Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Introducing Fall 2018!

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

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

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

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

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


We'll see you next week.

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

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

That's a Wrap!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Director of the CARSA talks to the students

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

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

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

Monday, 2 April 2018

The Gulu Weekend: Insights

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

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

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

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

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

Jeff and Lindsay share about Music For Peace

Jeff sings some of the songs in the studio

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

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

Tuesday, 20 March 2018

"Poetry and Readings" Student Blog Post

Monica's Travels 
Monica Knaak

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

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

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

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

In this place that I have come to love.

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

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

Monica and other students in a Faith & Action class.

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.

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.