Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Northern Uganda: a weekend trip to Gulu

The Uganda Studies Program takes the students on a number of trips throughout the semester where learning takes place in interesting and tangible ways. One such trip we take is to visit ‘the north,’ a region of the country that until 2008, was in the throes of civil war. You have likely heard about the Lords Resistance Army (the LRA), the rebel group that terrorized the north for 20 years, famous for their abductions of children, who they conscripted into their army to fight their war.

While the LRA is no longer active in northern Uganda, the trauma of the conflict still haunts many Ugandans. By visiting several different organizations in Gulu, students had the opportunity to learn not only about the history and the recent conflict, but to see and feel and experience hope! There is a lot of creative and restorative work being done to rebuild affected individuals and communities.

It was beautifully green up north, thanks to all the rain this season.

The first organization we visited, was ChildVoice International. Their mission is to restore voices of children silenced by war. They “build therapeutic communities creating a village of refuge for children and youth traumatized by conflict – war orphans, former child soldiers, or members of displaced families. Within the residential center, participants engage in a comprehensive array of activities designed to promote healing.” Counseling, education, life skills training, vocational training, and income generating projects are services that are provided or taught to the young women at ChildVoice International.

We were privileged to hear from the staff members who answered our many questions as they talked about their passion and commitment to the work they do. We toured the grounds and saw where the young women and their children live, we walked through the farmland they cultivate, visited their fish ponds, goats, pigs and bunnies, as well as the buildings where they learn various vocational skills. A highlight for the USP students was interacting with the young women in the program, as they danced and sang traditional songs.

USP students talk with staff members about their experiences working for Child Voice International
CVI staff member teaches USP students about their fishponds. 

Jimmy, carrying a jerry cans of water from the borehole on his head,
a skill that many Ugandans learn at a young age.

We also visited The Recreation Project, whose mission is inspiring youth to overcome fear and patterns of war through active healing experiences. These active healing experiences involve group activities on their low ropes course. The TRP staff led the USP students in several of these exercises, where they also had to trust and help one another in order to complete the life-sized puzzles. Through debriefing afterwards, students talked about the challenges and the significance of vulnerability and trust.

Mallory and Kendra, play a game at The Recreation Project in which they must be the first to shout the other person's name when the curtain is dropped between them. 

The Recreation Project uses team building activities to teach people important concepts like trust and courage. Our students needed to work together to accomplish their task of crossing the creek with only two boards.

Post-struggle, group hug!  
       As always, we are grateful to visit these organizations— for the opportunity to learn about the hope they inspire and the good work they do.

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