FullSoul blog

No Winners

By Greg


Imagine you are a bus driver. You work decent hours, make a decent living. It’s enough, anyway, to feed and support your family, who relies on your income.

Now imagine Covid-19 arrives. The government announces the closure of all non-essential workplaces. All modes of public transportation are banned until further notice. All of a sudden, you are told you are not allowed to work. You return home to your family, not having enough money to provide any meals for who knows how long.

Obviously, you need to figure out a way to acquire some money. Maybe you dip into your savings. Maybe you turn to your spouse, who didn’t lose their job. Maybe you just need to live frugally for a while. Or maybe you need to apply to a government social benefit program designed to help people like you get through the crisis.

But imagine you live in Uganda. Imagine your government does not have the resources or the capacity to implement a social benefit program that helps every person like you. Maybe you adhere to the cultural norm of relying on one income, yours, while your spouse looks after your family. Perhaps that family consists of 8 members, which while might be a little above average is certainly not uncommon in your district. Maybe you make just enough to frugally pay the bills during normal times. And as a result, maybe you don’t have savings.

What do you do?

For hundreds and maybe thousands of bus drivers here, this scenario was a reality. So, what did they do?

Well, it’s not as if the demand decreased. Everybody still wanted to go to work because they needed their income in order to survive. In the first few days of the bus ban, bus drivers began using private cars as modified buses. It was comical watching 10 people climb out of sedans all at once, but it worked at first. It was the only way to make money.

This was obviously a dangerous measure that had the potential to spread the virus. However, it wasn’t definitively against the rules, and so it was done. In response, a new rule was almost immediately put in place restricting the maximum number of people in a vehicle at one time to 3.

You can probably guess what happened next. The weeks following saw the situation evolve into a back-and-forth of loopholes, law-bending, and increasingly stricter regulations. Drivers’ strategies constantly adapted, from lying on the floors of vans to packing people on motorcycles, and more. Roadblocks and checkpoints started showing up everywhere. Drivers were threatened with arrest, all while covid continued to become more rampant. This all eventually led to the banishment of all non-essential vehicles, leaving many families without stable sources of income.

So, who is to blame?

You can’t blame the government. They were doing what was required to stop the spread of a deadly virus. If they hadn’t eventually banned all vehicles, it’s likely there would be a lot more cases in Uganda right now. Yes, one might argue that it is their duty to protect their people with social welfare programs, and they have tried, but not all governments in the world have the resources or capacity to implement that sort of thing in a way that helps every single person in need. Especially not in developing countries.

You also can’t blame the bus drivers. They will do whatever it takes to keep their families alive and healthy, as they should. They require earnings to put food on the family table. Is it irresponsible of them to have so many people rely on a single income? How could it be, when family sizes and dynamics are cultural norms passed down for hundreds of years.

This pandemic is affecting people in ways you wouldn’t think of in Uganda. What is happening with the bus drivers is just an example, but this type of thing is happening within industries all over. Governments are forced to implement extreme measures to stop the spread. Citizens are then forced to bend or break the law to stay alive. This causes governments to become stricter and begin an endless cycle in which there are no winners.

The point is, in situations this complex there is no clear party at fault. Neither side is one you can easily point to and assign blame. This story demonstrates that sometimes there is no easy solution, especially in difficult times. There has been no clean resolve, no concise closure. There is no clear path out of this. The best way outsiders can help at this point is by sharing observations and the lessons they teach us in hopes of encouraging the fostering of a globalized community built on the fundamental understanding of each other’s struggles. That is the reality of the situation. There is nothing else anyone can do.


P.S. You may be wondering what the bus drivers are doing now. The truth is we really do not know. We no longer see any vehicles on the road other than government vehicles. The good news is the number of covid-19 cases in Uganda has stayed very low, reaching 74 this week. However, we have not seen any bus drivers in weeks. We hope and assume they have adapted to the situation and found other ways to support their families.

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By Serena

Kampala Graffiti

Greetings to those who love mamas. I certainly do. After all, where would we be without ours? The answer is nonexistent. I’ve always admired the level of devotion that one takes on in having a child. I hope the day will come when I too will be ready for this experience and be able to cherish the sensation of my changing body, expanding to make room for another. Since arriving in Uganda and having the opportunity to observe what goes on in a labour ward, I have a newfound respect for mothers, all over the world. These women undergo so much and literally sustain humankind in the process, yet their value often goes unrecognized. This is especially the case in the current context I find myself in. I have so far witnessed around 15 births and each time I have been struck anew by the sheer grit these women possess. The labour ward seems to emanate a collective strength as mothers endure the gruelling process of labour. As an onlooker, I am struck over and over by the raw intensity and unequivocal power of these women. This force does not only emerge from the delivering mothers, but also from the midwives in the room helping to facilitate the births. The midwives encourage the mothers to push just once more, offering in that moment of desperation, the motivation to do what seems like the impossible. The pull of the unmistakable energy that flows between mother and midwife draws me in, flooding my senses in its ferocity and inspiring me to find my own. After all, this type of strength is exclusive to women. We have been gifted the unique ability to endure and I have yet to see a more impressive display of this than in the labour wards. The ability of these women to make do in circumstances rife with challenges, speaks to this gift of endurance. As a fellow woman, I can’t help but be filled with a flutter of pride. On another note, I am also overtaken by profound disappointment. I am aghast as to why this is the rung of the ladder that has been reserved for women in this society. I am certain that this rung is higher than it has been in the past, but it is still resulting in prolific disempowerment. This disempowerment comes in many shapes and forms. Perhaps the worst one of all, is the disregard on behalf of the government in providing adequate supplies for medical facilities, a measure which has impacted countless lives. Women and children are arguably the most vulnerable groups in a population, who can easily become affected by health problems. Resultingly, they should be prioritized rather than neglected. In my eyes, this is most conducive to a just society. My work with FullSoul will not directly change the societal structure at large, but I hope that through fulfilling our mission, which is to help medical practitioners better protect the health and safety of mothers and their babies, we manage to empower these women. I hope that this empowerment trickles its way into like forms and ongoing efforts elsewhere in society. I am most hopeful that another rung on the ladder may be reached. Given the fortitude of these women, I am sure this will come in due time. I will end with a sentiment expressed by John Stuart Mill on the nature of women: “It is a subject on which, nothing final can be known”. As author Tara Westover points out, his revelation comes from the assertion that women have had to contort themselves into patriarchal lines for so long, that it is now impossible to ascertain their natural abilities. I marvel once again at the resilience of women, what the women I encounter in the hospitals have managed to accomplish in spite of, and the untapped potential that still exists. We are limitless. Happy Belated International Women’s Day!

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“You are Welcome”

By Serena


As I write, I am comfortably sitting on our vast balcony overlooking the so-far mystical Mukono. People’s homes can be seen interspersed on a sloping hillside lush with greenery. The apricot rooftops seamlessly fit into the landscape and nestle into the gentle curving edges and rounds as if they have always been one. Almost directly adjacent to my perch, a grand mosque obscures my view of some of the slopeside homes. The air is ripe with sound. My ears are encompassed by the chirping of birds, the sputtering of passing boda boda’s (motorbikes), the clucking of nearby chickens, the bustling horns of traffic and if I focus in closely enough, I can just barely pick up the soft rustling of leaves dancing in the breeze. The sights and sounds, all fresh to my eyes and ears seem to be brimming with possibility. Liminality reverberates in my surroundings, yet there is more to it than merely confronting the foreign. The novelty of foreignness is familiar to me. I have been to many places where foreign has been the cornerstone, at least if considered from my vantage point. This is something different.

The transience comes from being in a position imbued with temporality. There is a strange power that comes with knowing that each intern before us has had an experience akin to our own, apt to their own variations. Some have stood on the very balcony I am currently sitting on and have even been privy to the same view. It is likely that they too brought with them a sense of eagerness to advance the movement towards an equitable society. The very origins of FullSoul came from one such experience, through its founder: Christina Hassan. Her experience has amplified into a cycle of experiences, fuelled by intention. Intention has unfolded over and over and has unfailingly latched anew onto others. We are inextricably linked. Each of us has been united in the common pursuit of protecting the health of Ugandan mothers and their babies.

Perhaps, this is why the landscape seems to be alit with possibility. My surroundings are remnant with the like-minded aspirations of those once in our place and have become imbued in my perception. With each new delight comes a sense of awe, made all the more pertinent through its very sharedness. The sharedness comes in trying a Rolex, a popular Ugandan dish, for the first time. It comes in meeting locals and being able to put faces to the names past interns have recounted in their stories and playing with the kids that neighbour our guesthouse, who we had heard so much about. It comes in going to the market and coming across a vendor who fondly recalled an intern once in our place. Each of these sentiments reinforces the sharedness and makes me hopeful for what is to come.

Already, I feel I’ve experienced a whirlwind of unfamiliarity, despite knowing that I have barely scratched the surface. For now, I relish the unfolding of intention certain to take place during mine and my fellow intern’s time here and hopefully long after we leave. I will also take comfort in the relationships the interns before us have managed to build, the work they have been able to accomplish and the mothers and babies they have managed to impact, from a journey that likely had a similar start to our own.

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Meet a FullSouler: Greg Hoerdt


Can you introduce yourself in a few words?

Hello! My name is Greg and I’m going into my 3rd year of Systems Design Engineering at the University of Waterloo. I was hired at FullSoul to be the Field Engineer, which means I will be working with Hansen and Serena on improving the Maternal Medical Kit program from a technical perspective. For this semester that includes implementing grants, helping to arrange for experts to come and give training sessions, and working with partners at the University back home on sterilization process design and optimization. Some of my hobbies and interests include tennis, playing music, backpacking, and sustainability research.

Can you tell us what you are looking forward to the most?

I’m looking forward to exploring a brand-new culture! I have always been interested in travel because it allows me to see people with completely different perspectives than anything I have seen before. Learning new languages and traditions is one of my favourite things to explore and I can’t wait to do so on a continent I have never visited before.

I am also very excited about the work we will be doing for FullSoul! This will be my first time working for a non-profit organization, and I am looking forward to being able to do unique work in such an important field. It should prove to be very different from the internships I have done in the past.

Did you get any interesting advice from previous interns or others to prep you for the trip?

Tons! The previous interns have given us advice on everything from how to befriend locals to how to plan meals with the foods available here. Overall they gave us comfort knowing they were able to succeed in a work and living environment so different from what we are used to.

What are the top 3 things you are for sure packing?

Books – very limited access to the internet means I will be able to read a ton, something I did when I was little but have had no time for since starting University

Language learning tools – I downloaded a Luganda textbook on my computer to help with vocabulary as we try to pick up the local language

Sunscreen and bug spray – Avoiding the Canadian winter is a great plus, but we’ll need to prepare for the sun and mosquitoes instead

How can we follow you on your journey?

The 3 of us will be managing the FullSoul Instagram account, as well as adding blog posts.

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Meet a FullSouler: Hansen Lu

Photo 2019-08-12, 12 37 01 PM

Hello!  My name is Hansen Lu, I was born in Beijing and raised in Toronto.  Growing up exposed to two different worlds has inspired me to travel and try to understand what we all share in common as humans.  I am going into my fourth year in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Waterloo with a biomechanical specialization.  I will be working with FullSoul as the project manager.  Now that the Global Grant has been approved, my time with FullSoul will be heavily dedicated to implementing new equipment and training.  In addition, I’ll be identifying design optimizations in the sterilization process of medical equipment in the local hospitals.  Fun fact about myself is that I love tree planting in British Columbia!  It’s an environmentally friendly, yet lucrative job.  National Geographic ranked it as one of the toughest jobs in Canada and it strengthened my confidence to face adversity.

Can you tell us what you are looking forward to the most? 

I’m looking forward to starting the decade by exploring Africa for the first time!  I’m excited to learn the lifestyle of Ugandans and experience the natural beauty of Africa.  This is also my first time working with an NGO and working with the locals will be an immersive opportunity to learn about the Ugandan culture.

Did you get any interesting advice from previous interns or others to prep you for the trip? 

Don’t eat too much Rolex.  Rolex is a popular street food in Uganda that’s made from rolled up omelet and dough.  I hope I don’t gravitate too much around it, because there is so much fresh meat and produce from the local market.

I love to work and experience things in person, rather than through a screen. To me, fulfillment is found in helping others and watching them excel.  Thank you for taking the time to read my blog post, Namaste!

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Meet a FullSouler: Serena Meghji


Hi, I’m Serena. I’m a Health Studies student at the University of Waterloo and will be entering my fourth and final year upon returning from Uganda. Until then, I will be working as FullSoul’s Public Health intern. Much of my work will relate to monitoring and evaluation of the Maternal Health Project during its implementation. This basically means that I will work alongside our stakeholders in order to better understand the activities of the program as they unfold. I am super excited to have arrived during a phase of the project, where I get to observe firsthand the culmination of all the hard work and dedication that has been invested by the FullSoul team to reach this point.

Fun Fact: My family is of East African descent. Both of my parents were born in Tanzania and immigrated to Canada as children. They have travelled back many times. I have only been once when I was just 8 years old. I’m happy to now be living in a country that is so close to where my family comes from and doing work to benefit mothers and babies who are not so far removed from my own origins.

Can you tell us what you are looking forward to the most?

What I am most looking forward to most is immersing myself into the culture and adjusting to a new version of normal. I love to travel and actively seek out novel experiences that challenge my current perception and worldview. I find that exposure to difference enables deeper understanding of oneself and is thus critical to growth. I also enjoy being exposed to diverse customs and ways of life and look forward to learning more about Ugandan culture during my internship. In addition, I am beyond ecstatic to get to enjoy the local produce and delicious foods that Mukono has to offer, which I would not be able to access at home.

Did you get any interesting advice from previous interns or others to prep you for the trip?

Some interesting advice I received that I will attempt to put into effect during my internship is to be useful to the midwives’ in any way I can while doing observation shifts. The previous interns told me that this eased the dynamics somewhat and was a great way to quickly become accustomed to the work environment. This will also allow me to more closely observe what is working well and what isn’t and gain a clearer understanding of how things are taking place from a grounded perspective. I also got the advice to pack Kraft Dinner from the previous interns, which I found quite funny. I have to admit that I did follow their advice.

What are the top 3 things you are for sure packing?

1. Movies-I made sure to upload a bunch of my favourites and a few that I’ve always wanted to watch on a USB stick. It will feel pleasantly odd to be watching a familiar film in such unfamiliar circumstances.
2. Snacks-I brought a bit of everything just in case I get a craving: chocolate, almonds, popcorn, and a couple boxes of Annie’s mac and cheese.
3. Flashlight-To be prepared for power outages.

How can we follow you on your journey?

My fellow interns and I will be sharing our experiences through FullSoul’s Instagram @fullsoulcanada https://www.instagram.com/fullsoulcanada/?hl=en  and the FullSoulCanada Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/FullSoulCanada. I will also relay some of my experience’s and reflections in a couple of blog posts.

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Snapshots of September (.. and October) – Reflecting on What We’ve Learned So Far

I think that every intern at FullSoul has experienced a whirlwind of questions and uncertainties the first time they step into the labour ward. For us it was no different. Even though each of us have our respective responsibilities, projects, and tasks for the Maternal Health Project, we all come into our positions as students ready to learn.

Alison has been working hard to iron out the last few details of FullSoul’s funding applications and implementation plans for next year, Anna is developing thorough evaluation and data collection plans to measure our expansion project’s impact, and Lorien is working with a few partnered organizations to answer questions about the patterns of tool sterilization that we’ve observed.

In addition to these specialized projects, each of us is working with University of Waterloo’s Oscar Nespoli to practice design thinking as it applies to our new setting. We meet with Oscar weekly to reflect upon a thought-provoking experience or need that we’ve observed, and we plan to dedicate part of our time in the second half of the co-op term to complete individual case studies based upon a need that inspires us.

This may sound vague; it sounded vague to us too, at first. But all three of us are finding that these assignments are becoming really powerful tools for us to reflect on gaps we see inside and outside of the labour ward. FullSoul is always looking for ways to expand its capabilities and address problems on all levels of maternal health. By engaging in this reflective practice, we give ourselves time to take a step back and ask why we notice the things we do during our observation shifts. The type of problems we may talk about may be about communication, they may be about ergonomics, or they may even be about environmental sustainability.

One of the exercises the three of us completed together was to try to find connections between problems that the other two had expressed. This was an interesting way to identify common themes between very diverse problems. It also helps us to ask questions about how maternal health may be impacted by factors that are far removed from the labour ward. We like teaming up in activities like this because each of us brings different ideas to the table, usually related our respective programs back at the University of Waterloo 🙂 

Because we are living and working in a culture and setting that is brand new to each of us, the weekly reflections have helped us to monitor the role that we play in our project with FullSoul’s partnered healthcare facilities. The practice of design thinking has put us in a strong learning mindset, which is essential both as co-op students and also as visitors to Uganda. We are thankful to our teachers: midwives, students, Rotarians, administrative staff, and other friends we’ve met so far along the way.

To commemorate the moments and memories we’ve made so far, here is a video;


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Meet a FullSouler: Alison Elliott


Heya, my name is Alison Elliott, I’m in my 3rd year of Planning, and I’m thrilled to be sharing my FullSoul experience! This will be my third co-op term, and my first international placement. I’ll be taking on the role of Project Manager, working alongside my colleagues Lorien and Anna to distinguish problems and solution in maternal health. I’ll individually be working on the ongoing Global Grant application with the Rotary Club of Uganda, the implementation plan, the FullSoul budgeting scheme, and the blogs/social media. I’m a very outgoing and adventurous person who loves skiing, horse riding, hiking and travelling. I’m very excited to begin this journey with FullSoul 🙂

Can you tell us what you are looking forward to the most? 

I’m most looking forward to embracing a new place. I’ve never been to Uganda, let alone Africa, and I know I’ll learn many valuable lessons when there; whether as simple as learning to cross the road or as complex as communication and personal growth. I’m also looking forward to building the FullSoul family and working for an NGO that has such an important call to arms. Never in my undergraduate degree did I think I would be working in an organisation in maternal/public health, and I now cannot wait to start doing so.

How are feeling as you prepare for your trip? 

Part of me is feeling extremely ready to jump into it, but part of me is quite nervous. I think the idea of being so far from home physically and not exactly knowing how often I’ll be able to contact home is scary. I think my colleagues and most past interns have felt the same way at times, and reasonably so! But all things considered, I am feeling excited and prepared to start working for FullSoul, and I know that once I’m settled in Uganda, I’ll feel settled in my mind as well. I am someone who can adapt easily and can see the positive side of situations, so I know that I’ll be okay!

Did you get any interesting advice from previous interns or others to prep you for the trip? 

One of the most important notes I got was from Olivia, the last terms project manager. She told me to be confident in myself and feel assured that I can do my job well. As a co-op student it’s easy to second-guess yourself and feel overwhelmed by the real time demands of the workforce, but she reminded me to take a breath and remember that I am capable of doing my job and doing it well.

What are the top 3 things you are for sure packing?

  1. Notebook: for journal and drawing purposes as well as note taking on the fly
  2. Cliff bars: quick easy boost of protein!
  3. Vitaminsgotta stay strong

How can we follow you on your journey?

You can follow my journey (as well as my colleagues’) on the FullSoul social media account, but additionally you can check out my personal Instagram (@alisonfielliott)!

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Meet a FullSouler: Lorien Boyce


Hi, my name is Lorien, and I am a third-year student of Systems Design Engineering at the University of Waterloo. I’ll be taking over as the field engineer intern for the next few months, meaning that I’ll be working closely with the other interns and some of the hardworking midwives in Uganda to identify and improve any shortcomings that may exist with FullSoul’s MMK (maternal medical kit) program. Something about myself is that I love talking to people and hearing their stories! My interests include worldbuilding and storytelling, the great outdoors, and waste management.

Can you tell us what you are looking forward to the most?

I am incredibly excited and grateful for the opportunity to learn about a problem space by talking to those who know it best. My experience so far has taught me that there is a lot to learn from simply listening to others and asking questions. I’m looking forward to gaining new friends and teachers from all walks of life as I work to become a better engineer.

I am also excited to see Ugandan geography and flora! Hopefully I’ll get at least a few chances to see and learn about the local plants, climate, and landscape. At home, I’m happiest when I’m walking or hiking with my family, and I’ve been told there are a few hikes in Uganda that I might be able to plan for.

How are feeling as you prepare for your trip?

Every time I travel, I have a hard time knowing how to feel beforehand. Mostly, I can just sense the mountain of unknowns that I will have to face in the coming weeks. FullSoul has done a great job at preparing us as much as possible for living and working in a new culture and climate, but I’m still anticipating some culture shock, some exhaustion, some confusion, and some many more hours of researching and learning and reading. The hardest part of any internship is building new habits and adapting old ones to work in a new environment. I am glad I have two other interns that I’ll have as a support system, and I am eager to reconnect with them in the coming days!

Did you get any interesting advice from previous interns or others to prep you for the trip?

Absolutely! I’m prepared to make a lot of homemade suppers with beans, rice, and fruit (YUM – these are already my staples) and I’m bringing some Tupperware for meal prepping. I had to find some long skirts for the hotter weather I’m about to experience, which means I won’t be able to count on my trusty jeans and threadbare pullovers anymore. Other advice I’ve received is to learn to conserve cell data for daily work, use bodas and taxis to get around, and walk slower than I would at home.

What are the top 3 things you are for sure packing?

  • My notebook for scribbles, doodles, and letters
  • Good shoes for walking and [hopefully] hiking
  • One or two good books

How can we follow you on your journey?

The FullSoul media outlets and this blog! I hope to contribute a few entries during the next few months.

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Meet a FullSouler: Anna-Kay Smith


Hey everyone, my name is Anna-Kay (my friends and family call me Anna) and I am super excited to be sharing my journey in Uganda with you all. I am currently in my third year of Health Studies at the University of Waterloo, but for the next few months I have the opportunity to work with FullSoul as the Monitoring and Evaluation Intern. My job entails working with FullSoul’s partner hospitals to understand the Maternal Health Project and conduct an evaluation to see what works well and if there are ways it can be implemented better.

A fun fact about me is that I absolutely love anything music related, whether it’s playing instruments (I can play trumpet and piano), listening to music or watching musical theatre performances (the next show I want to see is Hamilton)!

Can you tell us what you are looking forward to the most? 

Going into University I knew I wanted to travel abroad – either on an exchange term or a co-op abroad. When I heard about Christina and FullSoul I was enthused to find a position that allowed me to travel and combined that with my passion in Global Health. When I think about my time over the next couple of months, I don’t know if I can just pinpoint a single thing that I am looking forward to the most. This past semester I took my favourite class of university – ‘‘social determinants of health’, where I learned about social and economic conditions that influence the health of populations and individuals. I am grateful for the opportunity to take the knowledge that I have gained in school and further learn about the complexities of maternal and child health issues. I also cannot wait to immerse myself in the culture and build new relationships and connections with the locals.

How are feeling as you prepare for your trip? 

As I’m writing this there are three more days before I fly out to Uganda and it still doesn’t feel like it is actually going to happen. I have definitely experienced a rollercoaster of emotions these past couple of weeks. Although this experience is something that I have envisioned for myself for a while, there is still so much uncertainty and change that comes along with it that makes me anxious. Despite that, I know that the experience is going to be life-changing and am super excited to be in the country.

Did you get any interesting advice from previous interns or others to prep you for the trip? 

I love this question because I’ve gotten so much advice from friends and family that has physically and mentally prepared me for the trip. Something that I really appreciated was advice from the previous interns on how to communicate with the locals. They taught us some common Ugandan phrases and told us about different mannerisms used there that would help us communicate better. My role as the monitoring and evaluation intern is heavily focused on relationship building so going into Uganda with this knowledge makes me a lot more confident with my day to day interactions.

What are the top 3 things you are for sure packing?
  1. Camera – instead of writing in a physical journal I wanted to try making video journals, as well as create ‘day in my life’ videos that I can share with future interns
  2. Chocolate! – highly advised by a previous intern (thanks Olivia!)
  3. Books – I plan on reading (and sleeping!) a lot during the 17 hour flight!
How can we follow you on your journey?

You can follow my journey on the FullSoul Instagram page @fullsoulcanada and the FullSoul Canada Facebook page, as well as my personal Instagram page @annakay_1999.

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