Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Homestay Profile: Joanna Benner

We have eight "Homestay Students" this semester; students who live off-campus with a Ugandan family for the entire semester.  One of these students is Joanna Benner, a second year nursing student from Messiah College, who would like to share her experience with you...

"Coming into the semester, I had a lot of hopes about what my future host family would be like. I was looking forward to this part of my experience abroad more than anything else. This put me in a dangerous position to possibly be disappointed if my host family situation was not as I had hoped it would be, leaving me very nervous when the time came to get dropped off. But, when I arrived at my host family's house, all my expectations faded away and I was showered with love and hospitality. My mother Josephine hugged me and called me her daughter as soon as she met me. All my brothers and sisters hugged me and welcomed me to the family, escorting me to my room and carrying all my bags for me. As soon as I was situated they had me "take tea." This concept was still new to me, but now it is a routine that I have come to cherish. We have tea time when I get home after school, sometimes again with dinner, and then for breakfast, always with a little snack of some type. This is a great time for fellowship and just being present together, whether there is a conversation happening or just a peaceful silence. Here in Africa, silence is a blessing and a sign of friendship and being present with each other. Unlike in America, Ugandans do not feel the need to always fill the silence. This has been a refreshing change for me. My host family has not wasted any time getting me involved in daily routines and chores. My sisters take me to the store to run errands and I have become friends with the local shop owner, Momma Sal. She laughs at my attempts at Luganda (the local language) but really appreciates that I am trying! Now, my family even trusts me to run some of the errands alone since they have taught me the few words necessary to get what I need and bring the right thing home at the right price. They have me help do the dishes, set the table, and make dinner. I love being involved as a real family member, and not just a visitor. They told me right away that I am a part of their family, not a visitor, and that I am welcome to make myself feel at home. I was incredibly humbled by these words and am so thankful to have such a loving family to be a part of. Something that has been a little difficult to get used to is how late my family eats! Usually it is any time between 9:30 and 10:30 at night. And I thought my family at home ate late! But, I am getting used to it and starting to appreciate it because it gives us time to just hang out as a family. Another family routine in my house is fellowship together after dinner. A few times a week we gather as a family and pray, sing, read and talk about the Bible. My homestay father is a very religious man and has been a great spiritual mentor for me thus far with his unending devotion to The Lord.  He and my mom always ask me if I am remembering to pray and I am thankful for their reminders. I look forward to returning home at the end of every school day because I know that I will be accepted, loved, and cared for as I experience this culture in the most intimate way possible. I am so ready to see how this intimate experience with the Ugandan culture will change me over the course of the semester and all the meaningful relationships I will make in the meantime."
                                                                                                       ~Joanna Benner

My Ugandan home

Learning how to do laundry with my homestay mom!


My homestay sister :)
*Photos taken by Joanna Benner

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Life in Full Swing...

The semester is well underway and our students are quickly adapting to everyday Ugandan life.  We have had an exciting first couple of weeks with our trip to Rwanda, the beginning of classes and homestays. 

We are in the second and final week of Mukono homestays for on-campus students.  At the moment, all of our students are living with Ugandan families in Mukono, near the UCU campus.  This time spent as a part of a Ugandan family gives our students a wonderful firsthand, authentic experience of day to day life here.  

Meeting 2-week homestay families for the first time!

Hugs from a homestay mom!

Classes began September 8th at Uganda Christian University.  Some classes offered are specifically for USP students while others are with fellow Ugandan students.  UCU foundation courses like Health & Wholeness and East African Ethics give students invaluable cultural experience in a Ugandan classroom setting.

Faith & Action Retreat - with guest lecturer, Mark Bartels teaching on The Primal Vision.
Cross Cultural Practicum class in K-3, our home classroom at UCU!

*Photos courtesy of our PAs - Andi Haskins, Jean Kukunda & Katie Green

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Rwanda: Our Week in Review

Our week in the 'land of a thousand hills' was full of observing, learning and exploring.  

Thoughts on Rwanda from some of our students:

"Our time spent in Rwanda came with a wide array of emotions, but by the end I came out of the trip filled with hope for this new life of reconciliation in Rwanda.  What we experienced was real and heart-wrenching, but the joy and hope that we witnessed that has come out of the genocide outweighed the hurt and proved that forgiveness and new life is more than possible, it is happening."
~Joanna Benner, Messiah College '17

"Having the opportunity to visit Rwanda has been an incredible experience; the things I have learned and seen have truly had an impact on my world and how I see others."
~Allie E. Wynn, Columbia International University, '16

"If you want to know about a place where God's healing power is tangible, visit Rwanda.  I was here just 10 days but was able to learn of unfathomable horror and to experience unbelievable healing through stories of reconciliation.  Life was apparent and life in abundance was peeking through a tragic history.  I am so thankful for the experience and fully believe the world has so much to learn from this country."
~Shanna Johnson, Cornerstone University '15

So what did we do?

Umuganda is the last Saturday of every month; communities come together to do a variety of public works.  Our students had the opportunity to participate in Umuganda this year by helping pour a cement floor at the diocese in Kibungo where we stayed.

Our first Sunday in Rwanda our students participated in church services in rural areas of the country. 

During the week, we traveled to the Kigali Genocide Memorial Center as well as Nyamatta Church, both memorials of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda where we learned about Rwanda's tragic past.  We also visited CARSA, a Christian organization devoted to reconciling perpetrators and victims of the Rwandan genocide.  We worked on a community project alongside CARSA participants. 

Since the horrors of the genocide, Rwanda has made impressive strides forward in the area of economic development.  This successful development has been fueled by grassroots microfinance groups being formed all over the country.  We were able to visit a few of these groups and talk to the members about how these groups are helping them in their everyday lives.  We also experienced a taste of the beautiful and vibrant cultural community of Rwanda when we visited Inema Arts Center.  The students learned the cultural dance of Rwanda and toured the art gallery.

We ended the trip with a few days on Bushara Island in Lake Bunyonyi, just across the border in Uganda.  This purpose of this time is to reflect on our experiences in Rwanda through formal and informal debrief sessions, as well as the space to enjoy some down time together in a beautiful location.

*Photos taken by Rachel Robinson and Joanna Benner