Thursday, 31 March 2016

USP goes north

While the bulk of the USP experience happens in the southern region of Uganda, we also take a couple trips each semester to explore different areas of the country. Last week we went to the town of Gulu in Uganda’s far north.

The land and people of northern Uganda are still recovering from a long war with the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). An entire generation was wounded and robbed – materially, physically, emotionally and spiritually. What’s been left behind is a fragmented society of broken families, former child soldiers, and now the children of these ex-soldiers who are largely neglected and unwanted by their communities.

But at the heart of this brokenness and despair, there are groups of people coming together to restore dignity and prosperity to the beautiful people of the north. We spent our weekend in Gulu visiting three different organizations that are working towards rebuilding their communities.

Our first visit was to Amani Uganda, a small business organization working with women who were formerly abducted by the LRA. Amani gives these women opportunities to support their families through sewing beautiful handmade products and selling them to tourists and people around the world. During our visit, the women took a break from sitting at their sewing machines to give us a warm welcome and share their stories with us. Afterwards we got to chat with them, play with their kids, and buy some of the beautiful works of art that these women create!

The group with Grace, the director of Amani Uganda. 
Rachel chats with one of the staff members at Amani
We started off our next day with a visit to The Recreation Project (TRP), an adventure-based therapy organization located in a quiet grove of beautiful eucalyptus trees. 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 and find healing after trauma. We had the honor of hearing Ben Porter, the founder of TRP, share his story about building this organization and the ups and downs of what he’s observed during his work in northern Uganda. And, of course, we couldn’t leave without getting a taste of the TRP experience ourselves!

Bethany, Katie, Karissa and Esther help Sarah
through the Spider's Web at TRP

Danielle crosses the river with the help of a few friends
They all made it across!

Our final visit was with a grassroots organization called the Women’s Advocacy Network (WAN). This organization specifically addresses the obstacles that the women and children returning from the LRA face.  Five women from WAN, all formerly abducted by the LRA as children, met with us to share their stories, answer our questions and explain their work of reunifying families and reintegrating women like themselves into their communities. It was truly a privilege to hear them share and to be inspired by their willingness to help the women around them with whatever resources they have.

It was a short but definitely thought-provoking weekend, as the the stories we heard raised lots of questions about the state of our broken world. But being able to dance and laugh with the people we met brings some sort of hope - hope that can't always be put into words but is perhaps best articulated by the smiles on the faces of those who were once victims and are now powerful change-makers. 

Kenedy, Kylie, Anna and Amy with one of the 
inspiring leaders of the Women's Advocacy Network

Monday, 14 March 2016

Rural Homestays- Kapchorwa

Every semester we take our students to a village in rural Uganda and drop them off with host families to experience life in a rural Ugandan village for one week. This semester we went back to Kapchorwa in eastern Uganda. Every family is different, so each student has a unique experience, but here are some of the common threads throughout the week and our debrief retreat afterwards.

Rural homestays is... A time to meet new people...

Amy meets her new host mama

A time to practice hospitality...

Kelsey learns to carry a baby on her back!

A time to work hard...

Anna hard at work on the family farm

A time to be present...

Ella with her little brother Ephraim 

A time to appreciate a very different way of life...

Karissa and Esther do laundry together

A time to enjoy simplicity...

Bethany grinds coffee beans by hand

A time to experience the vastness of God’s creation...

One of Kapchorwa's incredible views

A time to reunite...

Roommates Cassandra and Karissa
reunited at the debrief retreat at Sipi Falls

A time to be thankful...

Sarah reads a chapter from Isaiah
during our Sunday service at debrief

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Meet the Newest USP Staff Members!

Gilbert Nuwagira

Gilbert, originally from Mbarara in southwestern Uganda, was a student at Uganda Christian University from 2012 to 2015. While beginning his studies in Economics and Management, he quickly became interested in UCU’s Honours College program, becoming a member in his second year. It was in the Honours College that Gilbert first got connected with USP, becoming good friends with USP students and facilitating opportunities for them to have a richer experience in the Ugandan culture. When he became President of the Honours College, Gilbert began working more closely with USP staff in planning events and continuing to facilitate the cross-cultural friendships happening around him.

Gilbert graduated from UCU in October of 2015. Realizing how much he liked working with people and understanding the value of rich cross-cultural relationships, he decided to continue his partnership with USP by becoming our newest Program Assistant! So far, he has found his first weeks on the job “exhilarating” and “informative," and he has settled very nicely into the everyday excitement of the USP office, where no two days are ever the same. Among the students, Gilbert has already built up a reputation of being exceptionally thoughtful and caring, as well as being a good go-to person for insights on Ugandan culture and cross-cultural interactions.

Gilbert and fellow PAs Prudence and Courtney making
packed lunches in preparation for rural homestays
Gilbert chats with social work student Kylie during the
USP/Honors College Retreat at Vision for Africa

John Kabugo

John has just joined the USP team as our newest driver! John was born and raised right here in Mukono, and he has been driving for Uganda Christian University for nearly seven years. Perhaps more than any other USP staff member, John gets to see the breadth of our program every day, driving students to their host families all over Mukono, their practicum sites around the district, and even class field trips in and around Kampala. John is enjoying working in a program that allows him to interact with many different people throughout the day.

John is doing a great job helping us get around and keeping our beloved USP van clean and in good mechanical condition. But really it’s his contagious smile and his willingness to be of help that have made him an important part of our students’ everyday lives. More than just being our driver, John is also an important resource for students when they have questions about Ugandan culture, food, plants, and other observations they may have.

John prepares to head out on one of his daily drive through Mukono
Our complex transportation schedule works smoothly, largely thanks
to the hard work and coordination of Lydia, John and Innocent 

Micah Hughes

One of the most exciting new developments at USP is the development of our new Global Health Emphasis, scheduled to begin in Fall 2016. Micah Hughes, our newest coordinator who will be over the Global Health Emphasis (GHE), joined us in the office at the beginning of January, and we are excited about what he brings to the team! A graduate of Wheaton College, Micah participated in Wheaton’s Human Needs and Global Resources program, doing a six-month internship in the West Nile region of Uganda. Micah went on to get his MS in Biotechnology from Rush University Medical Center and continued working and teaching in the medical field. Most recently he founded and directed the global health program at Denver School of Nursing, where he was an assistant professor. With this program he organized and led internships abroad for nursing students in multiple countries, including Uganda.

With years of experience teaching nursing and bringing students in the pre-health professions to Uganda, Micah now finds himself at USP, constructing the Global Health Emphasis. The GHE will provide USP students in the pre-health professions with opportunities to experience work in the global health field under the supervision of Ugandan clinicians. USP already has wonderful relationships with trusted organizations around Mukono, where we have been placing social work and cross-cultural practicum students for the past 12 years. Now Micah is working toward utilizing the leadership and expertise of the medical personnel at these organizations and others to provide new opportunities for Ugandan partners to mentor our students. 

The GHE is designed to be inclusive of the many professions that fall under the global health category, and it will be open to all students in the pre-health fields (Public Health, Nursing, Medicine, Kinesiology, Exercise Science, and others). Practicum sites will range from district hospitals where students will experience direct interventional care, to community health organizations focused on health education and systemic health issues in Uganda. GHE students will look at both preventative and interventional global health and how the two are related – in addition to the overall USP experience. Micah’s ultimate goal is to mentor students and build a program that serves as a tool to help students discern which aspects of global health they are most passionate about, while experiencing career and ministry opportunities for a future in global health. 

Micah teaches the Cross-Cultural Practicum class
Micah with students and PAs picking up
snacks for the Superbowl Monday party!