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Ottawa High sophomore volunteers in Uganda to make a difference

Marta has a heart for the disadvantaged

“Mzungu! Mzungu!”

That’s what Ottawa High School sophomore Marta Johnson often heard in Uganda.

Mzungu is a respectful term for a white person in the African nation that sits astride the equator. Marta visited Uganda two years ago as a missionary and is visiting again this summer for two weeks.

One of Marta’s fellow missionaries, retired teacher Debbie Damron, knows why Marta hit it off so well with Ugandans.

“She has blond hair and fair skin. They came up and touched her hair. They feel forgotten, and to know a young person came from so far away, was huge to them. Marta didn’t go to Uganda last year, but they asked about her, they remembered her.

“Marta has a heart for those who are disadvantaged. She kept bothering her mom about serving in another country and once she was there, she jumped in with both feet. She didn’t hesitate to eagerly embrace kids with diseases, like scabies.

“She’ll be serving the poor the rest of her life, either here or in Uganda. She sees herself as the hands and feet of Jesus. She’s an outstanding, focused young lady,” Damron pointed out.

Uganda is one of the poorest nations in the world.

As much as Marta helps in Africa, she feels the Ugandans help her.

“It was crazy to experience their culture. They’re such positive people. They don’t have a lot, but they don’t look down upon themselves. They’re not looking for sympathy. I loved it,” Marta said.

Marta’s parents are Steve and Lori Johnson. She has an 18-year-old sister, Bergen.

At Ottawa High, Marta takes part in student council, Key Club and Fine Arts Club. She also mentors fellow students, plays tennis and runs track, and is a superfan at athletic events. Marta particularly enjoys figuring the angles in geometry class and working on the yearbook.

In her spare time, she works a couple of days per week at Laurilea’s Unique Junk boutique in Ottawa, where her boss, Leah Johnson — no relation — thinks highly of her.

“We’ve known Marta forever. She went to preschool with my son, and they’re still friends. They went to homecoming together last year.

“Her passion is mission work. In fact, that’s why she works here. She needed a job to fund her missions. She’s willing to take on any challenge and do anything to help. She is a huge role model for my 9-year-old daughter. Marta is simply a great kid who comes from a great place,” Johnson said.

Marta too recognizes the role of her upbringing.

“My family has influenced me. They’re kindhearted people. That’s inspiring,” Marta noted.

Marta’s father is accompanying her to Uganda this year; her mother went with her in 2017.

“Marta would have stayed in Uganda a long, long time to see what she could do to make a difference. After she came home, she wanted to go right back,” Steve said.

Steve added he and Lori couldn’t ask for much more from their daughter.

“We’re just pleased with how she handles things. The same with her sister. Following in her sister’s footsteps has helped. They have a real good sense of the way a person should exist — to be good. Her aunts and uncles live the same way,” Steve said.

As for Marta, whether it’s Africa or Ottawa, she always applies her worldview, saying, “I try to have a really positive outlook on life. I go into things expecting to have fun.”

That’s why Marta is such a marvelous mzungu.

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