Sunday, 29 December 2013

A trip north

A group exercise facilitated by The Recreation Project

Before the Fall semester ended, the Cross Cultural Practicum, Community Art in Uganda, and Social Work classes took a trip to Gulu in Northern Uganda to learn from a couple of different organizations and their unique approaches to development. Gulu hosts many organizations working toward rebuilding a society impacted by over 20 years of conflict with the Lord’s Resistance Army.
The Recreation Project ( facilitates experiential learning in the forest through ropes courses, a zip-line, climbing wall, and other group building activities in the forest.  The Project creates opportunities for youth to reclaim courage and self-belief through exhilarating experiences, encourages them to have fun with peers, and creates safe spaces for youth to engage their past and current circumstances while building hope for the future.
            Amani Ya Juu ( is a fair trade sewing and economic development program for marginalized women in Africa. Amani is committed to holistic development through gaining experience, skills, mentorship, and relationships. Amani generates a culture of peace to transform lives. The women participate in singing, praying, and daily Bible study as they live out peace with each other, as well as pass it on to neighbors in need.

Cross Cultural Practicum student, Mariel, wrote about her experience in Gulu. Check out her blog (

"After a 9-hour long dusty, bumpy coaster ride, we finally pulled into a bustling town. It felt so surreal, and yet it was so true.
I was finally in Gulu.
Gulu is the home of Invisible Children, Krochet Kids, Restore Academy, and countless other NGOs that I’ve followed and connected with over the past few years.  But more importantly, it is the epicenter of 20 years of LRA violence, abductions, and forced evacuations into horrific IDP camps.  I won’t get into the full history of the northern region here, but please look it up if you have the time.
[On a more personal note, my interest in this region was one of the initial reasons I began looking into the Uganda Studies Program, so finally arriving there after spending three months in the country was definitely surreal.  I will be forever indebted to my dearest friend Aly Inouye for inspiring and encouraging me to take this pilgrimage to Uganda.]
After our first night spent in a Catholic guesthouse, I awoke early to spend some quiet time with God.  I was looking forward to the day and I wanted to prepare my heart, but I didn’t know what passage to read.  I’m not much of a “pray for a verse to pop into my head” person, but in that moment of questioning, I felt that I should turn to Isaiah 51.  What I found there struck me to the core, and I knew without a doubt that God was revealing to me his heart for the people of Gulu.
“I, even I, am he who comforts you.
Who are you that you fear mere mortals,
human beings, who are but grass,
that you forget the Lord your Maker,
who stretched out the heavens
and laid the foundations of the earth,
that you live in constant terror every day
because of the wrath of the oppressor,
who is bent on destruction?
 For where is the wrath of the oppressor?
 The cowering prisoners will soon be set free;
they will not die in their dungeons, nor will they lack bread.
For I am the Lord your God,
who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar—
the Lord Almighty is his name.”
-Isaiah 51:12-15
The Lord saw his people Israel in bondage, and he used the prophet Isaiah to remind them that through their oppression and captivity, He is still the Sovereign Lord.  What does this promise mean for the people of Gulu, many who became foreigners in their own land?
The Recreation Project
The first half of our day was spent like any other day in Uganda—completing ropes course challenges, careening through a forest on a zip line, and scaling a rock-climbing wall.  Wait, that doesn’t sound normal to you?  It definitely doesn’t to Ugandans, either!
The Recreation Project is a recreational therapy organization that uses play to rehabilitate young people who have been traumatized by the war.  Over the past few years, they have seen over 7,000 Ugandan youth visit their site.  While many of the elements at the camp were familiar to us North Americans from church summer camps and climbing gyms, most Ugandans have never even heard of a ropes course in their life!  After completing a challenge as a team, the facilitators sit down with the kids and help them process what they just went through and how the lessons they learned can be applied to their lives.  Concepts such as building trust with one another, working as a team, and even reaching “impossible” goals are discussed.  For many children with issues such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder having a positive stress experience (such as the thrill of a zip line) can help their brains cope with all the negative stress their body has experienced during the war.  We even got to work with some girls from a nearby school who have formed a rock-climbing group! 
To learn more about TRP’s mission and operations, visit:

Amani Ya Juu
After a delicious lunch and some more ropes course adventuring, we all hit the coaster once again and drove across town to visit Amani Ya Juu, (Swahili for “peace from above.”)  Amani is an economic empowerment organization that works all over Africa to restore and redeem the lives of women who have been affected by conflict, poverty, and other forms of marginalization.
We pulled up to their beautiful new house/office, and walked in to the sound of joyful singing and clapping.  The ladies welcomed us with a choir of praise and laughter, and it was truly beautiful to see!  We were greeted by Simprosa, the founder of Amani in Gulu, who was herself a refugee in Kenya for many years due to the war in the north.  Upon returning home to Gulu, she discovered many women who had fled LRA captivity, often with children in tow, only to return home and find no opportunities to work or provide for their families.  After working for a time in a church doing vocational training, she decided to open her own branch of Amani.
We were able to hear a few of the ladies’ stories, and they were definitely heartbreaking.  Many of them were abducted at the age of 12 or 13 and given as “brides” to elderly LRA commanders.  They were forced to march for miles through the desert with little food or water, and many had to bear children by their captors.  I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say that I can never imagine being able to continue living, nevermind smiling, again after experiencing something like that.
Now at Amani, they have been trained in tailoring and jewelry-making skills, and also have discipleship training and trauma counseling.  For the 10 women employed there, Amani means much more than a chance to make an income.  It means having a supportive and loving community that helps them regain their dignity and confidence, all while learning more about the incredible God that has been with them through all their trials.
After hearing their stories, we were able to purchase the beautiful products they made (and I definitely got some Christmas gifts)!  I didn’t feel “exploitative” or consumeristic by buying their products, rather, I felt honored by the opportunity to empower these beautiful women to continue supporting their families and regaining their dignity.
Visit if you would like to learn more about the work they are doing/look into purchasing some beautiful products!!

Overall, Gulu was a short but incredible pocket of time in which God showed me so much about his love and justice for oppressed peoples.  I know I’ll return one day, but until then, I’ll carry the memory of this weekend close to my heart.
Mariel. "

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Where has the time gone?!

The semester is complete, all wrapped up, packed up and debriefed in true USP style.
We will miss you, Fall 2013!
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Thanksgiving USP Style

Last week we celebrated Thanksgiving together. We spent the day cooking, relaxing and playing football.  In the evening we gave thanks and shared a meal together.  We closed out our day by watching Charlie Brown Christmas--a way of wrapping up one holiday and preparing for the season of the next.


A traditional Thanksgiving feast!

 Playing some corn hole together…or sack toss…or bags…or whatever it's  called.

 So. Much. Food.

Piling up our plates!

The USP students were in charge of making desserts. Think we went a little overboard?

We projected the movie onto the side of Mark's house. When else can we watch Christmas movies outside in our shorts and t-shirts?!

check it...

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Breakdance Project Uganda!

Break Dance Project Uganda is an incredibly cool Kampala-based organization that uses breakdance as a tool for community development. The foundational belief of the organization is that 'everyone can learn and everyone can teach--everyone has the capacity to be a positive role model to others.' Abramz Tekya. 

Breakdance is the tool, "it is not [in itself] a practical solution, but it ignites practical solutions,' says K'Naan, who is featured in Bouncing Cats, a documentary (available on itunes) about the project. Breakdance is fun, its therapeutic, it teaches discipline and builds self-esteem as participants develop and hone their skills.

The leadership of BPU is intentional about teaching their values of gratitude, tolerance and respect especially by empowering participants of all ages to express themselves in a public platform. They teach kids to be a voice for themselves and for others, and what is most impressive is how this is all modeled through the leadership- leadership of all ages and socio-economic classes. For example, at the end of each breakdance session, one of the younger participants will encourage people to sign up to share and then proceed to MC a community sharing time-- people sharing personal stories, encouragements, thanksgivings, particular needs and events.  

USP's Community Art in Uganda class had the privilege of both hosting and hearing from the project's director, Abramz Tekya, as well as visiting and participating in an evening community session. (Community Sessions are free and open to anyone interested in participating.) We were welcome to the whole evening event just as any member of the community is welcomed.  We joined in the dancing, the socializing, the sharing, and the listening. 

The evening was a good deal of fun, and a lot of work! Though breaking can be competitive, the corporate energy, encouragement and gratitude is unusual and captivating. 

USP students join BPU for an evening Community Session:

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

A day in the life of USP students (through Josiah's eyes)

Check out one of the USP student's (Josiah) blog.  He does a good job describing what a typical day is like for most USP, particularly homestay, students. 

Monday, 4 November 2013

Halloween- Uganda Style!

This past week we celebrated Halloween by dressing up and carving pumpkins together.  The USP students taught the honors college students how we make Jack O' Lanterns and the honors college students taught USP students how to save the seeds and the 'meat' to use later in meals or in a garden.   

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Rural Homestays in Serere, Uganda

From October 18th through the 25th the USP students stayed with families in rural Uganda.  One of the students, Elyce, created this video of her experience.  Check it out! 

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Student Reflection

Sarah stayed with Ndamurani Family for her two week homestay and wrote the following essay about her experience.  Sarah's insightful reflection challenges Western superiority especially in terms of our use of the English language.

I have taken five years of Spanish, yet I can barely count to twenty; so saying that my dedication to learning another language is minimal would be quite the understatement. Coming from living in America all my life where I have taken for granted my ability to communicate with practically everyone, I am just now beginning to understand the value of knowing other languages. For some reason it is so easy for me to expect everyone else to speak my language and that be the end of any communication issue. I am learning through many African literature books that many people of the western world think this way and expect Africans to conform to their ways in all aspects of life including language. In Okot’s Song of Lawino the character Lawino shows how expected English is of an educated person by even referring to the dogs saying, “The dogs of white men are well trained and they understand English!” (p'Bitek, 115) These expectations are causing me to see how self-centered this mindset is. I am realizing that for the most part, although I should certainly not expect them to be, these self-centered expectations are met here in Uganda and should not be taken for granted.

            Knowing only one language myself, I never even considered that people knowing multiple languages might prefer one to another, especially the one they first learned. After several instances with the Ugandan family that I am staying with and from talking about languages in class, I continue to see over and over again how big this preference might be for most people.

When I arrived at the Ugandan household where I would be staying, it was a struggle to get much of a response from anyone. It was difficult to tell whether most of the family members did not speak English or if they were just hesitant in talking with me. It was clear that they were talkative people because of the multiple conversations constantly going on at once in Luganda.
            I quickly learned that if I wanted to have much interaction with anyone, the only way to do that was by repeating words they would say in Luganda. This was my entryway into becoming someone that would at least be acknowledged in conversation by the kids of the family—even if it was only because I was the comic relief. They enjoyed teaching me different phrases and hearing me attempt to pronounce the many words they would give me. This even led them to begin filling me in on what they were talking about in conversations unrelated to my learning Luganda.
After the excitement of me pronouncing words not much better than the 8 month-old baby in the house died down, they reverted back to their normal Luganda conversations that I cannot attempt to be involved in. Now that I felt like we were getting along I did not understand why they would not talk in English so that I could be apart of their conversations. Of course I expected them to speak Luganda when anyone was around that was not fluent in English, but it frustrated me when I knew everyone in the room could speak English well but they would still keep me out of the conversation by speaking Luganda. It was not until in class when we talked about people preferring to speak in their first language that I saw this side in a different light. This moment of realization was later confirmed when one of the boys told me how much he loved speaking in his local language.
In my short time staying with this Ugandan family I began to understand how much they enjoyed speaking Luganda but still did not fully grasp what my attempting to learn a few phrases meant to them. It was not until I learned from a classmate how to say, “can I help?” and “can you teach me how to cook?” in Luganda that I understood how right Craig Storti is when he says, “you don’t have to be fluent for people to appreciate the effort you’re making to talk to them.” (Storti, 103) I had asked many times if I could help do anything around the house in English and the reply was always for me to sit down. When I asked in Luganda, to my surprise, they allowed me to help. In one day I asked these questions to two different people and was successful with both after several days of no success in English. This is when it really became clear to me how important their own language is to this family and what my attempting to learn it meant. It was no coincidence that they were willing to show me how to help them and work with them only after I made the effort to ask in Luganda. It is as if asking in the language they love so much gave my request a whole new meaning.

P'Bitek, Okot. Song of Lawino ; &, Song of Ocol. London: Heinemann, 1984. Print.
Storti, Craig. The Art of Crossing Cultures. 2nd ed. Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press, 2001     

Friday, 11 October 2013

Two-week Mukono Homestays

From September 14th through the 27th the on-campus students went to stay with families in Mukono.  These families graciously welcome students into their homes, feeding them, teaching them how to participate in household chores, worshipping with them, teaching them some of the local language, etc.  Most students describe this experience as challenging, while also a very meaningful and memorable part of their semester abroad.  Here's what the students have to say...

Jonathan with his host mother, Mama Margaret
"While I initially experienced a lot of discomfort and culture shock in my home stay, I am proud to be part of a family here, and I still miss them, even though I am just down the street back on campus now!" - Jonathan

"My homestay was challenging, fantastic, and just an overall great learning experience.  Best way to learn is to live it."    -Kirstin

Jenna with the Butana family

Being called "mommy" by my nephews and having random people consider us family made me realize just how important family is here.  Also we had some really good food." -Tanya

Abby's homestay- The Kafeero Family

My homestay was a very challenging experience.  I learned that just like we stereotype Ugandans, they stereotype us as Americans, and dealing with some of these stereotypes was very challenging.  However, it was still a very good, growing experience." - Abby

"I learned so much from my host family- both culturally and because they're so different from my family back home!  I'm so grateful that I have the opportunity to connect with a Ugandan family while I'm here." - Mary Ann

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

A Full Weekend

On-campus students have returned from their two-week Mukono homestays (more details in a blog to come :) and in general all students are settling into the rhythm of the semester.  Classes are in full swing and students are busy with classwork, but we somehow manage to still have some fun on the weekends :)

This past Saturday, USP and Honors College students gathered on campus for SPORTS DAY.  We started early with a morning run...


In the afternoon we participated in a variety of activities.  We played soccer, volleyball, basketball and frisbee.  We also competed in an egg race and battled it out in tug-of-war.  


On Sunday evening we traveled to Ntinda to watch a performance by the Ndere Dance Troupe.  This show features dances and musical instruments from a variety of cultural groups all over Uganda. 

We even got to join in on the fun...
*Picture taken by Becca Stripe