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Skip Navigation LinksDiscover > Magazine > September 2009 > Mission for kids > Lance Wilson's journal

Journal of my time in Uruguay, June 2009

By Lance Wilson
Key Club International trustee
and ambassador to UNICEF


Lance WilsonQuestions

What are you most looking forward to during your trip to Uruguay?
I am looking forward to the opportunity to meet some of the children from the area and experience their lifestyle. I am also excited to visit the city and see the architecture and technology involved.

Why did you decide to go on this trip?
I decided to go on this trip because I wanted to see firsthand the underprivileged children and teens who don’t have the same rights that I do as a U.S. citizen and bring back the awareness to other American teens. I think that once people realize the calamity some kids are facing in other countries they will help out.

What do you hope to learn or gain from you trip to Uruguay?
I hope to gain a new sense of humbleness from the trip and develop enough understanding of the families’ lifestyle to be able to come back and educate others in the Kiwanis family. 

What do you expect to accomplish on your trip to Uruguay?
I expect to learn a more about the misfortune of adolescents in the country and from that hopefully the four of us ambassadors can provide enough insight into Operation Uruguay to encourage more people to become involved.

How is daily life in Uruguay different from your life?
Daily life in Uruguay is much different from my daily life. For instance, the students go to school for one of three blocks or shifts during the day. Also, it seems the parents lack the knowledge of the whereabouts of their children compared to my parents who like to check up and know where I am. There is also a major difference in poverty and upper class living.  Some children live in shacks and separate garbage for a living while others sport name-brand clothes and live in the nicer homes and apartments.

What is most surprising to you about children in Uruguay?
The children are just like me in so many ways.  We like to have fun, meet people and play sports. And the kids always do this happily and gleefully, no matter the circumstance.

How did your experience in Uruguay differ from your idea of how it would be?
The city of Montevideo is much more developed than I expected it to be. The parents and children who line the beach seem to be happy and loving. Parents take their children for a stroll often and participate in soccer games and even couples tour the city on their motorcycles. Also, the custom here is to eat often and that was definitely to my delight.

Who have you most enjoyed meeting on this trip?
I have most enjoyed getting to know the adolescents in the Mandalavos Center. The kids there were typically early teens and they all enjoyed our visit. We were all sent back with gifts and cards from the multitude of kids we met. During our time we managed to make new friends, played fun activities and broke the language barrier. It was a terrific experience that everyone benefitted from.

Which memory from Uruguay sticks out in your mind most? Why?
We passed through the slums at one point to witness some of the harshest lifestyles. The slums were basically a few sheets of metal propped up to create a home in an area that looked similar to a battleground and had debris spread across the yards. And as we passed a young girl hid her face from the van so as not to be seen or recognized. It really stood out that a child could grow up with such low self-esteem and embarrassment that she couldn’t bear to show her face to an audience. It’s hard to comprehend growing up with that kind of mentality.

What would you tell your friends at home about your experience?
I would relate to my day to day experiences and explain that kids there are very much like us.  We like to play sports. They like to play sports. We love meeting new faces. So does just about everyone there. And I would also encourage my friends to visit another country and witness firsthand how graced we are. 

Do you think your trip to Uruguay has changed your perspective on life? Why or why not?
I believe that it has. It has shown that friends and good role models are one of the greatest necessities in life and without those, people can struggle. I can’t thank peers and adults enough for giving me tips and guiding me along throughout my life. Many of the centers and programs taking place in Uruguay are focusing on that. Using adults as peers to help guide adolescents along in life.

What messages about this trip will you bring back to your Key Club, your community and your friends?
First off, that I had a wonderful time meeting young teens who were thrilled to interact with me. And secondly, that people are struggling. But through UNICEF and the work that it is implementing, it could drastically change the lifestyles of these struggling teens and families for the better. 

Saturday, June 6

Travel day:  I left Memphis at 11:15 a.m. and made it in time to briefly see Jared in Dallas before my flight into Miami that, after a few minor delays, landed at 6:30 ET; Abigail and I had Chili’s for dinner and met Mike and Ellen at the gate for flight 943 to Buenos Aires. Jared and Anna arrived sometime later and we also met our camera and audio crew, Bobby and Frank.

Sunday, June 7

The eight-hour flight to Buenos Aires, Argentina, proved to go smoothly, with help from the movie Confessions of a Shopaholic and the meals. We somehow managed to find time to sleep between those. We had to wear masks upon our arrival due to the H1N1 virus, however. The flight to Montevideo was a short 25 minutes and once we arrived we set off for the hotel. The scenery was lovely and the civilians were very family-oriented. Many people spent the day walking the beach or participating in soccer games. We also received a tour of Montevideo including a panoramic view of the city from its highest point. After that we went to a restaurant near the hotel where we ate steak, pizza and ravioli before calling it a night and preparing for the next day.

Monday, June 8

We woke up and headed to the UNICEF office building to brief on some of the problems facing children growing up in Uruguay and prepared for our trip to the Las Piedras. Once we arrived at Las Piedras and the Mandalavos Center, we were greeted by the adolescent welcome committee and discussed a few things about ourselves. We went outside to start some ping-pong tournaments and meet all the new faces before eating a lunch of roast beef, rice and bread.  Afterwards, we went on a guided tour of Las Piedras to visit a few schools where the children attend and several parks and historical sites. We returned and had a nice snack before sitting back and watching the cinemas which were prepared by Mandalavos. Thankfully, they had subscript in English since we couldn’t understand Spanish. We went to a retreat house after that, called Emaus. Here we ate a wonderful dinner of steaks, sausages and a variety of meats. We sat around the fire and played games and colored drawings and bonded with many kids before returning to the sleeping quarters only to have a pillow fight with the rest of the boys before eventually turning in.

Tuesday, June 9

We woke up to have breakfast at 8:30 and departed Emaus shortly after. We went to the high school, Liceo 4, to meet with the headmaster and assistants as she described some of the programs the school is doing to benefit the teens. When the meeting concluded, we headed back to the Mandalavos Center to do a few more activities and more ping-pong tournaments and sparring with the boxing bag. We ate lunch together and quietly proceeded to sit down around the room and reflect on how our visit has impacted everyone. It was a short, sad goodbye, but came much easier when we realized we would once again join them for lunch in two days. We left to return to Montevideo and the El Abrojo office to sit in on another PowerPoint presentation describing the various programs installed to benefit the children. We went back to the hotel afterwards and ate dinner at the same place we ate the first night.

Wednesday, June 10

We were up early this morning to do separate interviews about our visit and reasons for being a part of UNICEF. We then went to the Defensa de los Ninos Internacional (DNI) office. The briefing included the actions taken when a juvenile commits a crime and the assisted programs they could be involved in. We then went to a small community-based center that promoted child rights and ate a nice meal of sandwiches and desserts. We received a small tour and visited some other schools for preschoolers and elementary school children. We also visited the three story mall and witnessed a much higher class of civilians and nice, quality stores. We met up with some of the UNICEF representatives afterwards and ate dinner at a nice, local restaurant called La Otra.

Thursday, June 11

We woke up and packed before departing for the UNICEF office again to evaluate our visit and let everyone know our new thoughts and awareness of Uruguay and children’s rights. We completed another tour of Montevideo where we saw museums and other statues and landmarks. We also shopped on a street that seemed to be mainly for tourists so we purchased a few items. We then met up with the adolescents from the Mandalavos Center and ate at a nice restaurant called Mercado del Puerto. The children presented us with many gifts and cards expressing their thoughts about us and the hope we gave them by showing that children across the world care about them. They gave us a tour of the beach front and we raced down a stone pier as a group and met many fishers and further bonded with the teens before saying our goodbyes for a second time. We then returned to retrieve our bags and return to the airport to depart the country. Other than Jared’s delayed and cancelled flights, everything went pretty smoothly and we left with a new sense of well being and caring, I believe.