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Focusing on Vulnerable Youth

29 Aug

chicken plucker

Last month we welcomed seven youth groups from the Gulu Youth Development Association (GYDA), a vocational training center.  We have worked hand in hand with GYDA since TRP’s inception.  Kilama, GYDA’s Director, is an inspiring character who believes in innovation and creativity—we get along very well!  He selects youth from extremely vulnerable situations and helps them overcome the barriers that prevent them from earning a living and being productive members of society.  TRP provides the psychosocial backing for their program through our Outdoor Adventure program.

Yesterday we had 90 lively youths from GYDA in the forest, and one young man in particular stood out.  Let’s call him Henry.  Henry is known among his friends for having spent time in prison.  He came in wearing an under-shirt and with boundless energy.  Rest or observation weren’t part of his personality—he wanted to be in the center of each activity.  Henry was larger than life!

He was the first to pass through the “Chicken Plucker”.  We all laughed when he shouted, “You see, I’m strong!!!!  The way I almost broke the chains that were tied on me in prison.”  His passion was surging and lifted others up.

At the “River Crossing” he insisted on being last to cross.  In the debrief he said, “I’m not the most skillful personforge the river in the group—but I found a way of leading and allowing other people’s skills to come out.  I was the last to pass because I wanted to make sure the whole team was safely over.  I had a plan to carry the timber over to the other side, and I really wanted us to succeed.”

Many of the youths from GYDA have, like Henry, been in conflict with the law; some are pulled straight off the streets and given accommodation and skills training.  The forest was vibrating with the energy of these young people—some of whom have decided to place their energy within a new-found light of self-worth, confidence, and hope rather than spend their energy on destruction, cruelty, anger, and hopelessness.  With 80% of Uganda’s population under 30 years old, and only 1% in northern Uganda making it to University—it is crucial that we pay attention to and support these vulnerable young people who are defining the country’s present and future.

Thank you for reading and being a part of The Recreation Project.

The Confidence Gap

17 Apr


Building confidence is one of our highest priorities at The Recreation Project. Research has consistently shown that high levels of confidence have a direct correlation to enhanced quality of life—whether or not there is competence to back up the confidence. Adolescents are in important phases of life where their experiences are extremely important in steering them towards confidence or self doubt. I found an interesting article addressing the issue of male/female confidence—and wanted to share a few pieces with you., further justifying our bend towards involving girls in outdoor adventure and sports. It’s called “The Confidence Gap”, written by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman in the Atlantic.


“ …For some clues about the role that nurture plays in the confidence gap, let’s look to a few formative places: the elementary-school classroom, the playground, and the sports field. School is where many girls are first rewarded for being good, instead of energetic, rambunctious, or even pushy. But while being a “good girl” may pay off in the classroom, it doesn’t prepare us very well for the real world….

…the result is that many girls learn to avoid taking risks and making mistakes. IMG_0987This is to their detriment: many psychologists now believe that risk-taking, failure, and perseverance are essential to confidence-building….


…Too many girls miss out on really valuable lessons outside of school. We all know that playing sports is good for kids, but we were surprised to learn just how extensive the benefits are, and how relevant to confidence. Studies evaluating the impact of the 1972 Title IX legislation, which made it illegal for public schools to spend more on boys’ athletics than on girls’, have found that girls who play team sports are more likely to graduate from college, find a job, and be employed in male-dominated industries. There’s even a direct link between playing sports in high school and earning a bigger salary as an adult. Learning to own victory and survive defeat in sports is apparently good training for owning triumphs and surviving setbacks at work….


…What a vicious circle: girls lose confidence, so they quit competing, thereby depriving themselves of one of the best ways to regain it….”

Introducing Danielle Anthony

26 Mar


IMG_0688Danielle received a Bachelor’s degree in psychology at IU South Bend. Formerly, she worked for Big Brother Big Sister as a case manager with concerned youth. She equipped and educated the mentors to positively guide and influence the youth. Danielle’s interest in working with youth and love for outdoor sports/adventures is a great opportunity to join both passions. She is assisting in the development of a sustainability plan to TRP, facilitating youth groups at the forest, and co-facilitating the all-girls climbing club. She is delighted to work with the youth of Uganda and treasures the special moments that are to come. Danielle is also the lead nursery school teacher for the Gulu International Nursery School Cooperative—where Ben and Holly’s daughter Elliyah attends school. Danielle enjoys spending time with family and friends, playing tennis, trail biking, swimming, and sharing new adventures with friends.

Welcome Irene

2 Sep


IMG_0434Irene has been one of our star facilitators at The Recreation Project for the last three years. Her energetic and compassionate approach always brings positive change within the young people she works with. When I learned that Charles would be pursuing a Masters Degree, I had my fingers crossed that Irene would be able to lead our facilitators this coming year…and she agreed! Here is a little more from Irene:

I am very happy to be introducing myself to the TRP family around the world. Ben asked if I would say a few things about myself so that you know me better. I grew up in Kitgum and Gulu. I am the second born in the family and have 4 brothers and 4 sisters. Times were tough growing up and we needed to get the best grades in school so that we could be placed on scholarship. In high school I was recognized for having high marks and was awarded with the Windle Trust educational scholarship. During that time I was active in my church and also held the position of Deputy Speaker for the Uganda National Student Association for the District of Gulu. In University I was taken up by the Madvani Scholarship. During the first week of classes all Freshmen were given a welcoming party. At this welcome party I was nominated as the female guest of honor—this is where I met Sister Margaret who connected me to TRP. I attended a training at TRP and was selected to be a roster facilitator. Throughout my studies the allowances I received from TRP helped with some of my expenses. Education is a high value in my family. In fact, my father has gone back to school as well. There is steep competition in my family to receive the best marks—my younger sister just told me that once she gets to university she’ll never leave.

I am really excited to get some girls-only programs running at TRP. Currently, I am working with Ben and Charles to establish an all-girls climbing club and some clubs in schools for girls in elementary school that teaches important life skills and about the advantages of making good decisions and staying in school. I want to see these young women become agents of change in our community.

When I started with TRP I couldn’t immediately see the benefit of running a recreational program in a jungle. Shortly after starting, however, I have been convinced of the effectiveness and importance of our program. Yesterday I was with a group where one guy explained that he learned two life lessons. First, that it is important for him to think and plan for his future—to not let things happen to him, but to make what he wants happen. And secondly, he said that, on several occasions he wanted to give up on the group activity. After persevering at TRP he found value in pressing forward and wants to apply this determination in his everyday life.

I am very happy to meet you all and look forward to sharing more soon.
Be Blessed.

Family and Friends Fun Day

19 Aug

Spiders web

Thanks to everyone who made our Family and Friends Fun Day a success! We loved listening to a group laugh across the forest, while another reclining for lunch in the treehouse, and others climbing the wall or zipline. Over the last few months, the demand for hosting “open days” in the Forest has become something that we’re listening to. By the end of our regular programming, we’re often approached by people wanting to know how they can bring their families. They explain the lack of energizing and healthy leisure activities available in Gulu (we have all felt it). The Family and Friends Fun Day is one of our attempts to make TRP self-sustaining in Gulu. Having a solid model that brings in local income is an important part of our current planning–it just happens to come with the added benefit of giving families and groups of friends something rejuvenatingprussic pass

Spiders web Thanks again. And don’t forget to “Like” us on our Facebook page to see our daily happenings.