The Girl In the Blue Dress

I’ve been in love with this photo from the moment I took it last July in Northern Uganda. There was something about the girl in the blue dress that I couldn’t turn away from. This was a girl, probably no older than thirteen, who lifted a 40-pound jerry can of water onto her head with such ease and grace that would shock many adults here in the US. As she balanced the jerry can and began to make her way back home, I caught her slowing her pace and letting her eyes wander to the field of elephant grass that broke down the middle, carrying a footpath that would bring her back to her evening chores undoubtedly awaiting her back at her family’s compound.

When I took this shot, I wondered whether this girl who carried so much weight on her shoulders (literally and figuratively) had ever been lucky enough to attend school. Had her family been able to provide her with the opportunity to have her mind opened to all the wonders of the world, which she’d definitely heard other uniform-clad students from her village discuss? Had she been told that someone believed she could become a doctor or a lawyer or an artist? Did anyone ever encourage her to dream about the impossible? Did she realize her power to change the world?

I thought back to our school in Namasale. The same wonder and consideration that was present in the eyes of the girl in the blue dress was also present in so many of the children we’d met in Namasale. I tried to imagine these same children sitting at a desk, feeling proud of their new uniforms and knowing that they’d been given a chance at creating a future that was entirely free of boundaries. It gives me chills to think about what these kids will become twenty years from now. The students at our Leadership Academy may become the next President of Uganda or a biochemical engineer who creates a pill to cure HIV or maybe even the next Chinua Achebe or a war-stopping activist like Leymah Gbowee. Their potential is infinite—if only they are given the tools to unlock it.

I look at this girl’s photo all the time. Her photo has inspired so many considerations in my mind and filled my own eyes with wonder just as hers were. I hope with so much of my heart the Universe allows for me to cross paths with the girl in the blue dress again someday. I hope that I’ll be able to speak with her and learn her name and tell her how much she’s inspired me. But more than anything, I hope that instead of carrying a heavy jerry can, she’s carrying school books, pencils and lightness in her step, proud of the bright future that awaits her at the end of path through the elephant grass all the way to school.