Wednesday, 10 April 2019

An Article From The Standard, By Sarah Choate

The following is an article written for the Uganda Christian University newspaper, The Standard, by our current USP student, Sarah Choate. Hope you enjoy reading what she shared with our UCU community. 

I came to Uganda to be a part of USP from Arkansas in the USA. I wanted to come to Uganda because I have some friends who grew up here, and so I had a connection and wanted to see where my friends grew up. Also, I’ve never been anywhere in Africa before, and I’m the first one in my family to reach this continent. I’m thankful for this opportunity to get to see another country for an entire term, which gives me a chance to really learn to understand the culture and customs.

Sarah with her Mukono Host Mother,
Mama Ruth Kareero

Our USP [staff] took us to Serere for a week-long rural homestays. These homestays are valuable for USP students because we are coming from Western countries and are ignorant of what it’s like to live in a rural setting in Uganda. It’s amazing for us to have the chance to learn about it. I enjoyed small things such as shelling g-nuts with my host family, learning how to get water from the borehole, and trying to carry water on my head in a jerry can. I know that these things are commonplace to many of the students here at UCU, but for me I was learning for the first time how life works in rural Uganda, and many things were new.

Sarah with her Mukono host sisters
One thing I found myself reflecting on was the differences between American culture and Ugandan culture. I found that many people I met expressed a desire to travel to America. But I think that life in America, while it is easier in many respects, should not be idealized. I’ve realized that American culture is too fast-paced, and people become too busy to spend leisurely time together. Living with host families in Uganda has reminded me about taking the time to enjoy the small things in life, and that it’s important to make time for other people. Ugandan culture also places a huge value on respect, which is something that American culture is slipping away from. So while I understand that America seems ideal, I’m learning so much about things that make life so rich here, and that should not be undervalued. Even simple things like noticing the flavor of greens, or trying new foods like atapa, or learning to make chapati are small things that can bring me joy. Sometimes experiences are challenging, like stepping outside of my comfort zone to interact with people who speak a different language than me. I’ve been learning Luganda, but when I was in Serere, I didn’t really speak any Ateso, which is the local language of that region.

Sarah pumping water at her rural homestay in Serere
I’m learning a balance, like any traveler, of pushing myself to do difficult things (such as learn a new phrase in a new language) and enjoying whatever life gives me (like taking morning tea).
All that is to say, I’m glad I’ve come to Uganda. It’s been fun to see a new place and try to learn about a new culture. I would come back to Uganda because I feel that whenever you pour so much of yourself into trying to learn a place, you become invested in it and grow to love it. I’m thankful for everyone who has welcomed me and the other USP students and has made our semester so great so far.

Monday, 11 March 2019

International Women's Day

International Women's Day is celebrated globally each year on March 8th. Women are recognized for their achievements and contributions to societal development on this day all around the world. There is also a great push and many protests that occur on this days as an effort to advocate for the greater advancement in women's rights and bring awareness to different women's issues, as well as to promote equality for women around the world.

This week I've been so impressed observing and hearing of the preparations and attention that was being brought to International Women's Day in Uganda. Many organizations and business are closed for celebration of women in local communities. Many of the villages are having rallies in which they are holding education sessions and raising support for Ugandan women doing incredible work on the ground to advocate for those in their communities facing gender injustices. Being inspired by the incredible rallying this week for woman across the country, I reflected on many of the strong and hard-working women that I've encountered and been taught by.

My supervisor at my senior social work practicum placement taught me so much about the hard work and resiliency of women in this context. I learned so much from her about the many positive impacts that women are having in building up their community. She works as a Child Survival Program Coordinator for a Compassion International Child Development Center. Affectionately referred to as Auntie Liz, she works hard each day to empower some of the most vulnerable women in her community. She advocates on their behalf and for their rights and well-being. She leads sensitization lessons weekly by educating young mothers on the best practices of caring for children. She also teaches women valuable skills that equip them to support themselves and their children. Auntie Liz's client base is primarily made of young single mother's that do not have support of their families and have had little access to money for education. Auntie Liz taught me the value in empowering women around me at all times in order to build a stronger and better community.

Auntie Liz (3rd from the right) at St. Peter's Child Development Center
and other staff from St. Peters with me and another USP student, Staff,
and the former Vice President of the CCCU.

I also learned so much about hard work and resiliency from my host momma on rural home stays. Momma Susan has six children that she has raised and supported through money she earns on her coffee farm. Each morning she goes out to her many coffee trees and picks, dries, and sells beans that then get imported to other countries. She spends long hours in her kitchen over her fire stove preparing meals for her family. When Momma Susan was young she hoped to become an ordained minister, but couldn't accomplish this because of a lack of money and education. She supported her parents from a young age and set some of her own hopes aside in order to sacrifice for her family. She encouraged me to become a pastor and to use my voice and passions to speak the gospel and show how powerful women in ministry can be! Uganda is paving the way for the global church in many ways by empowering women. Though her work is very different from my internship supervisors, I find it incredibly humbling the depth of heart she has for empowering women. She is working to educate her 4 daughters, and pushed me (her 5th daughter) to overcome challenges that I have observed in church, in education, and in life. I learned so much about what a strong woman is from her.

Momma Susan and me after being dropped off
for my week of Rural Homestay's in Kapchowra, Uganda

I've continuously been inspired by women in Africa that are striving to fight for the rights and equalities of women all over the world. I will never forget stories I've heard of African feminist educators overcoming challenges to empower their communities; ordinary women who single-handedly ended war in Liberia through peace movements, leading to the first female president on the continent; African women who have built hospitals to end fatality in child birth by equipping midwives in rural villages; and the stories of the women in my own life that may never be recognized greatly for the work they do every single day. I've been wished a Happy International Women's Day by about 25 women and men on this largely celebrated holiday, which has reminded me, yet again, all that I have to learn from Ugandans. Lift women up. Support women. Fight for them. Celebrate them.

So here's to strong, passionate, resilient, brilliant women in this country. And to strong, passionate, resilient, brilliant women all over the world. May we know them, may we raise them, and may we be them.

Happy International Women's Day.

Thursday, 28 February 2019

Serere Rural Homestays

Two weeks ago, our USP coaster journey east to Serere, Uganda. There were many emotions and nerves as we drove deep into the village and began to drop students off with their new families for the next week. As they were dropped off, they quickly learned that "Yoga Noi" was the newest greeting in their vocabulary and that their Papa's and Tata's were so excited to welcome them in. The week looked different for each one of these students, but many of them spent long days learning to cook with charcoal stoves, milking cows for the first time, fetching water from the local water pump, harvesting g-nuts and casava, and learning the language of Ateso. This week gave our students an avenue to disconnect from life in the urban settings where UCU is located and gain a deeper understanding of what it means to live in rural Uganda.

Since a photo is worth a thousand words, here are some of my favorite shots from the week 
that will describe the experience better than my words ever could. 

Gracie Disher after being dropped off with her Jaja and Papa

Nazje Mansfield after being dropped off with her Tata

Sophie Davenport after church
dressed in a traditional 'gomesi'

Many students lived on farms!
Some even got to see some births throughout the week
including these small piglets

Senna Larson with her family visiting
with USP staff during the week.
Eating pumpkin that Senna had
prepared earlier that day!

Amanda Scholl and Praise Olatunde with their host families

A hike to Sipi Falls during our Rural Homestay Debrief
Moments before venturing back to UCU!
We love our debriefs at Sipi Falls.

We are so incredibly thankful for our Rural Homestay host families and everything they do for our Students. It has been another semester of incredible memories made and bonds that will last forever in Serere, Uganda.

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Thinking about applying to be a Program Assistant? You should!

Are you thinking about applying to be a PA for the 2019-2020 year? 
Well, take it from a current PA... I really think that you should! 😊

My name is Jessica Mount. I studied with USP in the fall of 2017 and never imagined that I would be back so soon. My time as a student in Uganda was filled with so much joy, challenge, and growth... and I knew I wanted to return someday as soon as I arrived back in the states. When I saw the PA application open, I began praying and discerning if this was a good path for me and I quickly realized how much I waned to come back and work on staff with USP. I'm so thankful that I chose to apply and so thankful for the incredible experience that this has been. So, if you're thinking about applying or curious about the position, here is a glimpse at what my year as a Program Assistant has looked like! 
There's nothing a milkshake can't cure!
Kevin Domanski after a long day
at Nakasero Hospital.

Student Care: As a PA, a lot of your time will be spent with USP students as they discover Uganda and all the wonderful things that they will learn. Journeying with students and supporting them in that is a huge part of this role. Sometimes that means late night conversations when a student is processing something challenging, other times it means taking a Saturday afternoon to bake cookies to bring them in class on Monday! Student care includes venturing out to Kampala with them for the first time to show them around the city, and it also includes venturing to Kampala with them when their stomach's aren't feeling quite right. Whether it's spending long hours in a hospital, or long hours on a taxi, both are opportunities for deeper engagement with students! Student care includes eating meals and introducing them to your Ugandan friends so they can join your for dinner. It means visiting them at their homestays, orchestrating events for them, and helping them acclimate to life here. This aspect of the job can be tiring at times, but it's so rewarding to see students grow throughout the semester!

Kate Ivancic and Peter (our current
Ugandan PA) eating chicken after a
day spent in Kampala)

Many evenings spent in the USP apartment
as we prepared for Thanksgiving!

An outing in Rwanda with all my Eddie,
John, Rev. Thomas, and Rev. Emmanuel

Being on Staff: Being on team of 11 other USP staff members has shaped my year profoundly. I've seen first hand how the staff depends on each other to meet every need and activity that comes up. I learned so much from the staff when I was a student, but I've learned even more getting to work so closely with them. Their passion for this program, for what they teach about, and for cultural engagement really helps to frame what this program is all about. Working with a team that was is so passionate about helping American college students engage well in this context has made me even more passionate about what USP teaches them as well. I've learned and grown so much through mentorship, friendship, and the wisdom of each staff member!

Staff of USP Spring 2019

Professional Development: Having studied in the Social Work emphasis, I work very closely on a daily basis with USP Social Work Coordinator, Lisa Tokpa. I've continued to learn so much about the profession from her by helping with the seminar class and through conversation of what students are learning. I've helped facilitate class discussions and Cross Culture Social Work meetings, graded journals, and conducted mid semester site visits! In my year of being a PA and working closely with Lisa and all the staff, I feel I have a clearer idea of what I am called to and what I hope to do with my degree. I've also gained so much confidence this year in how USP has equipped me to be successful in the future!

Fall 2018 Cross Cultural Social Work Meeting.
Hannah Wagar and her supervisor Rose
at a mid semester site visit.

 Other parts of the job: This is a position that will keep you busy and keep you on your toes! There are many moving pieces and there's always something to be doing! A large part of the PA role is prepping and helping out on trips, including rural homestays and Rwanda. This includes stocking med kits, filling jerry cans, making lunches, and many other responsibilities. PA's are also responsible for updating social media, like Instagram, Twitter, and this blog! There's never a dull day and there are so many reasons we want you to be a part of this team! You will play an important part in the semesters to come!

PA Reunion at Thanksgiving dinner in 2018.
Want to join this PA family (dynasty😉)
I know you do! Apply today!

If you are a USP alum, a recent college graduate and looking for an awesome opportunity to grow, learn and support others on the journey-- apply now and join the USP team!

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Pilgrims and Monks

Katie Ivancic with her host sister Miriam
The 28 students of Spring 2019 have been here just shy of one month. In the process of adjusting to life in Uganda, they have been challenged and rewarded by diving headfirst into new relationships with people that will shape their time here and continue to shape them far beyond this semester. UCU roommates, students of the Honor's College, host families, practicum supervisors, and many others eagerly invite students to enter the space of their daily lives. 

A framework that we continuously use here at USP is one of a pilgrimage. We borrow language from two theologians, William Cavanaugh and Emmanuel Katongole, as we encourage students to view themselves as pilgrims on a journey in search of significance and authenticity; seeking to move toward a center in communion with others and with God. The pilgrim looks inward to discover that home is often not stationary, but a road that runs straight through the heart. The pilgrim recognizes that it is in communing with others made in the image of God, that the character of God is revealed. Another key aspect of this pilgrimage journey is that a pilgrim must be dependent on their monks; the individuals that welcome them in as strangers, freely offering unwavering love and support. 
Sophie Olmstead with her family
Rev. Frefrick and Mirica Kisitu

For our 28 students, as they continue their search for significance, many will be looking to their new host families to be their monks. Our USP host families are an exhibit of Ugandan hospitality when they generously receive their new sons and daughters for the next four months. These families welcome our students into one the most vulnerable spaces of their lives, their homes. Our students depend on their families to provide for them and to teach them about the significance of culture.

The following is a poem we share with students before they meet some of the most pivotal monks in their journeys.

Tourist or Pilgrim?
"I stand at the edge of myself and wonder
Where is home? Oh! Where is the place
Where beauty will last? When will I be safe? And where?
My tourist heart is wearing me out. I am so tired of seeking

For treasures that tarnish. How much longer, Lord?Oh! Which is the way home?
My luggage is heavy. It is weighing me down
I am hungry for the Holy Ground of home.
Then suddenly, overpowering me with the truth,
A voice within me gently says:‘There is a power in you, a truth in youThat has not yet been tapped.
You are blinded with a blindness that is deep,
For you have not loved the pilgrim in you yet
There is a road that runs straight through your heart.
Walk on it.’
To be a pilgrim means to be on the move, slowly,
To notice your luggage becoming lighter,
To seek for treasures that do not rust
To be comfortable with your heart’s questions,
To be moving toward the Holy Ground of home with empty hands and bare feet.
And yet, you cannot reach that home until you have loved the pilgrim in you.
One must be comfortable as a pilgrim before one’s feet can touch the homeland.
Do you want to go home?
There’s a road that runs straight through your heart
Walk on it."
~Macrina Wiederkehr

For the 28 students of spring 2019, they have began walking the road that runs through their heart, leading them home. In the great communion created by their new families, our students often begin to find their center; discovering that God is living within the monk and the spaces that they create. 

Annie Green with her host mom Monica Wanzala 

Tuesday, 15 January 2019


Friends and Families of USP,

Happy New Year! We hope that your time has been marked with rest and presence with those you love, and we are very happy to announce that our new Spring 2019 cohort has been on the ground in Uganda a few weeks now and are finding their "sea legs" quickly!

Today, I'd like to take a minute to talk about thresholds. These moments of time where we find ourselves briefly within two important seasons, not yet fully exited from previous one but also entering another, and where we find ourselves frozen for a moment. Not fully in either place. Armed with the perspective and time to try to answer the questions of where we've come from and where we're going. The threshold metaphor is part of the language that we use to talk about the experience of USP. During debrief, our director begins one of our processing sessions with the following quote:

"A threshold is not a simple boundary; it is a frontier that divides two different territories, rhythms, and atmospheres. Indeed, it is a lovely testimony to the fullness and integrity of an experience or a stage of life that it intensified toward the end into a real frontier that cannot be crossed without the heart being passionately engaged and woken up. 
At this threshold a great complexity of emotion comes alive: confusion, fear, sadness, hope. This is one reason why such vital crossings were always clothed in ritual. It is wise in your own life to be able to recognize and acknowledge the key thresholds: to take your time, to feel all the varieties of presence that accrue there, to listen inwards with complete attention until you hear the inner voice calling you forward. 
The time has come to cross."
                     // John O'Donohue

In our fast-paced American culture, it can be all too easy to wrap up important seasons in our lives and jump into the next one with all our strength immediately. We forcibly shorten these thresholds and ignore them into nonexistence, hopeful that if we just never stop moving, we'll never have to face the emotions that come from the loss of these closing chapters. But embracing thresholds and taking the time to just *be* is a huge lesson that many of us learn during our time in Uganda. Taking time to be fully aware of our lives as they happen to us is a new experience for many of us as we come to Uganda, and an incredibly important piece of the fabric of USP.

There are a few thresholds that are built in to our time at USP, where we carve out time between the end of one thing and the beginning of something else in order to take inventory of our hearts and center ourselves before moving forward. We have a few days set aside after we return from Rwanda and Rural Homestays in order to rest and reflect, and the culmination of our entire semester is almost five days in Entebbe answering the questions of "what just happened to me?" and "what now?" and enjoying the love and community of a group of people who came as strangers but are leaving as family.

And finally, we are experiencing a new sort of threshold in USP right now: the threshold of firsts. Students are spending their first nights with their host families, and going to their practicums for the first time, and are making their first forays into Mukono town for markets, great food, and swimming with host siblings. All these things that feel so unfamiliar and overwhelming right now, but students are engaging all the same.

I think we can all feel it, when we're on the edge of something big. This threshold we're in right now is one of new beginnings, and we're so very excited to see what happens next.

This is Louise, signing off for the year. Thanks for reading :)
Stay tuned for some new developments from PA Jessica Mount.

Thursday, 6 December 2018

FA18 Farewell Dinner! Celebrating 15 years

Last night we celebrated the Fall 2018 semester Farewell Dinner with our host families, practicum site supervisors and coworkers, lecturers, drivers, staff and of course students. We are so proud of this group of students and their hard work this semester!

As is customary, among the many speeches of the evening, we have a staff speech. This year we shared collectively, speaking to the many things we are thankful for, and particularly God's faithfulness these 15 years. 

You can watch our full staff speech-- all 30 minutes, full of kids, cats, fading sunlight, cell phones and of course your USP staff, OR if you're interested you can flip to the various highlights:

Our Beginnings and Our students! (start) 
USP Director, Rachel Robinson 
The beautiful country of Uganda (3:33) 
USP Office Attendant, Lydia Koma
15 years of partnership with UCU (4:57) 
USP Program Administrator, Lydia Wankuma
Host Families! (6:52)
Homestay Coordinator, Eddie Tokpa
Honors College Partnership (9:04)
USP Program Assistant, Becky Nairuba
Practicum Sites and Supervisors (11:50)
USP Social Work Coordinator, Lisa Tokpa
Academics, our lecturers (15:20) 
Global Health Emphasis Coordinator, Micah Hughes
Safety! (18:23) 
USP Driver, John Kabugo
Rwanda (19:42) 
Program Assistant, Louise Clark 
Alumni (21:05) 
Program Assistant, Jessica Mount
The Gift of Life (24:14) 
USP nurse Avrey Hughes
God's faithfulness (25:52) 
USP Administrative Assistant, Innocent Atimango

Just a few images of an evening full of goodness:

"Presence. Actively seeking to be present in each moment of each day is difficult, but so rewarding. I've struggled with perfectionism and anxiety for so long, and practicing presence is the best way for me to seek the Lord in the most overwhelming moments. I'm so thankful for the way that Uganda and USP softened my heart and gave me the gift of  living life a little slower That's what it's all about, right? Living life together with faith, hope and love."
~USP Alum, Katelyn Springer (SP'11)