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 

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

A Week in Rwanda

Final papers were in, exams were completed, practicum hours came to an end – but USP wasn’t quite over yet! On the other side of a 12-hour road trip, neighboring Rwanda held many more lessons for us about culture, reconciliation, faith, hope and love. While in Rwanda, we visited a variety of organizations and heard from some amazing speakers. By the end of the week, our experiences with these diverse people and places developed into a multifaceted picture of Rwanda that we will always hold in our hearts. 

The beautiful Rwandan countryside

On our first day in Rwanda, we visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial and the church memorial at Nyamatta. The story of the Rwandan Genocide weighed heavy on our hearts and left us with many unanswered questions. The next day, however, we worshiped with Rwandan Christians in Kigali churches, joining them in singing, dancing and expressing gratitude for God’s goodness. While it didn’t lessen the hard realities of the genocide, partaking in the joy and unity of the Church gave us a glimpse of the hope that exists in Rwanda.

We spent a morning hearing from Brad Burnfield of Youth for Christ and touring Kigali Christian School, which is offering affordable primary and secondary education for Rwandan children of all backgrounds. We also spent that afternoon with Bridge2Rwanda, networking with Rwandan university students who will soon be studying at schools near our homes in the States!

Listening to Bridge2Rwanda students share their stories and aspirations
Ellen and Esther with a new friend from Bridge2Rwanda

At CARSA (Christian Action for Reconciliation and Social Assistance) we watched an amazing documentary about forgiveness and reconciliation between genocide victims and perpetrators.

USP and Honours College students with friends from CARSA
At Amahoro Ava Hejeru, a women’s sewing cooperative in Kigali, we met and heard from survivors of the genocide who create beautiful handmade crafts to provide for their families. With Hope International, we visited several sites where community microfinance efforts are blossoming and enriching Rwandan’s lives.

Anna looks through the colorful fabrics used by the women at Amahoro
USP and Honours College students with members of a
Hope International microfinance group
At Heaven Restaurant we enjoyed delicious gourmet cooking and heard how this restaurant is one of the many successful efforts to develop Rwanda through the private sector.

Listening to Josh Ruxin share about the work of
Heaven Restaurant and Rwanda's future

We ended our week in Kigali with a visit to the Inema Art Center, where we met with Rwandan artists and watched a children’s dance group perform Rwandan traditional dance. This fusion of old tradition and contemporary art forms was a beautiful reminder that the image of our creative God is – and always has been – present in Rwanda.

Eddie, Gilbert and Micah take a rest in the
garden outside the Inema Art Center
Micky with a dancer from the children's traditional dance group

USP’s Rwanda trip would be incomplete without debrief at Lake Bunyonyi in Western Uganda. The stunning scenery and peaceful lakeside setting gave us much-needed space to breathe, rest and process the intense experiences of the week. 

Katie and Rachel out on Lake Bunyonyi in a dugout canoe

While it was a challenging week, our time in Rwanda was filled with incredible examples of forgiveness, reconciliation, healing, development and joy in creativity. In the midst of all the hard questions and conflicting emotions that remain, we are grateful for the people of Rwanda and the way they have welcomed us into their stories and dreams for a better future. 

Thursday, 31 March 2016

USP goes north

While the bulk of the USP experience happens in the southern region of Uganda, we also take a couple trips each semester to explore different areas of the country. Last week we went to the town of Gulu in Uganda’s far north.

The land and people of northern Uganda are still recovering from a long war with the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). An entire generation was wounded and robbed – materially, physically, emotionally and spiritually. What’s been left behind is a fragmented society of broken families, former child soldiers, and now the children of these ex-soldiers who are largely neglected and unwanted by their communities.

But at the heart of this brokenness and despair, there are groups of people coming together to restore dignity and prosperity to the beautiful people of the north. We spent our weekend in Gulu visiting three different organizations that are working towards rebuilding their communities.

Our first visit was to Amani Uganda, a small business organization working with women who were formerly abducted by the LRA. Amani gives these women opportunities to support their families through sewing beautiful handmade products and selling them to tourists and people around the world. During our visit, the women took a break from sitting at their sewing machines to give us a warm welcome and share their stories with us. Afterwards we got to chat with them, play with their kids, and buy some of the beautiful works of art that these women create!

The group with Grace, the director of Amani Uganda. 
Rachel chats with one of the staff members at Amani
We started off our next day with a visit to The Recreation Project (TRP), an adventure-based therapy organization located in a quiet grove of beautiful eucalyptus trees. TRP works primarily with Gulu’s youth, using recreational means such as team building games and a ropes course to help young people build friendships with peers and find healing after trauma. We had the honor of hearing Ben Porter, the founder of TRP, share his story about building this organization and the ups and downs of what he’s observed during his work in northern Uganda. And, of course, we couldn’t leave without getting a taste of the TRP experience ourselves!

Bethany, Katie, Karissa and Esther help Sarah
through the Spider's Web at TRP

Danielle crosses the river with the help of a few friends
They all made it across!

Our final visit was with a grassroots organization called the Women’s Advocacy Network (WAN). This organization specifically addresses the obstacles that the women and children returning from the LRA face.  Five women from WAN, all formerly abducted by the LRA as children, met with us to share their stories, answer our questions and explain their work of reunifying families and reintegrating women like themselves into their communities. It was truly a privilege to hear them share and to be inspired by their willingness to help the women around them with whatever resources they have.

It was a short but definitely thought-provoking weekend, as the the stories we heard raised lots of questions about the state of our broken world. But being able to dance and laugh with the people we met brings some sort of hope - hope that can't always be put into words but is perhaps best articulated by the smiles on the faces of those who were once victims and are now powerful change-makers. 

Kenedy, Kylie, Anna and Amy with one of the 
inspiring leaders of the Women's Advocacy Network

Monday, 14 March 2016

Rural Homestays- Kapchorwa

Every semester we take our students to a village in rural Uganda and drop them off with host families to experience life in a rural Ugandan village for one week. This semester we went back to Kapchorwa in eastern Uganda. Every family is different, so each student has a unique experience, but here are some of the common threads throughout the week and our debrief retreat afterwards.

Rural homestays is... A time to meet new people...

Amy meets her new host mama

A time to practice hospitality...

Kelsey learns to carry a baby on her back!

A time to work hard...

Anna hard at work on the family farm

A time to be present...

Ella with her little brother Ephraim 

A time to appreciate a very different way of life...

Karissa and Esther do laundry together

A time to enjoy simplicity...

Bethany grinds coffee beans by hand

A time to experience the vastness of God’s creation...

One of Kapchorwa's incredible views

A time to reunite...

Roommates Cassandra and Karissa
reunited at the debrief retreat at Sipi Falls

A time to be thankful...

Sarah reads a chapter from Isaiah
during our Sunday service at debrief

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Meet the Newest USP Staff Members!

Gilbert Nuwagira

Gilbert, originally from Mbarara in southwestern Uganda, was a student at Uganda Christian University from 2012 to 2015. While beginning his studies in Economics and Management, he quickly became interested in UCU’s Honours College program, becoming a member in his second year. It was in the Honours College that Gilbert first got connected with USP, becoming good friends with USP students and facilitating opportunities for them to have a richer experience in the Ugandan culture. When he became President of the Honours College, Gilbert began working more closely with USP staff in planning events and continuing to facilitate the cross-cultural friendships happening around him.

Gilbert graduated from UCU in October of 2015. Realizing how much he liked working with people and understanding the value of rich cross-cultural relationships, he decided to continue his partnership with USP by becoming our newest Program Assistant! So far, he has found his first weeks on the job “exhilarating” and “informative," and he has settled very nicely into the everyday excitement of the USP office, where no two days are ever the same. Among the students, Gilbert has already built up a reputation of being exceptionally thoughtful and caring, as well as being a good go-to person for insights on Ugandan culture and cross-cultural interactions.

Gilbert and fellow PAs Prudence and Courtney making
packed lunches in preparation for rural homestays
Gilbert chats with social work student Kylie during the
USP/Honors College Retreat at Vision for Africa

John Kabugo

John has just joined the USP team as our newest driver! John was born and raised right here in Mukono, and he has been driving for Uganda Christian University for nearly seven years. Perhaps more than any other USP staff member, John gets to see the breadth of our program every day, driving students to their host families all over Mukono, their practicum sites around the district, and even class field trips in and around Kampala. John is enjoying working in a program that allows him to interact with many different people throughout the day.

John is doing a great job helping us get around and keeping our beloved USP van clean and in good mechanical condition. But really it’s his contagious smile and his willingness to be of help that have made him an important part of our students’ everyday lives. More than just being our driver, John is also an important resource for students when they have questions about Ugandan culture, food, plants, and other observations they may have.

John prepares to head out on one of his daily drive through Mukono
Our complex transportation schedule works smoothly, largely thanks
to the hard work and coordination of Lydia, John and Innocent 

Micah Hughes

One of the most exciting new developments at USP is the development of our new Global Health Emphasis, scheduled to begin in Fall 2016. Micah Hughes, our newest coordinator who will be over the Global Health Emphasis (GHE), joined us in the office at the beginning of January, and we are excited about what he brings to the team! A graduate of Wheaton College, Micah participated in Wheaton’s Human Needs and Global Resources program, doing a six-month internship in the West Nile region of Uganda. Micah went on to get his MS in Biotechnology from Rush University Medical Center and continued working and teaching in the medical field. Most recently he founded and directed the global health program at Denver School of Nursing, where he was an assistant professor. With this program he organized and led internships abroad for nursing students in multiple countries, including Uganda.

With years of experience teaching nursing and bringing students in the pre-health professions to Uganda, Micah now finds himself at USP, constructing the Global Health Emphasis. The GHE will provide USP students in the pre-health professions with opportunities to experience work in the global health field under the supervision of Ugandan clinicians. USP already has wonderful relationships with trusted organizations around Mukono, where we have been placing social work and cross-cultural practicum students for the past 12 years. Now Micah is working toward utilizing the leadership and expertise of the medical personnel at these organizations and others to provide new opportunities for Ugandan partners to mentor our students. 

The GHE is designed to be inclusive of the many professions that fall under the global health category, and it will be open to all students in the pre-health fields (Public Health, Nursing, Medicine, Kinesiology, Exercise Science, and others). Practicum sites will range from district hospitals where students will experience direct interventional care, to community health organizations focused on health education and systemic health issues in Uganda. GHE students will look at both preventative and interventional global health and how the two are related – in addition to the overall USP experience. Micah’s ultimate goal is to mentor students and build a program that serves as a tool to help students discern which aspects of global health they are most passionate about, while experiencing career and ministry opportunities for a future in global health. 

Micah teaches the Cross-Cultural Practicum class
Micah with students and PAs picking up
snacks for the Superbowl Monday party!