Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Alumni Post: Emily Senff, Fall 2013

One-Degree Changes
I was a part of the Uganda Studies Program in the fall of 2013. I walked into this semester ready for what I thought would be a life-changing experience; armed with the entire book list in my bag, a new camera, and a suitcase I had finished packing the day before, I stepped into an experience I had planned for and prayed over for quite some time. Imagine my surprise when, during orientation, the director told us that if we were expecting a "life-changing experience” that USP would not be the program for us. In it’s place, we would discover one-degree changes - small, but significant, changes to the way we experienced life.

Several key experiences really shaped my time as a USP student in Uganda. As a daughter, I stayed with a family that treated me as one of their own: the Ssentongos always extended such incredible patience and joy my way. As a practicum student at Compassion International’s Mukono Child Development Centre, I was able to witness the groundwork of an organization I have always admired. As a traveler, I experienced incredible awe and wonder during the thunderstorms of Sipi Falls and the sunrises of Bushara Island. As a student of our cohort, I learned about the power of shared experiences and what resolving differences in community looked like. So while there were both highs and lows, both inspiring moments and challenging ones, a quick look back on my experience makes me think of the big picture - of the stories I have carried with me and the way relationships have developed since the time that seems like yesterday and ten years ago at the same time.

Now, after three full years, I find myself reflecting on what stuck with me from this semester. We all have moments of our lives, what I’ve heard referred to as ‘tent pole moments’ - times that mark the end of one season and the beginning of another, ones that we refer back to as pivotal in our journey as life continues to ebb and flow. For me, my semester with USP was certainly a tent pole moment. I look on the semester and see how incredibly it was orchestrated, from the timing to the people involved, from the culture to the travel. I see how God met me there in a way I could have never planned on my own. Uganda, for me, was a time that God chose to pull me out of my comfortable, quiet life, and drop me into a place and a time where I could only thrive if I stepped outside of my comfort zone and felt what it was like to really experience love and life in a whole-hearted way.

A lot has happened since then. I graduated from Trinity Western University in 2014 with my BA in Psychology and a Human Services certificate. I went on to work various temporary jobs within the field, and last year found myself in a really wonderful position as an Outreach Mental Health worker in Community Mental Health. While grad school and travel are always on the horizon - and, in fact, the not so distant future - I see the beauty in making a home and a place right where I am. And so every day, I walk with people as they journey with chronic mental illness and I get to experience alongside them what it looks like for hope to come alive in tangible ways. It seems that every day, with or without realizing it, I borrow from the lessons learned during my four short months in Uganda. I find that my grasp for presence in my community is ever changing and growing, and I struggle with newer and deeper questions when I reread Henri Nouwen’s Compassion (a core USP reading) at least once in a year. In the day to day, I see that it always comes back to presence and fully being with the people God has placed in my path. Moment to moment, I try to listen like Papa and exude joy like Mama (my Ugandan host parents) and act as a place for those in my life to find rest and strength and hospitality and forgiveness. And in the times where I am faced with the unknown and I wonder just what God is up to next, I think of how His plans for us are immeasurably more than we could ever imagine. I remember how He pulled through in a big way when it came to my time with USP, and that gives me hope and faith that He can - and will - do it again. Through these uncertain moments, I realize that one-degree changes are not as insignificant as I first thought they might be; in fact, I think that’s where life shines the brightest.

With my Mukono host family, the Ssentongos
On rural homestays in Serere.  
Fall 2013 group photo at the start of the semester. 
Our group of students has stayed connected in one way or another - the last big event was the wedding of
two of our own this past summer; half of us were able to reunite for the big day. 

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Two-week Mukono Homestays

A unique and special part of the USP semester is the homestay experience. Living with a Ugandan family is one of the most enriching and valuable parts of cultural immersion. All of our 'On-Campus' (students who choose to live in dorms on the Uganda Christian University campus for the semester) live with a family in Mukono for two weeks. They recently returned from their homestays with lots of good stories and photos to share, and now they each have a 'home away from home' here in Mukono where they can return throughout the semester. 

Getting ready to be dropped off with their new families!

It’s undeniable how hospitable our Ugandan host families are to the students, welcoming their new sons and daughters with big hugs and warm smiles, immediately removing any nervousness the students may have been feeling.

Sabrina meeting her new mama!
Jimmy meeting his new mama!
As with being a member of any family, the students take on various responsibilities in their new homes. Some of these chores can be preparing meals, washing dishes, cleaning the house, feeding the chickens, milking the cows and making fresh fruit juice. And then there’s always time to simply enjoy relaxing and having fun with the family by drinking tea, watching soap operas on TV, having Bible studies and playing with little brothers and sisters. Some students may even have the opportunity to attend special occasions such as Ugandan parties, introductions and weddings. 

Joanna playing with her younger brother.
During their homestays, students have to walk from their homes to campus and back every day, which helps add to their experience as a local university student. Often times there are many neighborhood children eagerly waiting for them to walk by so they can greet them. Being called “Muzungu!!” by excited children every day becomes a familiar part of the routine, as is arriving home after a long day, taking evening tea with whoever is around. 

Kendra cooking supper with her siblings.

The homestay experience can be challenging at times. Stepping outside their comfort zones helps students to grow in new ways and gain a new perspectives. Even though we come from different cultures and may do some things differently, we realize that we are also not so different at all.

Kara baking a cake with her parents!
Many of our students apply to live with host families in Mukono for the entire semester. We'll share more from our 'Homestay students' soon!

Monday, 26 September 2016

A Glimpse into USP Practicums

The start of the USP Fall 2016 academic semester is well underway, class schedules are finally finalized and our students are digging into reading, assignments and discussion. We are impressed by this particular group as they come prepared to class each day ready to share their insights on what they read and by their willingness to be challenged by difficult questions of faith and culture.

In addition to their classes, almost all of our USP students are getting involved in the surrounding community through practicums. A huge value of the Uganda Studies Program is to learn experientially and we find practicums to be a very effective way of doing that. Having a practicum allows USP students to learn from Ugandans as they discover more about the culture and the useful ways of working and serving within it.

Anna Persenaire 

Anna Persenaire, one of USP’s eight General Studies Emphasis (GSE) students this semester, has been placed at an organization called Vision for Africa (VfA). This education-based organization provides schooling and skills training for the surrounding community. On the Vision for Africa campus there is a nursery, kindergarten, primary (elementary) school, and a vocational school that trains adult learners who run VfA's hotel, bakery, tailoring shop, and pottery studio. During her semester-long practicum, Anna will primarily be working with the kindergarten students as an extra set of hands in their classroom as she learns about education in a Ugandan context, and herself in the process.

Along with the large amount of work that takes place on the VfA campus, there are also outreach ministries based there. For example, Anna will have the chance to connect more with the surrounding community through the prison ministry they offer. Anna is excited for these opportunities and feels that they line up well with her future plans of working in the community development field through education, business, and economics.

USP driver, John, takes Anna to her practicum at Vision for Africa

Danielle Awabdeh

All Global Health Emphasis (GHE) students participate in practicums as part of their semester. These students were able to visit each of the sites that practicums are currently offered through during the August module. They then applied for the sites they were most interested in interning at based on their background and interest. 

Danielle Awabdeh is interning at Noah’s Ark Ministries, a large organization that serves as an orphanage for abandoned children, a school, and a clinic among other services. She was drawn to Noah’s Ark because its specialization in pediatrics fits with her love of children and vocational aspirations. She was also intrigued by the holistic approach to health that Noah’s Ark takes in response to the children they serve. They are not only a clinic; they provide housing, schooling, and health services to their patients and even have a community outreach program. Danielle has found the staff she’ll be working with to be “sweet” and “very welcoming.” She is looking forward to her semester with them.

Wearing her Global Health scrubs, Danielle is ready for her day at Noah's Ark 

Caleb Strom 

Another one of our General Studies Emphasis students, Caleb Strom, has a unique practicum in that he never has to leave campus to participate! Caleb is conducting his practicum this semester with Uganda Christian University’s International Student English Proficiency class. At UCU, international students spend their first year on campus in a “supplementary year” where they take courses to prepare them for UCU academics. The difference is that all of the classes are taught in English as a way to prepare these students for their upcoming years at UCU, where all classes are taught in English. Caleb will be assisting and facilitating learning for a class of 25 students. As an English major, Caleb is very excited to learn what teaching approaches work best within this international setting.

Caleb at Uganda Christian University

 Kendra Slagter

This semester, the Social Work Emphasis of USP has 4 junior level practicum students. Kendra Slagter is one of these students and she is conducting her practicum at St. Peter’s Child Development Center. Kendra will be helping and learning alongside a team who works with mothers and their children ages 0 – 3. Kendra’s love of children and her passion for vulnerable women makes this Christ-centered organization a good fit for her. The services provided at this site focus on building positive relationships and fostering healthy children with healthy attachments. Kendra is excited to participate in home visits and for the opportunity to learn from her Ugandan coworkers. 

Kendra meets her practicum supervisor, Liz

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Fall 2016 is here!

It has been a busy fall at USP with our new Global Health Emphasis starting up, our new Program Assistants, and a new group of USP students! We are finally settling into our second week of classes here at Uganda Christian University (UCU) and are excited to update you on some of the goings on of the past few weeks!

Global Health, August Modular Course
At the beginning of August, ten students from the United States arrived in Uganda to take part in the Uganda Studies Program’s first ever August modular course for our new Global Health Emphasis! The GHE students spent each morning for three weeks taking an applied statistics course, with Dr. Ray Rosentrator from Westmont College and each afternoon they visited one of the 12 local health centers and organizations that they will be interning at over the course of the semester. 

Global Health Students at the Comprehensive Rehabilitation Services of Uganda (CoRSU)
surgical center in Entebbe

By the third week in August, the rest of the group (the General Studies Emphasis-- GSE and Social Work Emphasis-- SWE students) arrived and joined their peers to make up USP Fall 2016. Cheers to the official start of the semester, and all 22 USP students! 

Students arrive at Entebbe Airport
USP starts immediately with four days of Orientation, giving students the information they need to know to live in Mukono, Uganda and to thrive in USP for the semester.

USP students play cards during orientation week
Rwanda Study Trip
Every semester, USP takes its students to Rwanda to learn about the past, present, and future of this East African Nation. In the fall, this trip-- which takes place prior to the start of the semester, lays a foundation for the questions and conversations of faith and culture that will be explored throughout the rest of the semester.

After several packed days of orientation, all 22 USP students, 10 UCU Honours College students, 6 USP staff members, the one and only Reverend Emmanuel Mukeshimana, and our 3 drivers departed for the intensive 9-day trip.  

Students reading Mirror to the Church on the road trip to Rwanda.
We spent the first weekend as guests of the Kibungo Diocese (Church of Rwanda) in southeastern Rwanda.

All Rwandans participate in community service projects around the country on the last Saturday of every month. Our group participated in one of these Umuganda projects, laying the foundation for a school. 

Henry and Gilbert help move large rocks during Umuganda.

On Sunday, our students split into four smaller groups and participated in local church services. As is customary in these rural church services, visitors are invited to share several worship songs with the congregation, and personal testimonies.

Sunday afternoon we traveled to the capital city, Kigali, and our focus shifted first to learning about and understanding the 1994 genocide that took place and Rwanda, then to visiting several organizations doing reconciliation, development and health care work. We visited several organizations and listened to a variety of speakers, a few of which are highlighted below.

We visited the church memorial at Nyamatta, a site of one of the large-scale massacres of the 1994 genocide. Following the church, we went through the Kigali Genocide Memorial where we learned in greater detail the circumstances and realities that led to the genocide. 

Entering the Kigali Genocide Memorial.
Inema Art Center was our last stop on a particularly emotional day. It provided us with a refreshing glimpse of the hope that exists in Rwanda following such a painful past. Inema is a creative, color-filled hub of energy, beauty and hope. We enjoyed the gallery-- and the beautiful work of a number of local Rwandan artists. We also learned about several of the initiatives these artists are involved in, with their communities through teaching children and other groups how to express themselves and provide for themselves using art, dance and creativity. We also enjoyed the lively traditional Rwandan dances and drumming performed by children in the Inema Dance Troupe. The night ended with the dancers teaching us how to dance! 

USP students and staff join in traditional Rwandan dance.

One of the inspiring organizations we visited was CARSA (Christian Action for Reconciliation and Social Assistance). CARSA works with a number of communities through the long and painful process of reconciliation and rebuilding life together. We were able to meet several of the people that CARSA works with and ask them questions about their journeys of forgiveness and reconciliation with one another.  

Our time in Rwanda was packed and we experienced a wide range of emotions as we reflected on the horror of the past, the beauty of the present, and the hope of the future. An important part of learning comes through debriefing together. After Rwanda, we retreated to the beautiful Bushara Island where we had the chance to discuss, reflect, worship, and enjoy a beautiful space together.

Students and staff take boats on their way to the island for debrief!

USP director, Rachel leads students in a creative debriefing exercise.

Beautiful Bushara Island!

We are thankful for a really good start to our Fall 2016 semester, and are grateful for a group of positive, engaged students. Looking forward to all that is yet to come!

Friday, 19 August 2016

Thank You Spring 2016!

USP’s Spring 2016 semester has come to a close, but we know that our students’ learning is only just beginning! They are going home with new stories, new perspectives and new family members in their hearts, and now begins the process of integrating that newness into their lives at home.

To each of our students this semester –

We send you off with blessings and prayers and excitement for the beautiful work you will do in each of your futures! Here are a few pieces of the incredible growth and beautiful community you’ve experienced this semester that we hope you'll take with you!

You tried new things…

Anna, Kenedy and Emily try some roasted fish in Entebbe

You grew professionally…

Katie with her supervisor, Justine from ROTOM*

You grew academically…

Rachel receives her certificate at the USP Farewell Dinner

You grew in your ability to express yourselves…

USP students working on a creative processing project during debrief

You came to understand the concept of family in a new way…

Stacey with her host family

You worshiped together…

USP and Honours College students lead Community Worship together

You played together…

USP students doing a team building activity at
The Recreation Project in Gulu

You bonded over the small things…

Rachel, Gilbert and Danielle at debrief in Entebbe

You saw beauty grow out of suffering…

Jewelry made by survivors of the
conflict in northern Uganda

You worked with amazing models of courage and compassion…

Sarah and Esther with friends from their internship at Off-Tu*

You’ve allowed yourselves to be challenged and changed, and you’ve come out as stronger, more thoughtful citizens of the world.

Thank you Spring 2016! Welcome to the rest of your life! 

*photos posted with permission