Monday, 8 October 2018

Intersections: Reflections on a Mukono Homestay

Happy Monday, friends!

During the USP application process, students choose their living context: either an "On-Campus student" living in the dorms with fellow UCU and USP students, or a "Homestay Student," living with a host family for the full semester. Our On-campus students, also do a shorter homestay in Mukono for two-weeks, which they recently completed.

No matter their living situation, all students who come to the Uganda Studies Program are committing to engage with two different host families during their time in Uganda, one in the more urban, or suburban context of Mukono, and one in a rural context for a week mid-semester. This commitment paves the way for some of the most beautiful friendships and learning moments of the semester to take place. Host families are the life blood of our program. They welcome us in semester after semester, they call us "son" and "daughter" though we have just met, and they gently teach us so much about hospitality and generosity.  When I did USP in 2016, I was a Hometsay student, and this week, I'd love to share some thoughts on living with a homestay family in Mukono town.

The woman, the legend: Mama Robinah Lubanga, my host mom 

"The sun has sunk beneath the horizon just moments before, and has left the sky with a deep, fading glow. The bean vines climbing upward in the center of the courtyard stand dark, silhouettes, against the deepening sky. A rooster lets out a strangled cry somewhere outside. The smell of cooking matooke and woodsmoke wafts over from the cookhouse. We lean back on the porch, our backs resting against the thrashed love seat that stands against the wall. On the ground between us, drifting up from Eva’s phone are the tinny words:

Greater things are yet to come.
Greater things are still to be done here.

We sing along quietly, lost in the moment and at least for one space in time not Ugandan and American or black and white or nineteen and twenty-five. As the porch light flickers on and the mosquitoes slowly gather in swarms above our heads, we sing the end of the song as family.
I didn’t expect, when this whole crazy adventure began, that I would leave Uganda with a second family. But things are shaping up for exactly that to happen. My Ugandan sisters make me laugh and drive me up the wall simultaneously, just the way my American brothers do. The echoes of Mama calling down the hallway for us do something for her sounds pretty much the same as my mom at home.
But there are also times where I feel the weight of the fact that I’m only in this family for four months. There are moments when Luganda or cultural differences step in between us and I wonder how I ever could have thought I was part of this family. But then come moments where I let my guard down, where I stop trying so hard to be in my family and relax into the place of simply being present with my family. These are the moments where I feel at home.
An added wrinkle comes, also, when I consider that I don’t always feel like I completely fit in with my family back in America either. Especially since leaving for college and I think that’s just a part of being in community with people—as similar as we may be, we are still built for different callings. We are still fearfully and wonderfully and uniquely made. We will always find a part of us that remains separate from our chosen family. And so it seems to me that the best way to find family, both here in Uganda and back in America, is to meet each other at the intersection of our faith in Christ. 
Here in Uganda, our intersections are the moments where we sit around the coffee table reading the story of Moses from a tattered Good News Bible. Or singing loud, off-key worship songs in the kitchen while washing dishes. Or thanking God before dinner that He has kept us alive and safe for another day, and has shown us just a little bit more of His glory. 
The times when we all pause and focus not on all the things that make us different, but instead on the most important thing that makes us the same—those are the times when I am woven inextricably into the fabric of this family. 

Sisters. From left to right: Louise, Judith, Eve, and Gloria

The same thing applies to my family at home in the United States. It all comes down to one simple thing, I think. Where we find God, we find love. And where we find love, no matter who with, we find family. I have found that real family comes when we intentionally say to someone else: “I acknowledge that we’re different, but I won’t let that keep us from each other. I’m going to love you anyway in the best way I know how.”

My Ugandan family is a perfect example. None of my host brothers and sisters are biologically related to my host mom. We’re all “adopted,” living together in the same house and trying to build a family pretty much from the ground up. We’ve come from seven completely different directions, far apart from each other and yet somehow converging on this one spot. This intersection of a house on Kayunga Road in Mukono, central Uganda. Mama has welcomed us into this place with all our differences and baggage and has invited us to an intersection of love. Of faith. Of dancing in the rain and chasing chickens across the courtyard. And while sometimes we still find ourselves sitting around the table with nothing to say, those moments are becoming fewer and fewer. We’ve begun to build a lattice of memories and laughter and knowledge about each other. Our intersections are becoming larger. As we draw closer and closer to each other, our family grows stronger."

~ Louise Clark

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Christians for More Than Sunday: Student Reflections on Rwanda

From left to right: Rachel Baker, Amanda Trout, Jenny Jobson, & Lauren Nagy


What exactly can I say to describe one week packed full of deep heartache juxtaposed with some of the deepest love I have ever experienced? Truth be told, it’s hard to put into words what I saw and experienced during my time in Rwanda. Together, with 28 students from the US, 10 students from UCU’s honors college, and 10 dedicated staff members, we embarked on our pilgrimage to Rwanda.
— Lauren Nagy,
    USP Global Health Emphasis, Fall 2018

We began our pilgrimage to Rwanda on August 24 at 4:30 am. 

We enjoyed a beautiful sunrise, delicious food, restful naps, and a long bus ride of meaningful conversations. After crossing the equator, I entered the southern hemisphere for the first time. We made the second big step in our journey, crossing the border and entering Rwanda. 

— Jenny Jobson
    USP Global Health Emphasis, Fall 2018

Every semester, the Uganda Studies Program packs up and travels the long road through western Uganda to Rwanda in a week-long study trip and pilgrimage. Together with USP & UCU staff, USP students, and UCU Honors College students, we travel with the hope of better understanding the suffering and triumphs in one of our closest neighboring countries to Uganda. We travel together in a close community, studying the complexities of faith and politics in Rwanda; we go with the hope of understanding the importance of faith in the unity of a nation. 

We leave with an urgent discovery that the divisions in Rwanda cannot be passed off as solely “African” or “foreign”. They are the result of a complex history of hurt in which we are deeply involved as Americans and as the Church. We discover the deep divisions within our own lives with new eyes through the lens of Rwanda. A huge thanks to two Fall 2018 students—Jenny Jobson and Lauren Nagy—for sharing their experience with entering Rwanda not as a tourist, but as a pilgrim.

On Saturday, we participated in Umuganda—a Rwandan tradition that takes place on the last Saturday of every month. They dedicate the day to working towards rebuilding the community and participating in community service. We helped to construct a church building by forming an assembly line from a large pile of bricks to the building and passing the bricks one by one. Seeing Rwandans working together side by side just twenty years after such a horrific genocide that was caused by divisions was such an incredible sight.

We spent the next three days in Kigali, visiting genocide memorials and meeting with survivors. We visited the largest genocide memorial in Rwanda, containing mass graves of about 250,000 people. It’s one thing to hear the number of 800,000 deaths but it is another thing to learn about the individual stories of each of the people killed. There was a quote at the memorial that I still remember—that genocide is not mass murder, it is one murder after another after another. 

It is hard to describe all the things that were seen and the array of emotions that were felt. I felt grief, anger, and disbelief but also hope. Despite learning about the tragedies of the 1994 genocide, we also learned about the amazing growth and reconciliation that has intentionally taken place in the last twenty years. We got to witness a panel of survivors and perpetrators sit side by side and speak of what life has been like since the genocide and how they have been able to forgive one another. In that moment, many students felt God’s presence and power in new ways and were led to examine un-forgiveness in their own lives. 

Leaving Rwanda, we all left deeply impacted by all that we had seen and learned about. Despite all of the questions and difficult emotions, it was an honor to step into the individual stories of the genocide, to meet survivors and perpetrators, and to hear about the hopeful efforts towards reconciliation.


Jenny speaking at church in Rwanda near the Tanzanian border.

I had learned about the genocide that happened in April of 1994 in Rwanda in my high school geography class, but our discussions did no justice to the atrocities that happened there. This was an experience that brought to light much of what happened historically and socially in the country. It answered many questions, but it also brought many new questions.

At the end of the day, there is certainly one thing that I will always carry with me: That is the idea that through Christ, anyone can be reconciled to their past. The key to this is Christ. Reconciliation is not something that we can fully achieve without our savior. Countless times I saw people grant forgiveness in situations that I couldn’t imagine forgiving. It is nearly impossible to understand, but it’s a lesson that has been imprinted on my heart. Through conversations with fellow students, I have been able to reflect on my experience and realize that there is so much in my own life that I can reconcile with the help of Christ.

— Lauren

Sunset on the road to Kigali.

One of the most powerful and difficult things about traveling to Rwanda as a learner is the inevitable realization that the history of the West—our history—is tied up with the history of Rwanda. As Christians we’re hit again by the realization that we are a part of the same church that allowed the genocide in Rwanda to happen; and we are not so dissimilar from the Christians in Rwanda who were able to go to church and worship on Sunday and resume killing their neighbors on Monday.

For how many of us does Christianity get left in the building when church ends on Sunday morning? For how many of us is the Church irrelevant Monday through Saturday? 

These are some of the questions we explore as we travel in Rwanda. Through visiting memorials, museums, development and reconciliation organizations, and through hearing from Rwandans, we explore this central question:

So we call ourselves Christians. How should that make us different? 

USP and Honors College students at a stop on the Equator during our road trip.

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Introducing Fall 2018!

Well friends, It’s early September and that means a few things here at the Uganda Studies Program. It’s the beginning of the rainy season in Uganda, so the days are marked by beautiful sunshine in the morning that reminds us we live on the Equator; in the afternoon, clouds gather on the hill behind campus and unleash downpours of warm rain in the early afternoon, usually just after the afternoon classes start. Everything is so green.

Early September also means that the semester is in full swing and there’s a brand new cohort of USP students wandering the bright shops of Mukono, gathering in the dining hall drinking tea, and learning to live with their wonderful Ugandan host families. I’d like to be the first to introduce you to the lovely group of students that are USP Fall 2018.
The USP family is complete with all our students and staff finally here!
I’d like to introduce myself too, Louise Clark, who will be hanging out here on the USP blog all semester and helping to share the stories of this program as they unfold. I’m a USP alumna from Fall 2015 and have returned to Uganda Christian University as a Program Assistant for this academic year along with Jess Mount (USP Fall ’17) and Becky Nairuba (UCU Class of 2016). Together, we live and work alongside USP students to support and help with adjusting to life in Uganda. We also love taking students out for coffee and helping plan the adventures throughout the semester that make up USP. ;)
Jess, Becky and Louise, the FA18 PA Team!
This semester, we have 16 students in our Global Health Emphasis, taking classes like Infectious Disease, Microbiology, and Nutrition and interning all over town at hospitals, rehab centers, and public health organizations. They came a month early to study nutrition before the start of the semester, and are now beginning at their internship sites this week.

Global Health Emphasis students visiting Reach One Touch One Ministries--a Ugandan organization that focuses on holistic elderly care within the community--during the August module.

There are 5 students studying social work this semester, at both the junior and senior level, and are also beginning to spend full days learning about their internship sites and getting to know their coworkers. And last but not least, there are 6 General Studies Emphasis students from all different majors taking African languages, studying in UCU and USP classes, and starting their internships as well. The USP parking lot is a busy hub of excited students leaving for their first times at their internships all over Mukono and the surrounding area! 

General Studies and Social Work students arriving at Entebbe International Airport.
Our first few weeks here have included a week-long road trip to study Rwanda’s history and development, our first week of classes here at Uganda Christian University, and the beginning of Mukono homestays for both our on-campus students and semester-long homestay students. Life has been moving fast here at USP, but we’re finally slowing down into the rhythm of the semester and living into the Luganda phrase mpola mpola. It means “slowly by slowly”; everything will happen in its own time. 


We'll see you next week.

Students being dropped off for semester-long homestays with dear USP host families in Mukono town. Richard and Mama Jovita (above) & Daniel and Rev. Samson & Prescilla Maliisa (below)

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

That's a Wrap!

The end of the spring semester is always busy and intense; not only are students trying to finish up classes, write papers and prepare for exams, but there is a flurry of fun, end-of semester events and activities. In the midst of all that we are preparing for an 8-day study trip to Rwanda, after which we come back to Uganda for our Debrief/ Re-entry Retreat, before students say their goodbyes and fly home for the summer. 

Global 5K
The Global 5K is an annual event to raise funds for Honors College scholarships that brings together USP and Honors College students as well as any alumni in the area. Set on the Saturday morning before exams week, it is the perfect opportunity to work out some stress and enjoy each others company. The run was a success all around, raising funds for the scholarships and bringing everyone together on a beautiful Saturday morning. 

Some of the Global 5K participants
Cassidy Griffith receiving an award for the fastest female runner. 

USP/ Honors College Community Worship 
As per tradition, USP students and Honors College students have the opportunity to lead praise and worship during the UCU Community hour every semester. Coming together for practice, and then leading the congregation in a time of worship is meaningful not only for the students, but is a fun way for USP students to give back to the community that has hosted them for the semester.

Practicing together for Community Worship 
                     Styling in their "kitenge skirts" and rocking out in Community Worship                         
Farewell Dinner 
The Farewell Dinner brings together the many people that make up the USP community for a meaningful evening of celebration even as we start to say our difficult goodbyes to host families, roommates, lecturers, practicum supervisors and coworkers, drivers, students and staff members. There were speeches, a big Ugandan buffet and delicious cake, and this year the Guest of Honor, UCU's Chaplain, Rev. Dr. Rebecca Nyegenye presented USP students with their certificates  of completion.

The cutting of the cake at the Farewell dinner by all who gave speeches
USP Staff in matching celebrator kitenge outfits-- one of our favorite Spring semester traditions
Lindsay Rennick receives her certificate 
Every semester we travel to Rwanda for an 8-day study tour, a pilgrimage to learn about the history, culture and development of one of Uganda's closest neighbors. We visited two genocide memorials, Nyamatta Church and the Kigali Memorial, to learn about the 1994 genocide. We visited CARSA, a Christian organization doing the hard but necessary work of reconciliation and rebuilding, and heard the stories of people who daily continue to choose forgiveness and reconciliation as a way of life even 24 years after the genocide. Another organization we learned from was Hope International that teaches financial literacy and supports rural communities as they develop savings and loans groups.

Director of the CARSA talks to the students

Visiting a rural savings group with Hope International 
Our last day in Rwanda was spent at Koiika Cooperative learning about and enjoying traditional Rwandan art, song and dance. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to make their own art and sing and dance!
Imagongo-- traditional Rwandan art
Learning traditional Rwandan dancing
Rwanda Debrief on Bushara Island
The final component of USP is our Debrief/Re-entry retreat where we process the semester and prepare students for re-entry back home. It is a special time being together and appreciating the friendships that have been built and the growth they have experienced over the past four months. We were joined by friends and roommates from UCU for the last afternoon before students started departing Uganda.

Creative processing-- a necessary component of all USP debriefing!
 The first group leaving for the airport
Spring 2018!
Global Health Emphasis May Module 
This semester, four of the Global Health students are participating in our first ever two-week Global Health May module in northern Uganda. Among the many opportunities students are participating in these two weeks are meetings with community leaders, learning about rural community health education and public health interventions, visiting Uganda's largest refugee camp, participating in trainings through The Mango Project and taking a class in Nutrition with GHE Coordinator, Micah Hughes.

Module participants: Laura Sollenberger, Danae Troutman, USP-PA: Morgan Walker, Cassidy Griffith, Claire Smeltzer 
Students participating in Mango preservation
GHE student, Cassidy, and GHE Coordinator, Micah, preserving mangoes

Monday, 2 April 2018

The Gulu Weekend: Insights

Gulu Town 
USP recently traveled to Gulu, a town in northern Uganda, the hub of AID and development work in a region that has recently come out of period of significant conflict and violence. We learned about the 20-year conflict with the Lords Resistance Army (LRA), which only ended in 2007, and which saw many Acholi children abducted and communities fractured and displaced by the violence. There are a host of individuals and organizations committed to the work of rehabilitation as the region engages in the slow and painful process of recovery. We had the privilege of visiting three unique organizations, and learning about their different responses and approaches to rebuilding; The Women's Advocacy Network, The Recreation Project and Music for Peace.

Students in the coaster, traveling north to Gulu!
"Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable," says one African proverb that speaks to the power and support of community, which we saw and experienced learning about The Women's Advocacy Network. WAN is a non-governmental organization that helps over 500 women who have have returned from captivity, and struggle to reintegrate back into society. Their mission is to "To seek reintegration, reconciliation, and justice for war-affected women." Evelyn Amony and Victoria Nyanjura (founders and leaders of WAN) spoke to us about about the program and how it brings together many war-affected women in seeking justice and reconciliation. WAN provides support to the women on multiple levels, the first is through small localized support groups, that meet together regularly. The women also have opportunities to get involved in income generation projects provides them with the ability to support themselves and their children. WAN also advocates for acknowledgment and accountability for the women, for the atrocities that occurred during the war. It is a powerful example of people coming together and working together to support, encourage and advocate for one another. 

Evelyn and Victoria share about Women Advocacy Network
"If you want to go fast, go alone. 
If you want to go far, go together." ~African Proverb
TheRecreation Project (TRP) uses a more physical and mind-engaging approach to post-war reconciliation, inspiring youth to overcome fear and patterns of war through play and team building activities. Facilitators, Oliver, Janet, Deo and Godfrey, led the students through many of the activities, not just telling them, but showing them how powerful these trust and community-building activities can be. The project is evolving as the development landscape of Gulu changes and now includes an economic outreach program teaching modern piggery farming. After a full morning of activities, we had lunch with the TRP staff as they shared more about the impact of TRP and how it has affected and enriched their lives.

The Recreation Project
Students trying working to get through 'the spider web.'

Students learning about each other and communication through an
activity called the Treasure Hunt 
Having lunch with the TRP facilitators
"When the music changes, so does the dance." ~African Proverb
Music For Peace is an organization founded to promote peace building and positive social change through music. We met and heard from the founders, Jeff ‘Korondo’ and his wife Lindsay who shared about the development of  MFP. Jeff is a popular artist in northern Uganda who, as a response to his own experiences during the war, uses his talent of music to inspire and create a network of other local artists to bring peace through the powerful medium of music. The couple have supported many youth to engage in music as a way of emotional release, and a vehicle for positivity. After discussion we were treated to a live performance by several musicians in their new recording studio!

Jeff and Lindsay share about Music For Peace

Jeff sings some of the songs in the studio

Sunday morning, before returning to Mukono, we enjoyed a student-led worship service, in which several students shared about their own faith journeys over the semester. 
Worship service at the guest house
Stopping for lunch on the way back home.
We are always grateful for the people who are willing to spend time with us, sharing about the work they do and the lessons they've learned along the way. And we thankful to learn about and be inspired by the work they are doing to rebuild people and their communities in Northern Uganda. 

Listening is the most difficult skill to learn and 
the most important one to have. ~African Proverb

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

"Poetry and Readings" Student Blog Post

Monica's Travels 
Monica Knaak

Greetings to all of you from Serere, Mukono and UCU!

I have been putting off writing this blog because I have not known where to start or what to say. This is certainly not for a lack of words, as this semester has been one of lots of writing, but rather deciding how to share with all of you about everything that I have been experiencing, learning and thinking about since the last time I posted. I have really tried to start this blog and have had many different ideas about how to go about this, but today I decided to share with you all a section of a longer poem I wrote this week for one of my classes about my recent experiences in the broader sense of my entire experience. I also am including a suggested reading list based on some of the reading I have done this semester. If you have any specific questions about anything or want to talk to me, please reach out as it is so much easier to talk about life here one-on-one.
Week 1 I was told, “you’re a pilgrim, not a tourist.”
We read that a pilgrimage was about “transformation of the self
Through the forgiveness of sin” (Cavanaugh, 2008, p. 349).
I never knew how true that could be – that I would truly be transforming
In ways I never could have predicted.
It involved “humility…a stripping away of the external sources of
Stability in one’s life…generally traveled on foot” (Cavanaugh, 2008, p. 349).
I didn’t know then what I know now about living daily
With cultural humility, without a sense of stability or routine at times
And with a walk on foot that challenges me.
Although I didn’t know then what it really meant to be a pilgrim,
I jumped on the USP pilgrim train,
Having no clue where it would take me.
Fast forward through 2 months of learning, reading, and listening;
2 months of talking, telling stories, and building relationships;
2 months of experiencing family life and learning the Ugandan ways.
And then “spring break” comes.
And like any good pilgrim, I was ready to engage, learn, and rest.
I met my sweet Serere family in rural Uganda
A mama, a grandma, a 9 month-old sister, a 19 year-old brother, a great aunt,
And 2 girls that were house help but were like my other sisters.
I never knew how fast I could come to feel like family.
They all wanted to sit with me and teach me their ways:
Shelling g-nuts, cooking their specialties, speaking Ateso,
Sweeping the compound, digging in the garden, and so much more.
They taught me how important community is –
They work hard together, eat together, and rest together.
There is something beautiful about resting with family
In the shade in the heat of the day.
During this time of enjoying beautiful views,
I read 
Jesus FeministAfter the Locusts, and 
“Education for Homelessness or Homemaking”
And I thought about the woman I wanted to become.
At the end of the week, I cried when departing, wishing I could stay longer.
As a pilgrim, I walked away with a new family, a new home,
And a better, growing understanding of myself.

My pilgrimage then took me to Sipi Falls.
Where I debriefed and hiked with my monks and friends.
I was returning physically exhausted and unprepared for the week ahead.
I was unprepared to transition back to life in Mukono.

My pilgrimage then took me through
One of the hardest weeks of the semester.
A week filled with tears, emotions all over the spectrum,
Conversations with many monks, and lots of self-learning.
But after a restful weekend of writing, processing, and sleeping,
I was refreshed and ready to be a student again.
While I still needed to ponder difficult questions and topics,
Hear difficult stories, and process many experiences,
I felt once again like myself and able to live well

In this place that I have come to love.

Monica digging with her mom in the garden
Tending to the fire in the kitchen 

After talking about my life as a student, I feel the need to write a book recommendation list because I have read SO many good books and articles this semester that have made me think a lot.
  • After the Locusts by Denise Ackermann – One of my favorites of the semester that is an accessible book of letters on theology and feminism and responses to suffering from a white South African woman post-Apartheid.
  • Compassion by Henri Nouwen, Donald McNeill, and Douglas Morrison – Such a good read about what it truly means to live out real compassion and about the importance of community.
  • Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey – This is the book I read for fun over my rural homestay and it is such a good, quick read that is all about the role of women in the church.
  • “Education for Homelessness or Homemaking? The Christian College in a Postmodern Culture” by Steven Bouma-Prediger and Brian Walsh – An interesting article about the purpose of education and our care for creation.
  • Community 101 Reclaiming the Local Church as Community of Oneness – I only read chapter 1 but chapter 1 was SO good and I am hoping to read the rest of the book at some point.
  • When Helping Hurts – An important look at how we help others as the church and approaches to responding to poverty.
  • Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger – I haven’t yet finished this book, but it is a theological look at wealth and poverty in today’s world.
I am sure this will be a growing list, but I think that’s all for now.

Monica and other students in a Faith & Action class.