Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Gulu Trip!

Northern Uganda is still recovering from a recent history of conflict. Former child soldiers and others similarly affected by the war suffer from poverty and a lack of opportunities, but they also suffer just as significantly from mistrust, isolation and a lack of platforms for self-expression. Last weekend USP visited four organizations in Gulu, northern Uganda, which address these issues in wonderfully unique ways.

Our first stop was Amani Uganda, a small business organization working with women who were formerly abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in northern Uganda. The women at Amani welcomed us to their workshop with a song and lots of smiles and handshakes. A couple of the women shared their stories with us, retelling their experiences with the LRA, their struggles with reintegrating back into their home communities, the healing they discovered through working with women who shared similar experiences, and the empowerment they found in selling their handmade products to support their families. We stayed for a while in the shop to watch them work their magic with the colorful fabrics to turn them into amazing handbags, wallets and other practical yet beautiful merchandise. 

A beautiful Gulu sunset after a rainy afternoon

The next day, Saturday, began with a trip to The Recreation Project (TRP), located in a small forest in Gulu. 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, skills to support themselves, and healing after trauma. We got to taste some of the TRP experience ourselves as the staff led us in group games and other activities, and then helped us reflect on the team dynamics of each activity. 

Students start off the day at TRP by playing a name game
Geralyn, Julia and Morgan work together to help Jessica through the Spider's Web
Jansen, Kat and Geralyn chill while acting as a weight for the bridge the other students are building

After a classic Ugandan lunch of rice, beans and cabbage, we piled back into the coaster to visit TAKS - or "Through Art Keep Smiling" - a grassroots community arts center in Gulu Town. We watched a breakdance performance and then sat in on the Film Club meeting to watch an amazing African film that was both light-hearted and meaningful. David Odwar, the founder of TAKS, took us on a tour of the compound, which included a buzzing computer lab, the lawn where a wedding was taking place, the mini motel under construction, the gift shop where we bought some handmade jewelry, and even David’s home with an amazing view of the sunset. David’s enthusiasm for his work and love for his community was inspiring, and it was exciting to see all that was happening in this space that is well-loved and utilized by the community. 

Beautiful graffiti decorates the walls of the main building at TAKS
Louise and Katie listen to the discussion after watching "Africa United" with the TAKS Film Club
A dancer performs in the TAKS theater

Our last stop was the music studio of Music For Peace, an organization that uses music as a tool for emotional healing, reconciliation and communication on important issues. Founders Jeff and Lindsay Opiyo showed us their recording studio in Gulu Town. Jeff even helped us record a short track that became an instant hit with the kids listening outside the studio! At dinner afterwards, Jeff and Lindsay shared their stories about using music with the people of northern Uganda to facilitate friendships, promote healing and empower them to use their voices to make change. 

Samuel and Martha listen to the duet they just recorded in the MFP music studio

We ended our trip with a Sunday morning worship service where we prayed together and reflected on what we’d learned and who we’d like to become during this last month of the semester. As we climbed back on to the coaster to make our way home to Mukono, we left feeling hopeful, with a greater appreciation for the power of community, self-expression and beauty. Maybe we can’t solve the problem of poverty on our own, but we can create space for those around us to sing, to laugh, to dance, to enjoy being themselves and to experience love in genuine friendships.

Students share a meal on the way home to Mukono

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