A Story of Generosity

30 Apr


Innocent and Ben

On our recent overnight wilderness excursion, the wind and rain forced us under tarps, trees, and small caves.  As I moved around to see how our club was holding up, I encountered groups chatting, laughing, and dancing in the rain.  Underneath one tarp I found just one of our guys providing rain protection to a young boy who had wondered to our campsite from a nearby village.  The boy had a reserved happiness about him.  This climbing club member named Innocent befriended the boy (named Moses) and listened to his frustration with arriving to school late because he didn’t know what time it was: he had been kicked out of school.  Nobody in his house had a watch,phone, or clock.  Innocent was moved and gave the boy his watch.  I was humbled to learn that Innocent himself was in the midst of struggling to survive.  He is an orphan who dropped out of elementary school to support his older and younger sisters.  Daily he wakes up early to dig a small sugarcane plot to pay his sister’s school fees, even though he would love to go back to school himself.

Why is it that the less fortunate give more proportionately to others in need than do those with excess?  Psychologists have termed it “compassion deficit”.  Many propose the driving force to be empathy—the ability to relate to the needy person’s situation.  The hearts of the fortunate have no “deficit”, but lack the opportunity to experience what the needy experience.

It’s interesting: last week when the Juvenile Detention boys were cleaning the health center the guards who accompanied the boys were demanding for a “day allowance”.  When the In-charge explained that this was part of a day’s work, they said, “there’s nothing like working for free”—implying that they needed additional payment: this said in front of over 20 boys who worked all morning without pay.

It’s better to give than to receive—indeed.  There is something so healing about giving and not expecting anything in return.  Altruism is scientifically proven to be therapeutic.  Why don’t we do it more?  A challenge to myself and those reading this blog…

Later on I asked club members to draw their life path in chalk on the rock, noting several of their most influential moments–good and bad. I have done the lifeline exercise for years, but this time Innocent did something I’ve never seen before . At a certain point, Innocent’s lifeline split into two—one for himself and one for his sisters.  It was a beautiful picture of empathy.

What have you noticed about generosity and empathy?

Insights from the Wilderness Excursion

30 Apr

Our recent overnight Wilderness Excursion was a great experience for our group. Despite running into wind and rain, breakthroughs were made, goals set, and goodbyes were said to past behavior. It was a time to reflect, bond, and grow all the while enjoying rock climbing and adventure in the hills of northern Uganda.

P1010427Here are a few insights from Charles:

“The wilderness excursion brought a lot of changes in our life. When the wind was almost blowing away our tents we all worked together as a team – some of us were holding the tents, others were carrying stones to pin the tents down, and others were making sure that our luggage was kept dry. This demonstrated that if we work together despite of all the difficulties we are facing we can do something for our families, our group and, the community.”  Kichel told his group members.

“To me it’s a new experience; I had no idea if I wouldP1010422 experience this in my life. The weather reminded me about my SST (Social Studies) when our Primary Seven (P.7) teacher told our class ‘the higher you go the cooler it may become.’  I have never seen a Scorpion or monkeys yet they are just here at Ft. Baker which is only 30 kilometers away. Thank you TRP for giving us this opportunity.” Patrick told his group.

At the bonfire–Wang oo”– the youth threw pieces of brick into the fire while saying they don’t want the burden and curse they are getting from their relatives to limit their success. Others threw bricks to take away the spirit which makes them love alcohol and bad peers.

Sunday morning the Local Councilor of the area gave us a tour and history lesson of how slaves were taken from this part of the world. We were proud to hear from the leader of the area who said in 1860s Sir Samuel Baker came in to stop slave trade, he was supported by local people and he stayed here. On showing the place where the head of the weak slaves are cut, one of the youth said “Thank you God” for bringing Sir Samuel Baker all the way here.

Thank you all friends and supporters of TRP. It is because of you that youth in Northern Uganda are given this experience for growth and healing.2013-04-20 14.05.29



Community Service day with the Gulu Remand Home ~by Okwonga Robert

18 Apr

RH Aywee
When the children from the Remand Home went to do charitable work at Aywee Health Centre III yesterday, the people at the Centre and the surrounding community asked a lot of questions:
1. What made these children do this work?
2. What changed their attitude toward work?
3. Why are they doing this work and yet our neighbors and community members have never offered to help?
4. How are they reforming?
It was nice to hear some of them say that their experience with TRP has made them think about community service and giving back.
Praying for soda

A few words about the state of our youth

16 Apr

Hon. Martin Mapenduzi Hon. Martin Mapenduzi[/caption] Mapenduzi) Below is an excerpt of a speech that our Local Council Chairperson (Hon.made at a meeting about youth un-employment yesterday. At TRP, we fight un-employment by building personal confidence combined with key skills such as: problem-solving, planning, creative thinking, and innovation. The problem is mammoth and it will certainly take a combined force of committed individuals and agencies to address these issues.

…“Rural youth in Gulu District are employed in two main unsustainable extractive industries: brick-making and charcoal-burning. These industries, crucial as they are, can be implemented sustainably, if only our youth knew how.

Brick-making is exacting a massive toll on our soils and our tree cover. Charcoal-
burning is not only destroying valuable trees like the Shea Butter Tree. It is also
creating openings for marijuana growing.

Our urban youth have resorted to prostitution and gambling as a means of acquiring the capital with which to engage in petty trade and boda-boda riding. These trades of last resort, unnecessary as they are, ought to be banned and or tightly regulated.

The frustrations our youth encounter in these ‘trades’ leads them to alcoholism,
depression, and eventual suicide.

Brick-making, charcoal-burning, prostitution and gambling: these are the ‘trades’
most youth in Gulu District are employed in. This, sadly, is the reality of the post-
conflict environment in Gulu District. This, unfortunately, is the condition in which we are attempting to ensure post-conflict recovery and development.

The sheer creativity of our youth in these endeavors calls for a rechanneling of their energies (emphasis added) in more progressive directions. It calls for greater policing and regulation. It calls for the creation of new opportunities in areas of greater long-term comparative advantage”….

Then he posses the question: “how are we to craft the specific policy issues that will address this irony of youth employed in destructive and unsustainable trades?”

The Thread, reflections by Zach and Casey

1 Apr

There’s a thread you follow.  It goes among

things that change.  But it doesn’t change.

People wonder about what you are pursuing.

You have to explain about the thread.

But it is hard for others to see.

While you hold it you can’t get lost…

William Stafford


To say the past few months at The Recreation Project in Gulu has been challenging, has stretched us personally and organizationally would be an understatement.   A long-time champion and friend of and for TRP, Sister Mary Carla, suddenly passed away this month.  Not only has she loved us and our vision from the time it was but a dream, she has encouraged us as the building and growing has occurred – rejoiced with us in our successes – and the loss of her and her beautiful smile is felt deeply here in the forest.

Times like these, you have but a thread – and at TRP that thread is, and has always been, each other.  The relationships we have with one another, and with you, are the ties that bind our work and mission and make it whole.  We hold onto that thread, when what we’re doing and how we’re doing it seems strange and unusual – when people don’t ‘get it’.  We hold onto that thread when we lose someone who does – someone like Sister Carla – we hold on tight.  We hold onto one another.  We believe in one another.

Which is why it is so important to us to built TRP as an organization with a vision that most, if not all, of the activities conducted here might one day be handed back over fully to the Ugandan community in Gulu, to the Sisters, to the staff who have worked beside us to catch that vision.  This is our hope – that the relationships – and the local people we build into and who’ve built into TRP will one day fully embrace the key that they have been the keepers of all along.  The key to redemptive, holistic, pluralistic change in region and a people that have been historically marginalized and mistreated.

Mike leading young men from Bishop Negri Primary School

Mike leading young men from Bishop Negri Primary School

This vision is already coming to fruition in ways – at the turn of this New Year TRP birthed a local community-based organization called Waveland Academy which will be the umbrella under which all of the youth sports programs will fall under.  Waveland is 100% locally staffed by Ugandans who run day to day activities at the local partner schools where we have baseball and softball programs.  Zach will oversee the operation from the United States and this will continually be an important program that TRP supports – but the staff here in northern Uganda: Goofy, Mike, and Lenny will be ultimately responsible for making the wheels on the Waveland bus go round and round.

The belief we have in one another is the thread that we hold onto – which is why we are so excited and trusting that this step, to send a small group of staff out there to do work on TRP’s behalf, is exactly the right one we need to give TRP, and the youth in northern Uganda, their wings.  It’s funny that by holding on – so many broken things and broken people might be set free.  Thank you for continuing to dream and ‘hang on’ together with us.

–  Casey and Zach

The reason why we do what we do.

The reason why we do what we do.