With a love for fashion in January of 2013 Alyxandra Yankaskas was gearing up to submit her application to study fashion abroad in Italy. The night before she was planning on submitting she had a dream that would alter her future. “I saw my computer crashing down inexplicably as I attempted to finalize paperwork to be in Italy,” said Yankaskas. “Then abruptly it cut to a vision of myself sprinting through the Entebbe International Airport in Uganda, eerily specific if you ask me. Mind you, I didn’t know anything about Uganda at the time. No clue where it was or why I would have any desire to be there. That next morning, I couldn’t shake the strangest feeling that Uganda was where I was meant to be.” Yankaskas never submitted application to study abroad and instead found a ministry that was looking for volunteers to serve doing medical missions in Uganda for two months. “I don’t know why I had that dream, or where it came from, but I am forever grateful for it,” she said. “It was the kick start to the incredible journey I’ve been so blessed to have thus far.”
For those of you that never read international news, lets put Uganda into perspective. It’s a country in East Africa and one of the poorest nations in the world. In 2012, 37.8% of the population lived on less than $1.25 a day. Poverty remains deep-rooted in the country’s rural areas, 90% of all rural women work in the agriculture, working about 15 hours per day, as compared to men, who work between 8 and 10 hours a day. Homosexuality is very illegal, child labor is common and torture is a widespread practice with law enforcement. This is not Hawaii.
For most, these facts alone would ensure never setting foot in Uganda. Yet Yankaskas packed her bags and embraced the uncertain mission. Right off the plane it was her first time in a third world country and “it shattered my universe,” recalls Yankaskas. “I started to question everything I knew- my beliefs, my values, my purpose. I struggled to process it all at first. After a serious breakdown, I learned that such challenges are healthy and so beneficial. I now value the experiences that force you to ask questions. It’s the only way to grow as a person.”
On her first trip, she served on a medical mission for Loving One by One working with children and their families at clinics offering aid and instrumental support. She then took time to serve at orphanages to work and play with the children. “These kids have nothing but are filled with so much love and joy and exuded so much radiance,” she recalls.
Yankaskas has since returned three separate times since her initial visit. The following year she received an internship with an inspirational non-profit called Krochet Kids Intl. that allowed her to live and work in Uganda for six months. “I worked with 150 ladies every day to empower them to rise above poverty,” she said. “Naturally, such work built strong, meaningful relationships, all of which I am incredibly grateful for, and continue to maintain to this day.”
Yankaskas most recent trip to Uganda came up very unexpected after she received a late night phone call from a friend she had met the previous year in Uganda. Yankaskas was asked if she could help execute a new project there. “One of the greatest parts about travelling is crossing paths with the most amazing, unexpected people who are doing awesome things across the globe,” said Yankaskas. “My response was simply, ‘obviously, yes!’ and ten hours later, I was on a plane back to Uganda for another month helping to build outdoor computer hubs in communities throughout the country for Projects for All-Project Hello World. It was an incredible, humbling experience to provide families access to something so many of us take for granted, computers.”
Aside from Yankaskas trips to Uganda her most recent adventure was to Montserrat (a tiny island in the West Indies). “I have never been to a more genuine place,” she recalls. “From the people, to the beaches, to the slow island pace of living, Montserrat accepts itself for what it is, a small, beautiful island that welcomes the free-spirited. It has yet to be filled with five-star resorts and tourist attractions, and I truly hope it never does. There’s a simplicity, authenticity, and peacefulness there that is unlike anything else I have ever experienced.”
From her travel experience Yankaskas has some advice to those who want to venture outside their comfort zone. “Decide what type of experience you hope to have through your travels before you go,” she says. “You want to relax by the pool and have bottomless frozen drinks? Great! Find that! You want to hike the tallest summit in Africa? Good for you (I could never)! Find that! You want to know what it’s like to live in a new place and become a “local”? Awesome! Find a way to do that! Whatever the case, try your best to pinpoint what it is that is drawing you somewhere and do some research. You’re the one that’s in control of your trip, make it what you want it to be.”
The second piece of advice could be the most obvious but sometimes the hardest. “Just do it!” she exclaims. “Sometimes cheesy clichés hold so much truth to them. This one has yet to let me down. If you have any desire to travel, even the tiniest itch, just go. Accept that there will never be a “perfect” time or “perfect” scenario to do so. Know there will always be people who think you’re absolutely crazy for wanting to, but in the end, who cares? If it’s in your heart to travel, find a way to make it happen. I’ve yet to meet anyone who has regretted that decision.”
Although she embraces the planet with an open mind there is still one aspect that remains unsettling. “The ocean absolutely terrifies me,” she says. “It’s way too big. It’s dark. There’s so much of it that I won’t ever understand. Yet it is my favorite part of nature. There’s an indescribable beauty to it that draws me to it. I become completely mesmerized by it and can’t fight the urge to dive in and be completely immersed in it. I like to think that’s how I view life, in general. It’s scary and it’s unknown, but I’ll be diving in headfirst to experience all the beauty that comes with it.”
Yankaskas will soon be heading to the Philippines working with a Child Life Foundation based in Manila, supporting children in hospitals to help prepare them for their medical experience. “I’ll be getting clinical experience in a field that I love while simultaneously living and immersing myself in a brand new culture. I cannot wait.” For the time being Yankaskas resides in Los Angeles to recharge. “I can’t help but think of how big this world is,” she says. “There’s so much more to experience, and I plan to do so. ‘Adventure is out there’ and I intend on finding it.”
Follow Alyxandra on Instagram at Alyx_witha_y