I moved to Gulu in January and almost immediately started hearing rumour of a climbing wall. Being a keen climber and general outdoor adventure-nut, I had to investigate. This is how I found The Recreation Project.
My first impression was one of amazement that someone had even thought to build an outdoor activity centre in a developing country, in a former conflict zone. With a background in youth work, outdoor education and mental health, I understand and have witnessed the benefits of adventure-based therapy first-hand back home in New Zealand. What I didn’t expect was to meet people with the vision and drive to use this tool to work with war-affected youth in northern Uganda. My first reaction was to ask when I could climb on their wall!
I was then roped into (excuse the pun) helping out with some of the big groups they had coming through the forest. Seeing the youth trying out the zipline, leap of faith and climbing wall for their very first time was an absolute pleasure. Their energy was infectious but most rewarding was seeing those who had the greatest fear overcome it and make a huge gain in self-confidence. I was also impressed by the professionalism and enthusiasm of the TRP staff and facilitators, most of whom come from the local area and can tell their own moving stories about growing up during the LRA’s insurgency. I enjoyed these days so much I started talking with Ben and Zach about how I could get more involved with TRP and this resulted in a three month volunteer placement as their Capacity Building Coordinator.
One of my first tasks has been to work towards setting up Uganda’s first Youth Climbing Club. The goal being to provide the opportunity for local out-of-school youth to learn how to climb, develop leadership skills and learn about protecting the environment. When they complete the training programme we’ll take them on an Outdoor Adventure Excursion to a National Park – a place few local youth ever get the chance to visit. I am incredibly excited to be a part of making this happen and hope that we can bring others onboard to lend their technical and financial support as well as provide climbing gear for these youth!
I’ve also been able to look at how we can make the ropes course and programmes more accessible for people with disabilities. I’ll finish with one of my favourite pictures from working at The Recreation Project so far:
Fred fell out of a tree when he was 13 years old and broke his back, he has been using a wheelchair ever since. Now in his mid-30s, he climbed a tree for the first time since his accident last weekend at The Recreation Project. Strapped into a harness, with a couple of strong facilitators hauling on the rope, Fred managed to pull himself up the ladder to the platform in the tree. Once up there and clipped into the zipline trolley, he started to question the safety and sanity of what he was doing. But he still managed to launch himself off the platform and fly down the zipline. As he came down from the wire and reseated himself in his wheelchair, he had a look of shear amazement and joy on his face. Fred told us he couldn’t quite believe he had done it but that he was incredibly pleased to have overcome his fear and enjoyed flying through the air. He now wants to do it again and bring his sons next time to share the experience.