scarlet Warren Holcombe, a 1991 Mercer pharmacy graduate, of Leesburg, Ga.; Amanda Woodward, a 2007 Mercer College of Liberal Arts graduate, of Brooks, Ga.; Jay Page, a senior at the United States Air Force Academy, Colorado, and Earnest Womack, a graduate of Morehouse College, Atlanta.
“We chose Dwelling Places because they bring hope and give life to children who have none,” said Deal. “With no record of their birth, no social security number and no family, these children fall through the cracks and become invisible. What better way to spend our Christmas break – not shopping for gifts that will be forgotten in a few months, but instead giving the gift of life to children whom everyone else has forgotten.”