Friday, 28 October 2016

Rural Homestays: SERERE!!!

Road Trip...

Friday, October 14, 2016, USP rolled out of the parking lot fully loaded with energetic students ready to embrace the unknown of their week with their rural homestay families. Every semester USP students go for a 10-day rural immersion experience, which is aimed at giving them a more encompassing view of Ugandan culture. The Mabira forest and the spectacular Nile inspired us along the way. We were on our way to Serere!

When the road becomes a place and the place becomes a community which in turn becomes a home. 
-- Wendell Berry

Drop offs…

Students were dropped off with eager families, who would be their mother, father, brothers and sisters for the next week. 

Some of our students spend their week living in grass thatched huts at their homestays

Danielle Awabdeh is embraced by her host mom

Program Assistant, Talitha Witt, introduces current student Caleb Strom to his host family


Growing into the norms and lifestyles of their families is what the students embark on as soon as possible with openness and willingness to learn from the richness of the Ateso people. The students soon learn the routines of the home from sunrise to sunset which include digging with "no. 7" (the best hoe for this region), shelling ground nuts, milking cows, tying goats and sweeping the compound without forgetting long walks to visit ‘neighbors’. Working together with their families, their bodies earn callouses and sunburns; testament of their labors and cross cultural immersion. The students learn of the stories and histories of their families as they are lovingly knit into them.

Elle Arnold's host mom teaches her to peel matooke, a common local food

Audrey Anderson pounds ground nuts to make ground nut butter
Jamie Whitcher meets one of her neighbors

Joanna Saufley washes dishes after lunch


Sipi Falls is synonymous with beauty, with a view of Mt. Elgon and Lake Kyoga -- the perfect place to debrief the week together. Meditations and reflections emerge on faith, culture, love, community, family, education and poverty. We hike to the waterfalls as we weave through the communities similar to those in Serere, enjoying each other’s presence and that of the Sabiny people.

USP students hiking in Sipi 
The beautiful, Sipi Falls
Thank you to all our host families who welcomed us into their homes and families. 

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Alumni Post: Emily Senff, Fall 2013

One-Degree Changes
I was a part of the Uganda Studies Program in the fall of 2013. I walked into this semester ready for what I thought would be a life-changing experience; armed with the entire book list in my bag, a new camera, and a suitcase I had finished packing the day before, I stepped into an experience I had planned for and prayed over for quite some time. Imagine my surprise when, during orientation, the director told us that if we were expecting a "life-changing experience” that USP would not be the program for us. In it’s place, we would discover one-degree changes - small, but significant, changes to the way we experienced life.

Several key experiences really shaped my time as a USP student in Uganda. As a daughter, I stayed with a family that treated me as one of their own: the Ssentongos always extended such incredible patience and joy my way. As a practicum student at Compassion International’s Mukono Child Development Centre, I was able to witness the groundwork of an organization I have always admired. As a traveler, I experienced incredible awe and wonder during the thunderstorms of Sipi Falls and the sunrises of Bushara Island. As a student of our cohort, I learned about the power of shared experiences and what resolving differences in community looked like. So while there were both highs and lows, both inspiring moments and challenging ones, a quick look back on my experience makes me think of the big picture - of the stories I have carried with me and the way relationships have developed since the time that seems like yesterday and ten years ago at the same time.

Now, after three full years, I find myself reflecting on what stuck with me from this semester. We all have moments of our lives, what I’ve heard referred to as ‘tent pole moments’ - times that mark the end of one season and the beginning of another, ones that we refer back to as pivotal in our journey as life continues to ebb and flow. For me, my semester with USP was certainly a tent pole moment. I look on the semester and see how incredibly it was orchestrated, from the timing to the people involved, from the culture to the travel. I see how God met me there in a way I could have never planned on my own. Uganda, for me, was a time that God chose to pull me out of my comfortable, quiet life, and drop me into a place and a time where I could only thrive if I stepped outside of my comfort zone and felt what it was like to really experience love and life in a whole-hearted way.

A lot has happened since then. I graduated from Trinity Western University in 2014 with my BA in Psychology and a Human Services certificate. I went on to work various temporary jobs within the field, and last year found myself in a really wonderful position as an Outreach Mental Health worker in Community Mental Health. While grad school and travel are always on the horizon - and, in fact, the not so distant future - I see the beauty in making a home and a place right where I am. And so every day, I walk with people as they journey with chronic mental illness and I get to experience alongside them what it looks like for hope to come alive in tangible ways. It seems that every day, with or without realizing it, I borrow from the lessons learned during my four short months in Uganda. I find that my grasp for presence in my community is ever changing and growing, and I struggle with newer and deeper questions when I reread Henri Nouwen’s Compassion (a core USP reading) at least once in a year. In the day to day, I see that it always comes back to presence and fully being with the people God has placed in my path. Moment to moment, I try to listen like Papa and exude joy like Mama (my Ugandan host parents) and act as a place for those in my life to find rest and strength and hospitality and forgiveness. And in the times where I am faced with the unknown and I wonder just what God is up to next, I think of how His plans for us are immeasurably more than we could ever imagine. I remember how He pulled through in a big way when it came to my time with USP, and that gives me hope and faith that He can - and will - do it again. Through these uncertain moments, I realize that one-degree changes are not as insignificant as I first thought they might be; in fact, I think that’s where life shines the brightest.

With my Mukono host family, the Ssentongos
On rural homestays in Serere.  
Fall 2013 group photo at the start of the semester. 
Our group of students has stayed connected in one way or another - the last big event was the wedding of
two of our own this past summer; half of us were able to reunite for the big day. 

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Two-week Mukono Homestays

A unique and special part of the USP semester is the homestay experience. Living with a Ugandan family is one of the most enriching and valuable parts of cultural immersion. All of our 'On-Campus' (students who choose to live in dorms on the Uganda Christian University campus for the semester) live with a family in Mukono for two weeks. They recently returned from their homestays with lots of good stories and photos to share, and now they each have a 'home away from home' here in Mukono where they can return throughout the semester. 

Getting ready to be dropped off with their new families!

It’s undeniable how hospitable our Ugandan host families are to the students, welcoming their new sons and daughters with big hugs and warm smiles, immediately removing any nervousness the students may have been feeling.

Sabrina meeting her new mama!
Jimmy meeting his new mama!
As with being a member of any family, the students take on various responsibilities in their new homes. Some of these chores can be preparing meals, washing dishes, cleaning the house, feeding the chickens, milking the cows and making fresh fruit juice. And then there’s always time to simply enjoy relaxing and having fun with the family by drinking tea, watching soap operas on TV, having Bible studies and playing with little brothers and sisters. Some students may even have the opportunity to attend special occasions such as Ugandan parties, introductions and weddings. 

Joanna playing with her younger brother.
During their homestays, students have to walk from their homes to campus and back every day, which helps add to their experience as a local university student. Often times there are many neighborhood children eagerly waiting for them to walk by so they can greet them. Being called “Muzungu!!” by excited children every day becomes a familiar part of the routine, as is arriving home after a long day, taking evening tea with whoever is around. 

Kendra cooking supper with her siblings.

The homestay experience can be challenging at times. Stepping outside their comfort zones helps students to grow in new ways and gain a new perspectives. Even though we come from different cultures and may do some things differently, we realize that we are also not so different at all.

Kara baking a cake with her parents!
Many of our students apply to live with host families in Mukono for the entire semester. We'll share more from our 'Homestay students' soon!