Sunday, 29 March 2015

Weekend Gulu Trip

A big part of USP is the opportunity to travel and explore different parts of Uganda. Last weekend we traveled to Gulu, a town in Northern Uganda, to visit a several organizations engaged in alternative/ creative development and peace building initiatives. We had the opportunity to learn more about the region and the recent conflict, and enjoy the beauty and diversity of Uganda on our 8 hour drive.

Every culture and community is rich in its own artistic sensibilities and expression; it is not something that need be imported or taught. To be human is to be creative, and yet that is very often lost or ignored when conflict leaves communities broken, or the lack of resources leaves them struggling for basic needs. How can play, music and the creation of beautiful things empower and strengthen individuals and their communities through their own creativity? How can these things be a vehicle for healing, reconciliation or for poverty-alleviation?

The first organization we visited is called The Recreation Project (  The Recreation Project uses play and outdoor recreation as tools in the healing process for young people in post-conflict areas. Our students had the opportunity to hear from the founder, Ben Porter, who talked about the genesis of the organisation and some of the theories and psychology of play in trauma healing. Two TRP facilitators, Charles and Goofy led the group in several activities showing how trust, problem solving, communication skills etc. are learned through play. We also had the opportunity to do several activities with some high school girls in the Climbing Club. Fun and challenging! 

Never Have I Ever:

The Spider Web:

Crossing the River: 

After The Recreation Project, we visited Amani Uganda. Amani is an organization that supports marginalized women in Africa (sister locations exist in Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi and Liberia) through sewing as a means of economic development. The women learn how to sew and make beautiful, high-quality products that people all over the world are excited to buy. The sale of these products allows them to support their families and put their children through school. More than just a workplace though, Amani is a community of women committed to working together and supporting one another through difficult life circumstances; literally sewing peace in each others lives as they build a better future together. We heard some of the powerful stories from the women, and felt their pride and dignity as they showed us their work. For more information on Amani (or to purchase amazing crafts!) visit:

We also visited Music for Peace, an organization aimed at using the power of music to foster peace. We met with Lindsay McClain Opiyo and Jeff Korondo, the couple who began and run the organization. They shared with us how Music for Peace came about, how they are currently helping local artists develop and produce their own music and are starting to provide music lessons for children in Gulu. We spent a fun evening together, talking, singing and eating some delicious Sankofa Cafe pizza. The link to the Music for Peace blog is here:

Meeting with Lindsay and Jeff (center, back, Lindsay in blue, next to Jeff with the guitar): 

Creativity, play and music aren't the fist things one typically thinks about with regards to development in post-conflict areas, yet they are vital elements of what it means to be human and a important piece of healing. It was inspiring to learn more about these three organizations and the important work they are doing in Gulu. 

Monday, 23 March 2015

Julia Korban: A Homestay Experience

My siblings!
The driver turned right down a rocky, dusty road as the sun began to set behind the hills of Mukono. The car continued down a hill until we pulled up to a walled-in house, enclosed with a large, iron gate. The car came to a stop as the gates began to open. I clutched my bag as my heart began to beat so quickly; to this day I cannot pinpoint whether it was nervousness or excitement making my adrenaline pump. This was the moment I had been anticipating ever since I had been accepted into the Uganda Studies Program, three months earlier. We had already dropped three girls off at their semester-long homestays, and we had finally arrived at my home. There in the driveway stood women, children, and toddlers, all anticipating my arrival. I stepped out of the car and was immediately welcomed with open arms from all who were standing there. The two young boys grabbed my belongings to take to my room as I gazed around in bewilderment. Once inside, introductions began. “I am Janice, this is Fidel, Charis, Lucy, Auntie Bettie, Auntie Matilda, Auntie Mariam, Auntie Martha, and the twins are Treasure and Favor. Mom and Dad are away this weekend for work, but they will be back on Sunday.” I was overwhelmed in that moment, to say the least. Janice, my 13-year old sister, led me to our room, where she and Auntie Bettie began to set up my sheets and hang my mosquito net around my bed. My 11-year old and 10-year old brothers, Fidel and Charis, showed me around the rest of the house, and the yard. After my tour of their property, I went to begin to unpack my things. Janice and I had our first awkward conversation while I unpacked, and the boys marvelled at all the American things I had brought along, especially my M&M’s. At about 9:30 pm, I had my first Ugandan dinner with my family. Beans, rice, and meat piled the plates of everyone in the house. As Fidel covered his meal with ketchup, he ignored the optional forks set on the table, and dug in shamelessly with both hands. I sat there, uncomfortably trying to make small talk and bond with my new family. That night, I climbed under my mosquito net and laid in bed for hours, thinking of how this would be my home, and my family, for the next four months.
Carrying my twin siblings!

Washing clothes


Popcorn time with the family!
As time has gone on, being placed with this family for the semester has been the best experience of my life. I have grown so close to each and every one of my family members. My host Dad has unfortunately been away in Israel for the past six weeks for work, but is returning this week! One of the many things that I absolutely adore about Ugandan culture is their sense of family and their sense of community. Families live with their extended family members frequently; someone who is family, is always welcomed in another family member’s home. This is why the family that I stay with has so many aunties! They are a family of fun, and a family of love. My host mom constantly reminds me how often she prays for me, and my 2-year old twin siblings sing songs about how they love Jesus every day. When I arrive home from school, I am greeted with giggling children, running up to me, jumping into my arms, and all my family members greeting me by saying “welcome back!” Many nights we all sit around a tray filled with bags of popcorn that mommy has brought home, all of us children in the same place, at the same time. Sometimes we tell riddles, or tell scary stories under the stars with Auntie Bettie and Auntie Matilda as they cook dinner outside. Last week, my brothers and I made American pancakes over the coal stove outside. We ate them with peanut butter and syrup, and everybody loved them! They have taught me how to mingle posho and atap, and how to make my absolute favorite Ugandan food: Chapati. Janice and Matilda spent much time teaching me to properly hand wash my clothes, wash the dishes, and sort rice. The boys love to come into my bedroom while I am trying to do homework and ask my questions about my life in America. “In America, does everyone have a toaster oven? In America, do you wear uniforms to school? In America, do you have a vacuum cleaner? In America, do you have to work to get money?” As we sit and talk, we find out that we have so many similarities, and we love to learn about each other’s differences. Each day brings something new, especially as we have had to face the changes that life always brings. Janice has gone off to boarding school, leaving me alone in my room, and without one of my sisters. The boys have started up their school year again, and come home every night after I am asleep, and leave before I am even awake (how they do it, I have no idea). Weekends are the prime time for seeing my brothers, but I enjoy every night spending time with Auntie Miriam, Auntie Bettie, Auntie Matilda, Mom, and the twins, as we laugh and talk, and sit together.
My family finds it quite comical that I fear cockroaches so intensely. One night, at dinner, the entire family was all crammed around the kitchen table, when, of course, I spotted a giant cockroach dashing  across the wall. As I screamed bloody murder, the entire family’s eyes widened. I put my feet up under mom's legs on her chair, as I pointed at the horrendous bug. My brave little Charis ran to get a shoe, smashed in, and carried it outside, to dispose of it. The entire family laughed, laughed, and laughed for about 5 minutes as I sat there, traumatised. From that day on, I put my feet up while I eat dinner, just to make sure no cockroach has the chance to scare the life out of me by touching my bare skin. 

Making pancakes!
It is a family just like any other in this world: there are arguments, laughter, tears, singing, cooking, cleaning, playing, yelling, good times, and bad. Each day, as I become more comfortable with my family, I become more comfortable as an American in Uganda. They love me, they accept me, and they teach me so much. Sometimes I get confused as to why I am so amazed that I can feel so at home with people of a different culture, skin color, history, lifestyle, and continent. It makes sense: humans are created to love and to be loved. We are created to celebrate life, all life, and to embrace one another in our alikeness and our differences. We are commanded by God’s Word to be hospitable, to open our homes to one another, and to relish all parts of the body of Christ. Together, we become one in Jesus. We share the joy, the peace that surpasses understanding, the mercy, the struggles, the tears, the pain, the hope, and the unconditional love of being a Christian when we come together as one. It does not matter our social status, our race, our ethnicity, our material possessions, or our nationality. In Christ, we are the same, and together we can be united in a beautiful community. And this community, this love that I have come to know through my homestay so far this semester, has been the most joyful, inspiring, and incredible experience in my life. For this I am so grateful and will continually thank God for this family that has taken me in as their own, and has loved me without restraint.​
Hugs from my host Mom

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Serere Rural Homestays

A semester in Uganda would be incomplete without time spent in a rural village as most Ugandans are subsistance farmers living in rural communities. Rural homestays gives students the opportunity to engage with a family in context which is very different from the urban setting of Mukono. This semester our students spent a week in Serere (in Eastern Uganda)
doing life with their Itesso host families. 

Meeting host families - greeted with lots of hugs and smiles!

What is life in rural Uganda without a few awesome huts...

...and bucket bathing!

And of course, no rural homestay week is complete without a fun debrief to Sipi Falls where we process our week, hike and enjoy the beautiful outdoors!