Sunday, July 20, 2014

Our Time at TAKS

As I walked up to TAKS Art Centre on the first day of class, the venue for the lecture portion of the course, I was immediately intrigued. The place seemed to radiate creativity and ingenuity without even setting foot inside the building. The first thing I saw was a very detailed and impressive portrait of Nelson Mandela on the front of the white building. I knew without question that TAKS Art Centre's philosophy and beliefs would closely mirror those of Mandela. Graffiti with Acholi words like “kuc” meaning peace and were sprayed upon the long brick wall that bordered the side of the property.

We made our way inside and were welcomed by the very passionate and charismatic potter and TAKS owner, David Odwar. He gave us a tour of the TAKS building and community while explaining to us all the resources and activities that TAKS provides for the community. The centre equips the community by offering access to computers, a cafè, a performance stage, a small shop were local artists sell their artwork, and most importantly a space where art and sport are encouraged.

Over the course of a week and a half my peers and I have gotten the chance to witness some amazing things going on at TAKS. Eric, a graduate of Gulu University, is head of the dance club there. Everyday after school hours youth from the community have the opportunity to express themselves through dance.

Very recently I got the opportunity to meet Dennis who is head of the boxing team at TAKS. Kirsten, my fellow classmate, and I watched a regular boxing practice. They practice almost everyday with youth from the community who are interested in learning how to box and being a part of a team.

I speak not only for myself but for my peers in saying that TAKS has and continues to be an important part of our experience here in Gulu. We have made countless friends here and continue to see illustrations of the strength and potential that Gulu possesses.

First Day of Work

              The first day I went to my internship at the Center for Reparations and Rehabilitation I was extremely nervous. I had never worked in an office before, and now my first time was going to be in northern Uganda. These nerves were mixed with a level of excitement. I would be working with a local organization to help right the wrongs of the land wranglers, and I would also be working with Sex and Gender Based Violence victims; I could think of no better way to spend my four weeks.
                I arose early in the morning to take a van from my hotel to where I would be working for the next four weeks. As I looked out the window to become familiar with my future route, I saw the dusty road and the large market of tailors, fish, and shoes. It was really dawning on me that this was going to be a truly unique experience.
                We pulled up to a small office with a group of men and women chatting on the porch. I stepped out of the van to meet my new co-workers. The first man I met was on the larger side and had an infectious smile from ear to ear. His name was Thomas. I did not know it at the time, but Thomas would be one of my best pals at the CRR; his continual jokes coupled with his expertise on his work make him a joy to work with. I continued with my introductions and was whisked around the office as I got the entire tour. I met people by the names of Gloria, Emmanuel, and Max and every single one was Ugandan.
                At first I was worried about working with only Ugandans. There were so many foreseeable issues including language and cultural barriers, but now as I sit at my desk in the psycho-social department I am glad that it is this way. I feel like I would have been robbed of the entire experience if it was any other way. Sometimes when I am working in the office I do feel like a complete foreigner though, but then Thomas pops his head in with a big smile, and suddenly I feel right at home.

The Road to Kitgum

Early this Saturday morning I made my way down to Uchumi, meeting my ACTV co-workers with smiles and well-wishes. After a brief trip inside the store for breakfast food, we were on our way to Kitgum, a small town about two and half hours north of Gulu town.
Our trip was prompted by the death of the mother-in-law of ACTV’s resident doctor, Dr. Judith. It occurred a few days prior to my arrival, and on my first day the staff held a meeting where they collectively decided to drive together to attend the funeral to support Dr. Judith and her family. In a show of solidarity and sympathy for Dr. Judith, whom at that point I had never met, I decided to accompany the rest of the office on the trip.
With nine of us packed into the van I was fortunate enough to get a window seat and spent the large majority of the drive staring out at Uganda’s countryside, contentedly listening to the rapid-fire Acholi being laughed out by my companions. It was a pale, brightly lit morning. As we drove the distant hills slowly solidified only to be followed by more of the same, the continuous pattern of replacement making the road seem endless.
A few hours later we turned off the main road onto a thin driveway which took us to the site of the funeral. There were about four hundred people in attendance, all of whom were seated under nine tents shaped into in a large circle around the family, who were in turn seated across from the place where she was to be buried.
The ceremony was long by American standards, lasting about six hours from start to finish, and included a few unexpected events. The first of which was a series of live-spirited dances. I asked Gloria, my fellow co-worker, if dancing at funerals was common, and she informed me that it all depends on who has died. Since the woman lived a long, full life, they were celebrating her life in addition to mourning her passing. Gloria told me that when people die young it’s a different story. Funerals for the young are much more somber affairs, filled with much crying and grieving. However, for a life well-lived, it was only right that they celebrate her, for her life and for the impressive legacy she left behind.
The funeral was beautiful and appropriately reverent, the woman in question had had eleven highly successful children, many of whom got up and spoke a few words about their mother. There was prayer, there were hymns, there was enough food to feed a small army; all in all, the ceremony held my attention and my respect. It was a beautiful service for a woman who was obviously well loved, and I am grateful to have gotten the opportunity to attend.

Ward Rounds

I was very nervous on the first day of my internship. I had yet to visit Lacor Hospital, a Catholic hospital in Gulu. Although I was excited to finally start working and shadowing in the surgery department, I was not sure how things would work out. When I arrived, the hospital was quite large and more spacious than I had envisioned. After settling down in the hospital, I was led to a team of doctors and interns that worked in the department. They warmly took me under their tutelage, and I was quickly thrown into the world of medicine. 

One of the many buildings at Lacor Hospital, which was founded in 1959.

This is the grave of the respected doctor Matthew Lukwiya, who dedicated his life to fight the Ebola outbreak in Gulu. He passed away in 2000 from the disease. 

The entrance to the Surgery 2 department. 

A chart of patient fees displayed at reception in the hospital. 

The front gate of St. Mary's Hospital Lacor. 

Almost everyone I have met has been so welcoming and accepting. I actually feel like I am part of the team, and it is a great relief. They make sure I understand what is happening, yet they also know my limits as an undergraduate student. It has made me more enthusiastic about gaining knowledge and experience from the hospital and from the people that do what they do to serve their community. It has been eye-opening so far; situations have been grim, but also hopeful. There have been tears, but also smiles and apwoyos. I know for a fact I will continue to grow and absorb many kinds of skills and perspectives. Right now, I know this is a great chance for me to think about what I can do not only for myself, but also think about what I can do for the people around me and how I can impact their lives.

Friday, July 18, 2014

"Rising Stars, Yes We Are."

It was seventeen people and a baby crammed in a matatu listening to Shania Twain blaring out of someone’s phone. Christine, the Child Protections Officer at Hope and Peace for Humanity, and I took the matatu out to Sacred Heart Gulu, a Catholic school where HPH runs their Rising Stars mentorship and empowerment program.
Sacred Heart itself is a very impressive school. It's a large, beautifully kept campus with lots of students; and everyone was incredibly gracious and welcoming about having me sit in on the program.
The Rising Stars program has about seventy-five students in total, but on the day I first went the schedule had been switched around so not every student was present. We still had a packed classroom though and started the afternoon’s events with a prayer before diving into the lesson.
First, Christine held up a game called Pathways to Change and explained how it was played. She talked about personal, social, and environmental barriers- each aspects of the game- and about overcoming such barriers. Christine told stories, posited scenarios, and encouraged the students to talk about their life experiences and dreams. I stood up for a bit and talked about my experiences and my goals, but I really enjoyed getting to hear from the students.
I even got to watch the students hold officer elections, which was a fun experience. The student candidates stood up and gave short speeches about why they should be elected and then there were class-wide votes for each position. It reminded me a lot of elections when I was in school.
Participating in the Rising Stars program was a really neat experience. I am very thankful that I get to keep going back weekly to Sacred Heart to participate in the program for the remainder of our time in Gulu.
And here’s best wishes to the students’ on their impending exams!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

African Praise & Worship

I attend Centenary United Methodist Church in Memphis, TN. Because I basically grew up there, I call it my church home and cherish my church family almost as much as my own. When I left for college, I had a hard time finding a church with the same spirit as my church home. As I traveled from church to church, I never found anything close to the animation and music that occurs at Centenary. Last Sunday, we got the chance to visit Robert Kayanja’s Miracle Center Cathedral in Kampala. For the first time ever, I found a church with the same spirit as my church home. In fact, they even sang the same songs that they sing at Centenary! I found the sermon to be extremely disappointing. Robert Kayanja was not present and a guest from Australia gave the message. It seemed that she had no connection with the Ugandans other than the google search she had done shortly before. She even said that she does not watch the news or read the newspaper, and she thanked God for Google. Moreover, she related this vague and unrelated dream to the Ugandan's future prosperity. My disappointment mainly stemmed from the fact that this woman, dressed in her nice clothes and adorned with jewelry, would hop back on the plane and not think about these people after her sermon. I wanted to hear a Ugandan tell the Ugandans that they can pull themselves out of their financial situation. I don't mind prosperity gospel because I believe that it truly gives people hope, but this woman did not even know what she was talking about. Ignoring this, the rest of the service was phenomenal. The music and the spirit of the people moved me very much. The congregation was swaying, dancing, and jumping up and down. They were not afraid to voice their elation, and the harmonies were heavenly. I got chill bumps several times throughout the service, and I would love to go again. Now I understand why African American churches are lively and filled with music and why I have not been able to find that same spirit in predominantly Caucasian places of worship. Watching the Ugandans praise, jump around, and shout reminded me so much of the way my church family acts when the spirit moves them. It was very refreshing and has verified for me that Africa is truly the land I am from.  I am truly grateful for the opportunity to visit a church in Uganda, it has put a lot of things into perspective for me.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Freedom and Recreation in Northern Uganda

One thing that has really touched me in the short week that we have been in Uganda is the different passions that these people have for the environment and betterment of their country in the post-war atmosphere. The friends that we have made and the friends that have helped with GSSAP in the past, all have some passion in one way or another to help their country and their fellow Ugandans. Today we were able to meet Ivan and his animals on his farm where he teaches children from the community and a nearby school about agriculture and farming. The title of the farm, Freedom and Recreation, fits the atmosphere of the farm perfect.
Ivan loved telling us all about his farm and the great things he is doing for the community.
As we all freaked out about seeing the largest pig most of us had ever seen in our lives, I was amazed at what Ivan told me. I asked if they ate the meat from the pigs, or what they did with them once they were grown. He told me that they raise these animals, and then sell most of them when they are too large or full-grown to support children to get higher education.

Another thing that stood out to me was the special pipelines that were made from a hole in the ground full of cow dung to the kitchen on the farm. They set up this invention to use the dung as fuel for electricity. They also used solar power on the farm. A whole new standard for going green!

The determination, creativity, and intelligence of the people of Uganda that I have met so far is amazing. They have already made such an impact, and I know it is only the beginning for these brave people!