National Security Major Passionate About Volunteer Work in Uganda
For Laney Phillips ’22, her involvement with a children’s home in Uganda has enabled her to help improve – and, in some cases, save – the lives of children. Her experience has given her a new perspective while strengthening her desire to make a meaningful difference in the world.
January 27, 2022
By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications
When Laney Phillips ’22 first learned about Noah’s Ark Children’s Ministry Uganda in 2015, she knew immediately that she wanted to get involved with the children’s home and support its important work in any way she could. Now a team leader and recruiter for the organization, she says she can’t imagine her life without the kids she has connected with in Uganda.
Phillips has visited NACMU in central Uganda four times. While there, she has done everything from help care for the babies, create dance parties for the teenagers, and support the medical clinic. She says each of her visits has been very different, enabling her to get to know the kids and other volunteers, take photos of the kids for their sponsors, and help create an awareness video.
Serving as a team leader on her third trip, Phillips, who is from Orr’s Island, ME, assembled a group of volunteers from her local high school and area organizations, and then introduced them to the teenagers at NACMU. She says the teenagers in Uganda had often asked her to bring other teenagers to meet them, and that it was fulfilling to help make that happen. As a leader, she was also an important source of support for the teenage volunteers.
“People always say they want to help but don’t think they can,” she said. “It’s easy to be overwhelmed with all that is going on at NACMU, but I tell the volunteers to pick an aspect that they’d like to focus on. Some volunteers then go to help in the nursery, take photos of the children for sponsors, play basketball, or teach a vocational skill.”
‘There’s something magical that happens’
Her most recent trip – shortly before the pandemic – focused on medical support, and she and her fellow volunteers brought a variety of critical medical supplies, including gloves and face masks. It was on that trip that she had a particularly meaningful experience while on an ambulance call responding to a baby that had been left on the side of the road.
“He was about a week old and completely abandoned,” Phillips recalls. “He needed a name, and the doctor asked what my name would’ve been if I had been a boy. Eli is now 2 years old, and I can’t wait to watch him grow up and go to school. There’s nothing like the feeling of reflection and knowing we saved that child’s life. I’ve experienced multiple moments like this one, and it’s indescribable.”
Phillips is also moved by the feeling of joy she feels when she visits Uganda, particularly when she sees the children’s displays of joy – lots of dancing, smiling, and hugs. She is also inspired by the stories of the kids, and especially, by their resilience.
One particular 5-year-old child was brought to NACMU with severe malnourishment and his legs crippled. Born with a disease that caused his legs to be frail and nearly immobile, he had spent the first five years of his life buried in the ground to his waist, as his family was following the advice of a witch doctor. Now, 14 years later, the boy has received the proper treatment and is one of the most frequent winners of NACMU dance competitions. He enjoys basketball and is considering becoming a chef.
“There’s something magical that happens when you get to help rescue these children and then come back every year and watch them grow up,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to make a difference in my life – rather than just talking about it – and I’m honored to be able to say that I have. It’s profound to reflect on my time at Noah’s Ark and be able to see the lives I’ve been able to change and, in some cases, save.”
‘A more global approach to international relations’
Phillips initially got involved by fundraising for Safe Landing Ministries, the American nonprofit branch of NACMU, and she is now a member of its board of directors. Safe Landing Ministries helps find sponsors for children and raise awareness of NACMU, which runs a children’s home, primary and secondary school, nursery, and medical clinic. It also offers social and medical outreach programs in the local community.
Currently fundraising and recruiting volunteers for the next trip to Uganda, the timing of which is still undetermined, Phillips hopes to return as soon as she can. She looks forward to continuing to volunteer as a team leader, building teams that will spend a few weeks at a time at NACMU. She is particularly interested in focusing on videography on an upcoming trip in an effort to increase social media presence and awareness of NACMU.
“As I tell people who are interested in going: making a difference begins with taking a step forward. Why not take the step?” she said.
Phillips says she feels “honored and humbled” to have been a part of NACMU’s mission. Her work in Uganda has strengthened her desire to help others, and it has shaped her outlook as a national security major. While she aspires to pursue a position in intelligence and earn her doctorate, she says her involvement with NACMU has enabled her to cultivate new interests within national security and international relations, and she is considering human rights work.
“I’m fortunate to have a more global approach to international relations,” she said. “Experiencing a place such as Uganda will alter your outlook on America entirely. It’s something that I believe everyone should experience, especially in the national security field. After seeing a family of five sitting on the side of the road and the siblings breaking each other’s legs to beg, that will change your perspective.”