I have found some time and some wifi to give an update. May I just say that there are not enough words or pictures to truly share what my experience has been like so far, pretty amazing. I have been quite busy and am happy for that.
When I met Alice in Kampala two weeks ago, she told me that instead of going to the Pader location I would be stationed at the newer Nwoya Girls Academy since I would be of more use there. It is still in the north, but a little further from Pader. Not so far on a map, but in a car pretty far since the roads are a bit like a rollercoaster, dirt roads that dust everything a brown red color. If you end up taking a boda-boda, the typical transport of jumping on the back of a motorcycle, you will for sure end up a darker brown color when you arrive at your destination from the dirt roads. This past weekend I traveled into Gulu to buy some art supplies for the girls and took a boda part way. Since there isn’t a mirror where I live I haven’t really seen myself for a while. But this past weekend when I got into Gulu and saw my reflection in a mirror I thought wow I really have gotten tan, but then realized as I wiped my face that it was just a light layer of dirt all over me. I have been told that the sun is so intense here that by the end of the summer I will be as dark as all the people that live here. They don’t believe me when I tell them that this isn’t really possible. But I have gotten some good farmers tan lines and the chaco tan lines on my feet are quite intense.
The organization I am interning for, the Christian Counseling Foundation (CCF), created the Nwoya Girls Academy. There is also a daycare that is part of the school since some of the girls have little ones. CCF created the school to help war affected girls gain an education. Alice, the woman who really began much of this, came back to her home village after the 20 year war ended in Uganda and saw many girls coming back alienated for their contact with the rebel armies. The LRA, Lords Resistance Army, is one such rebel army that would take children during the war. While the boys taken were used as porters or soldiers in combat, the girls were most often child wives used for sex by the older officers. So when the girls came back some of them brought toddlers or were pregnant.
At the Nwoya Girls Academy, the girls are about 16-18 years old. There are 80 of them, used to be 130 but due to school fees and other complications only 80 returned the second year. The school is brand new, only started a year or so back. It’s really a pretty amazing place. It’s 3 or so kilometers down a dirt road from Nwoya’s town center, which is really just a small market and strip of shops along the main two-lane highway. The school has gardens where the girls grow some of their food and a pond where they are growing fish to eat. It over looks fields dotted by big green trees and round brown huts with thatched roofs. The school is only a few kilometers from Murchison National Park, which is a big game reserve with all sorts of awesome animals. They tell me sometimes maybe an elephant will wander into your garden when you live out there. I have yet to see one though. Since the park is a big tourist attraction, with beautiful falls where the Nile plummets down into a large lake, CCF is in the process of constructing a couple guesthouses next to the school and not far from the park. Once they are finished they become accommodation for the park’s visitors, or volunteers and a business for the girls to work in. While they are being built I am making one of them my art studio where I can go paint before teaching the girls and since they have a running toilet and an actual shower I like taking a little vacation there now and again since I don’t have these things where I am living.
My work consists of me helping out, coaching and teaching at the school and also working in the CCF office and going with the team on field visits where they facilitate community dialogues and other projects focused on gender equality and children’s rights. I have spent the last two weeks training the girls at the school for their district track meet. I would get up and run with them as the sun was rising on a road run then, after dropping them off at the school, I would run back to the CCF office and take tea, or breakfast as I would call it back home, then spend the afternoon doing work in the office. Then in the evening I would run back out to the school and do another training session with the girls, this time short sprint stuff, then I would run back as the sun was setting over the fields. As I ran along the dirt road children would pop out from their huts along the way and laughing join me for a ways running. A couple times I have been running then heard a herd of running feet behind me and looked back to see a bunch of children giggling and running after me shouting my name. Or in the morning if you are running as the children are taking their long walks to school, they often will join you running with their pencils and books in hand.
I am living with a family in the town center. It’s absolutely awesome. I speak very little of their local language Acholi and most speak little English, but I still sit with them at night after dinner to the dim light of my solar lamp and listen to them laugh and tell stories. While I have no idea what they are talking about, their laugher is contagious and I seem to get the jokes without actually knowing what they are about. I live in a small round hut with a miniature door you must duck down to enter through. There is no electricity, no light, no running water and no bathroom. The toilet is a hole in the ground, so you better be good at squatting and aiming. Not so bad once you get used to it, but I did almost cry from joy when I went into Gulu to get supplies and found out my hostel had a warm shower and an actual toilet. In the evenings I take my bucket, go fill it from the outdoor faucet, then stand behind a concrete wall and shower with a cup, dumping cold water on myself. It’s actually pretty cool. You get to stand under a big starry sky and shower. It’s hot enough here you only half feel the cold water. Or, since it is the wet season here, often times the night sky flashes with big brilliant lightning strikes and you can bath listening to a distant storm and watching it light up the whole sky.
I would have to say the people here are the most welcoming, open, gracious and genuine people I have met. Traveling does that to you. It makes you realize how kind and gracious people around the world are, but of all the places I have been within the US and without I have never felt so welcomed and so quickly become part of a community and a family. The culture is such that you greet all those around you with a warm handshake and ask them how they are doing, especially if you have seen them before. As in if you took a taxi ride once and you see the driver another day he will take the time to greet you as though you are quite familiar. I think this is pretty cool. It makes you more attentive of the world and people around you. You have to truly look at the people you pass and take the time to ask them how they are doing. Most little kids will see you and wave excitedly and a big grin will cross their faces when you greet them or wave back. You will see friends walking down the street arm in arm, whether they are two female friends or two male friends. I really appreciate how invested in each other people seem to be around here. It is quite a shock when you compare it to the US style of looking through the people you pass on the street as you rush to work.
There isn’t much rushing around here, which means often times things happen quite later than originally expected and sometimes drag on a little longer than you might want. But I like it here. I feel as though I have been here for a long time given how comfortable and integrated I am already, but I also have no idea how so much time has already passed. The short two months I will be here doesn’t come close to being enough time I feel. I am guessing I will find my way back to this place and these people again. I am thinking maybe a year here after I graduate doing research might be a good plan. I am already dreading the day I will have to say goodbye to these girls at the school who have spent their days singing as they run with me, my coworkers at the office who spend their days doing amazing work that isn’t always so easy and often times centers around stories of women and children that make me want to cry, but still they go about the office doing their work happy to be doing it and enjoying each other’s company, and I am dreading saying goodbye to my family that has so warmly welcomed me into their lives, my many little brothers and sisters who dance and play with me and my Ugandan mom and sisters who cook for me and laugh when they try to teach me how to cook over their coal stoves. I am happy to spend the next 6 weeks with all these wonderful people in this very beautiful country, I only wish I had more time.
I’ll try to upload some pictures I have taken. The pictures are of some of the field visits and community dialogues I have been part of with the CCF team. I also happened to be here when the district was celebrating the Day of the African Child, which is a holiday celebrated across the continent in recognition of the Soweto Rebellion. This uprising was led by high schoolers in South Africa in ’76 in opposition of apartheid and ended with the police and army opening fire on the marching children killing many of them. So now Africa takes a day to celebrate all African children with dances, music and dialogues between children, political leaders and community members on the steps that have been taken and still need to be taken to promote children’s rights. I enjoyed this day, although it was quite long and hot, it was awesome to see the kids get up and speak about their right to education and perform plays to explain to other children why early marriage, child labor and child abuse are not ok. It was also awesome to witness the kids, as young as 4 year olds, get up in front of the huge crowd of people and perform songs and dances.
I’ll try and upload other photos later. The internet doesn’t seem to be strong enough to do it now.