I shared in a previous post that my favorite word is “ubuntu.” The quote above from Archbishop Desmond Tutu explains, in good detail, the meaning of this word. When people ask me what this word means, I explain that it is an African philosophy that loosely means “I am because you are.” A lot of people ask me about this word because I have it tattooed on my foot*. I totally thought my parents were going to kill me for getting a tattoo, but when I explained the word, it’s meaning, and why it was important to me, I think they were pretty okay with it.


I’ve always had a heart for serving others. I volunteered a lot in high school but it wasn’t until college that I truly felt a calling to help others who were not as fortunate as I am– I think I have my sociology classes to thank for that. I also decided to become a teacher because I realized it was the perfect way to continue to serve others (I still remember the phone call I made to my mom during my sophomore year of college when I had an “epiphany” that teaching was what I felt called to do). I am a firm believer that education should be society’s equalizer and while it definitely isn’t (don’t get me started), I want to do my part to try to make it that for the kids that come through my classroom door.

I traveled to Africa twice during my time at Gonzaga to engage in servant leadership and to work with future teachers. I fell in love with Zambia. I could ramble for hours about my time there but I’ll sum up the best part in two words: the people. I was halfway around the world but felt like I was at home. It was here, living in community with my peers and new Zambian friends, that I learned about this word.

Ubuntu connects me to Africa and also fully encompasses my belief that we belong to each other. It doesn’t matter what language we speak, where we live, our socioeconomic status, our education level, our differing beliefs in a higher power, etc; we are connected. We need to think of others more than we think of ourselves and having the word tattooed on my foot is my constant reminder to continue to do my “little bit of good” because, according again to Desmond Tutu, “it’s those little bits of goods that come together to overwhelm the world.” Teaching is my “little bit of good.” My little bits of good are also when I smile at whoever I pass by on the street or when I give my extra granola bar to someone who needs it more than me or when I hold the door open for someone. I know it’s cliche to say, but if we all remembered how connected to each other we are, think about how different our world would be.

And here is a tangent that I just couldn’t help but write: I think this word is especially important with everything go on right now. I don’t particularly like politics, nor do I usually follow them too much (this will probably be the only time all this is discussed) because the finger pointing, the “us” versus “them” mentality, and the hypocriticalness of it all just makes me frustrated. With that though, I believe that all people should be treated with kindness and respect. We may not agree with each other on lots of things, but one thing I think we can all agree on is that everyone deserves to be treated with kindness. Also, every person deserves basic human rights and to be treated with dignity**. Ubuntu perfectly embodies this belief. I would love each of my students to always do their homework and get As on every assignment, but what I want more is for them to walk out of my classroom knowing their worth and knowing that how they treat others says more about them than their future college degree. Maybe if our politicians had teachers who thought the same thing, we’d see a much different country.

I realize this post is basically a stream of consciousness (and totally longer than I intended). Really, I just wanted to share why the word ubuntu is so important to me. We need to remember how we are tied up in others and how our actions have a direct impact on those around us. And I hope that ubuntu is now your favorite word, too. 🙂

*The second most asked question about my tattoo (after “What does Ubuntu mean?”) is “Why is it all messed up?” It’s not messed up; it’s the most beautiful handwriting in the world. My sister, Erin, is quadriplegic and my tattoo is in her handwriting. I had to help steady her hand as she wrote it for me and I love that I am able to take a little bit of her everywhere I go. Erin has also taught me so much about this word so it is only fitting that I used her handwriting.

**I get beyond irritated when Erin is stared at or treated differently because people don’t understand her disability (like when a friend, in high school, asked me if I was embarrassed of her instead of asking ABOUT her. And the answer to that was and always will be a resounding NO, I AM NOT) or don’t think she is just as capable as someone else (because let me tell you, she is the most capable person that I know). This helps give me context in relation to other people and situations that I may not understand/be aware of/have experience with. People may be different and we may not understand the differences, or agree with them, but that doesn’t make them any less of a person or mean that they deserve to be treated as anything less than a person.


2 thoughts on “Ubuntu

  1. Sarah, this is so beautiful. Of course, it brought tears to my eyes, but that’s OK! You express yourself so well, and I love reading your posts.


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