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

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