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.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Life as a UCU Student

Part of being a USP student is becoming a Uganda Christian University (UCU) student. As UCU students, USP students have the opportunity to participate fully in all aspects of UCU life; from living in the dorms and eating in the dining hall, to participating in fellowships and choirs, to joining sports teams.


Uganda Christian University has some of the best sports teams in the nation, and as UCU students, USP students are able to be a part of them-- not simply as visitors playing with the team, but actual members of the team. Hospitality in value that extends to all areas of life in Uganda; students find the same openness and generosity of spirit becoming a part of a team, as they do with their host families.

“UCU does an exceptional job of allowing USP students to get involved in on-campus activities. I have specifically seen this as the UCU soccer team has welcomed me with open arms. From the moment I joined the team, the coaches and players have encouraged and loved me so well. From walking with me to the market to get soccer clothes, to staying after practice to train me, they are always willing to go the extra mile to make me feel comfortable. Seeing my teammates throughout the day never fails to bring a smile to my face as their excitement and joy is such a blessing to me. I am very thankful for the privilege to be able to be on a team that teaches me so much about hospitality and relationships through their actions.” -Kathryn Evenson (Dallas Baptist University) 

"Walking onto UCU's campus for the first time felt like freshman year of college all over again, except three times more intimidating. Besides my appearance giving away the fact that I obviously didn't belong, my actions during the first two weeks screamed ignorance and my lack of knowledge about how to function in this new place. It was only when I established relationships with my roommates and joined the UCU volleyball team that I gained confidence in not only how to survive here, but how to thrive here. I quickly learned how gracious my Ugandan friends were with me through their gentle corrections of how to properly wash my clothes or how to speak Luganda. There is so much beauty in our common humanity. I couldn't help but smile when my teammates designated me as the all-time "score keeper" during our scrimmages, giggling every time I said "twunny" instead of "twen-ty." Differences in culture do not stop community from happening. I have seen evidence of this each night with my three roommates. Some nights we spend doing squats and Zumba videos, other nights we talk about the difficulty of college classes or what boys we are crushing on. My roommates have doubled as my seamstresses, hairstylists, and sisters. They never fail to wish me goodnight or good morning. Referring to myself as a Uganda Christian University student is actually starting to sound normal; it's a title I feel honored to have as part of my identity. I finally feel like I belong." -Sidney Blankespoor (Point Loma Nazarene University) 

The UCU womens volleyball team (Sidney Blankespoor third from the left)

Another way USP students are integrated into the UCU community is through taking classes with UCU students. These Foundation Studies (General Education) courses include Health and Wholeness, Ethics, Old Testament, and New Testament often fulfill requirements from students' home universities, while also giving them an opportunity to get to know UCU students that they might not otherwise encounter. Taking UCU courses exposes USP students to the Ugandan teaching style and classroom setting as well as gives them the opportunity to learn about a subject from different cultural perspectives.

Emily in her UCU Ethics class
"My UCU class has been more than just academics; it has been an opportunity to engage with UCU students and build friendships. Most UCU classes require group work, which means you are paired with a small group of students in your class to work with for the entire semester. My group members were some of the first people I met when my classes started and they have been so open and kind in helping me navigate life at UCU, even outside of class. Especially in the first few weeks of the semester, when everything felt overwhelming, the opportunity to bond with my Ugandan classmates was a comfort. Overall, the class has exposed me to a different style of teaching and learning, and pushed me to engage more in cross-cultural relationships." -Abby Millard (Gordon College)

“My UCU class is Health and Wholeness. I’m learning what being healthy looks like in Uganda. It’s interesting because I’m learning about topics, such as the different types of pit latrines, that I would not have learned about in the U.S. My favorite part about the class is the friends I have made. It was a little intimidating going to class the first day. By the next class, I was greeted by two girls who had saved me a seat with them. Now after lecture, we always go to lunch together and talk until we are done eating.” – Lynsey Mayberry (Messiah College)



You cannot talk about Uganda Christian University without mentioning the Christian community that exists on campus. USP students have an opportunity to joining fellowships, sing in the various choirs: such as the Chapel Choir and Mustard Seed, and attend prayer services with other students. They attend Community Worship with the greater UCU community every Tuesday and Thursday at midday, and every semester USP students lead one of the Community Worship services together with the Honours College students. They lead praise and worship the Ugandan way and show off their hidden dance moves, much to the delight of the UCU community.

"Joining fellowships and being apart of worship has shown me the unity we have as the body of Christ. It's so fun to connect with the students from a place of faith. Seeing the way they express their faith has helped me gain a more complete view of the church. I built such solid friendships in the fellowships I have attended and have felt so accepted by the community. As we all share testimonies, our faith grows!"- Lisa Reimann (Biola University)

The On-Campus USP students share dorms and rooms with fellow UCU students from Uganda and other African countries. They eat in the dining hall; which includes a lot of rice, posho (sticky cornmeal bread), beans, peas, greens and new foods like G-nut (peanut) sauce. They hang out with their roommates and friends in the dining hall, on campus and off campus. Things are different in a lot of ways from their home campuses, but at the end of the day, going to college in the US is not all that different the going to university in Uganda, and life is made up of figuring out how to live together, getting dinner with your roommates, studying for classes, staying up too late and making plans for the weekend.

Roommates!!
USP students hanging out in the dining hall for tea
Engaging in the full-spectrum of life on campus allows our students to build meaningful relationships with fellow UCU students and get the full cross-cultural experience of being UCU students themselves. At the end of the semester, each student is presented with a certificate that confirms that they have completed USP and are now considered UCU alumni. True to Ugandan culture, once part of a family, always part of a family. This holds true at UCU – once a UCU student, always a UCU student!

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Rural Homestay Reflections

by: Eddie Tokpa, USP Homestay Coordinator

Janelle walking home with her family. 
USP encourages learning through experience-- through doing, and with that in mind, takes students on a variety of educational excursions throughout the semester. This weekend we returned from our Rural Homestays in Serere, where the students live with Ugandan families for one week, to experience and learn about life in rural Uganda. Since most Ugandans are subsistence farmers and live in small, rural villages, this gives them rich new insights into the country’s cultural and family values from a rural perspective.

At the beginning of the week, students are both excited but also nervous and unsure; by the end of the week, they have relaxed into the experience and their new environment, which allows them to learn a lot about the culture that could not be learned in a textbook. We encourage our students to leave their comfort zone and experience Uganda through Ugandan realities, culture and ways of life. This involves living in a house with no plumbing and no electricity, trying their hands at farming, preparing and eating new and different foods, and learning the traditions and customs around greeting, visiting and roles within the family. Slowing down, accepting and enjoying these new realities provides all kinds of insights into the bigger questions of life. Students often begin to internalize the reality that material wealth is not the key ingredient for a “rich” life.

Reflecting on the two best things about her rural homestay, one student said, “Being immediately welcomed and included in the life of the family gave me a sense of belonging and the feeling that my homestay would be safe and rewarding. I particularly enjoyed evenings with the family, which included prayers and a word from my host parents every night."

As I reflect more on student’s evaluations of their rural homestay experience, I noted that this experience creates the opportunity for a lot of growth and maturity; living in the village can be physically and mentally challenging for students, but pushing into these new realities, choosing to stay present and learn from them is where the growth happens.

Throughout the week, students participate in household activities such as cooking, gardening or 'digging,' and helping around the compound. These activities also prepare students to live in community and help them appreciate shared responsibility.

Ellen meeting her host family
Helping with dinner preparation
Like any community in the United States, all of our rural homestay communities are different, none of the the families identical. But within that difference, all of the families are committed to providing a caring, and secure environment for students within their homes and communities. Monica Knaak (Gordon College) has this to say about her experience: “My family loved me and protected me like a daughter, granddaughter and sister. I was a guest the first day and after that I was a family.” 

Monica helping her host mom and sister make juice from fresh squeezed oranges.
Monica peeling dried cassava with her family.
Melody meeting her host family
Melody helping her host mom make and sell pancakes
Rebecca learning to make chapati with her host mom and sister. 
Finally, on a personal level, one cultural lesson I’ve learned from the people of Serere is the importance of greeting and acknowledging the people around you. As one host parent said to me, “not greeting people and giving them food to eat upon their arrival to your house, office or shop is an insult equivalent to deeming the person unworthy of your attention.”


The USP staff accepting the generous hospitality of families by
taking tea on one of their many visits throughout the week. 

Wednesday, 14 February 2018

We LOVE our USP Program Assistants!

USP has a staff that is designed to encourage and support student growth and learning during their four months in Uganda. The Program Assistants (PAs) play a significant role in that! They are an active part of the USP staff and are a vital part of the student experience, providing support and encouragement to students as they navigate the complexities of studying for a semester in Uganda. PAs are usually recent college graduates, and have helpful insights into student experiences from their own recent experiences as USP/ UCU students.

Allow us to introduce you to our three current, amazing PAs!...

Paige was a senior social work student from Olivet Nazarene University. She works closely with Lisa, our Social Work Coordinator, to support the social work students in their learning. As a USP student, Morgan was a sophomore General Studies student from Trinity International University. She works closely with Micah Hughes, our Global Health Coordinator, to support our Cross Cultural Practicum course. As a recent UCU graduate and Honours College student, Becky interacted with many USP students during her time on campus, and was even a roommate to a few USP students. She is a wealth of knowledge, helping students navigate and understand Ugandan culture. All three PAs provide invaluable behind-the-scenes, administrative support as well as we plan and lead trips, coordinate practicums, facilitate homestays etc.

As the application for our next two American PAs has just been posted, we thought you might enjoy hearing from our current PAs to learn a bit more about what this unique position is all about!

Paige Schaefer
USP student Spring 2017; Program Assistant Fall 2017- Spring 2018
Paige (foreground) with students from the top of a mosque in Kampala during a religion class field trip 
"The Program Assistant position is a one of a kind position that has given me opportunities to grow in many ways. Through being involved with the social work students, helping facilitate social work classes, going on site visits, and meeting with Lisa Tokpa, USP’s Social Work Coordinator, on a weekly basis, I feel as if I have grown so much in my professional development. I have also grown as an individual, understanding myself and the way I interact in the world in a new way. Through different cross-cultural experiences and through relationships with USP students, I have gained new insights into my talents/abilities and also specific areas where I have need for growth. 

One of my favorite parts of the job is walking with students through their semester in Uganda, watching them gain new insights and grow in new ways, just as I did as a USP student. Being able to take part in their experience is really exciting! The teamwork dynamic of the USP staff has also been something that I have loved. All of the staff truly come together to make the program run as smoothly as possible, and we have fun doing it! The job does, of course, come with challenges. Being far from home and being on call around the clock are a few things that have proven to be difficult, but overall, I have learned and grown so much from this year as a Program Assistant – not to mention, I’ve met so many incredible people that I now get to call family." 

 
Paige and Morgan celebrating Jessica Mount (Point Loma Nazarene) on her birthday during Rural Homestays.

Paige and Becky preparing supplies for Spring 2018 students with Innocent and Lydia

Becky Nairuba
UCU Honours College graduate 2017; Program Assistant, January-December 2018

Spring 2018 students learning the ways of hand washing from Becky

"Becky Nairuba is my name and I am a Program Assistant. This is my story. Coming to USP was a dream come true for me. I am an adventurous person; always ready to jump on the next bus that pops up for a new experience. This year, it was the USP bus. Of course like any other employee, I had to apply for this lovely position. It was very attractive on paper and inspiring watching the former Ugandan and American PAs work together. I read all the roles in the paper and if I had to be honest, I was anxious. It was going to be a new setting of learning and appreciating of new cultures.

As a PA, I perform several tasks that might or might not be physical. I serve as a cultural translator simply putting everything in perspective. The American students come to live in a new context for four months and it is a cultural shock for many because of the clashing values and beliefs they find in Uganda. Working with the USP staff is an enabling environment to learn from each other.

I get to engage with the students and answer most of the cultural questions that they have and this will help them navigate freely and adjust to a diverse setting of over 50 tribes that have similarities but a few unique aspects about each one of them. Participating in Faith & Action with the students has opened me to questions that I never asked myself and things I never thought about. I participate in class and also listen to these new perspectives and angles on Christian faith and what it means to be a Christian wherever you are.

As the Ugandan PA, I have been a liaison between the Honors College Leadership Program and USP. I love communication as a person and have to do this throughout this whole career makes it better. I cannot reason out challenges, but of course these make learning more intentional. And of course I get to work with these awesome PAs, Morgan and Paige, attend to office errands with them, do some printing, and now I get to use my mechanical skills in setting up projectors for class, provide the front office and administrative staff with support (e.g. filing, emailing and data entry) and last but not least plan and coordinate events. This is when you get your creative hands on deck. The most important role here is maintaining the student’s safety."

Enjoying the relationships made possible through the Honours College & USP partnership 

Morgan Walker
USP Student, Fall 2015; Program Assistant Fall 2017- Spring 2018
Morgan (right) a willing "patient" for GHE student, Jessica Fox, learning to take blood pressure. 
"Having the opportunity to walk alongside students as they go through the ups and downs of a semester that had such a tremendous impact on me is really exciting! I love being a part of the conversations and rhythms of USP. Sitting in on classes and talking with students about presence, mutually beneficial relationships, injustice, power structures, and the way our culture impacts our faith has been beneficial to me as I continue to think through these things I was learning as a student in Fall 2015. I love that I get to help support students and create a space for those conversations to happen, all while learning and growing myself. 

I also appreciate getting to be a part of all that happens behind the scenes to make the program run. Working to run USP social media, taking students to doctor appointments, helping students navigate their ever changing class and practicum schedules, battling with excel (I can proudly say that I am now able to format a table in excel without crying), and running errands in Mukono are all part of what goes down during “office hours”. But office hours aren’t even the half of it. Being a PA is a ‘round the clock' job. This can be challenging but honestly, some of my favorite moments and biggest growth opportunities happen outside of office hours (though those are great too :). These range from telling "bedtime stories" on our numerous trips (what started as a joke, has became a standing tradition), to caring for students who are up all night with a bad stomach bug (My PAs did it for me so I just get to pay it forward. Shout out to Martha, Prudence, and Courtney!), to having deep conversations about life and culture. These situations make my job fun and exciting (seriously, there’s never a dull moment around here)

But by far one of the best parts of being a PA has been getting to work with the USP staff. They continually blow me away with their problem solving, student care, jokes, and insights. Having a team to work with that love and care for each other, have fun, and want to see you grow is a huge blessing that most don’t get at their first job out of college."


The PAs just hanging out! 
Benji, Morgan, Paige, and Becky in the Honours College Complex


USP staff Spring 2018

Leave a comment about how your Program Assistant impacted you during your study abroad experience! And if you are a recent college grad and looking for an awesome opportunity to grow, learn and support others on that journey - apply now and join our team!