Swinging Towards Success

30 Jun

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I have never met youth with such passion for a game as those here in Gulu, Uganda. My second day in Uganda I found myself at Negri Primary school at a loss of words for how talented the youth were. They have only been playing the game for just over a year, but they have more unity and better techniques than teams I have seen back home who have been together for years. They have come a long ways and still have things to learn, but I think we can all learn something from them.

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Passion is defined as strong and barely controllable emotion. My first time watching these young men play baseball I sensed a passion that I could not put words to at first. In time I began to think of the Babe Ruth quote as the motto for these young men, “Don’t let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.”

Northern Uganda is certainly not the easiest place to grow up. Having recently come out of over twenty years of war the youth are left with the lasting impacts, with fear, and challenges day to day. Seeing the young men at Negri Primary school enthralled in the game of baseball brought a hope to the broken reality of Northern Uganda, a hope for a fruitful future.

These men stand at the plate with their hands gripped on the bat in anticipation to swing towards success and to run towards a hopeful future. They stand ready in the field for anything that comes their way. They encourage one another and celebrate success together. These men come from a broken place, but when you look at them you would never be able to tell the hurt they have endured and the struggles they face day to day.

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These young men have a potential to succeed in anything they put their minds to. They are driven, determined, and unified. Babe Ruth said, “It is hard to beat a person who never gives up.” I look at the young men playing baseball at Negri Primary and wonder how far they will go in their lives as I see none of them will give up on their dreams.

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I too have had the opportunity to help coach at Vienna Primary school on the other side of town. Baseball and softball is new to this school, so new in fact that even just two weeks ago the children were still learning how to pick the right gloves and remembering how to correctly put them on, but let me assure you they have come a long ways since then. The students at Vienna have been focusing on throwing and catching. Coach Mike says, “If you can throw and catch, you can play the game.”

Watching these youth, both boys and girls learn to catch and throw has been an adventure. They all had a little fear at first and some overcame that fear when they put the glove on and held the ball, but others are still overcoming and it is exciting to be a part of it. I am surprised at the natural players. Many of the youth did not need much direction and guidance in catching and throwing, they were born with the natural ability, the gift to play. Others we have shown and trained and they have developed into fantastic players, and many others bring laughs of joy, laughs of excitement, and freedom to the field.

To see the youth of Uganda excited to learn, excited to play has bring such joy and happiness to my heart. Knowing the past of Northern Uganda and the trials these youth  face day to day I had been saddened and overwhelmed in how to help make a difference, but being there to direct and guide them in learning a game I myself have much passion for has brought me the fulfillment I longed for. These youth come ready to play, ready to learn, and the best thing is seeing them drag their feet to put their equipment away at the end of practice each day because I can see they just want to keep playing and keep learning.

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There is a lot of work to be done in both of these schools and there is hopes of soon going into other schools with baseball and softball, but we cannot do it alone. Some things that are lacking are equipment. Neither team has batting tees, which would be beneficial for practice and teaching batting techniques. Many of the boys at Negri and all of the children at Vienna lack cleats. Vienna doesn’t even have a baseball field to practice on; they practice in the open space outside of the school. Vienna also lacks uniforms, so we cannot begin to teach them how to slide and when we get ready for games in the future we will need uniforms.

My hope when I go home to the States in August is to collect donations of cleats, gloves, batting tees, baseball/softball pants, etc. and send them back here to encourage and improve the program, but even I can’t do it alone. Stay tune for future advancements on that project if you are interested in helping out. For now my hope and prayer for these youth is outlined in that of Babe Ruth’s quote, “How to hit home runs: I swing as hard as I can, and I try to swing right through the ball… The harder you grip the bat, the more you can swing it through the ball, and the farther the ball will go. I swing big, with everything I’ve got. I hit big or I miss big. I like to live as big as I can.” May the youth here in Northern Uganda dream big dreams and chase after those dreams never giving up or being brought down by the circumstances that surround them.

Until next time,

Cassie Buelow (TRP Intern)

 

Building Potential

24 Jun

“The potential of the average person is like a huge ocean unsailed, a new continent unexplored, a world of possibilities waiting to be released and channeled toward some great good.” ~Brian Tracy

Saturday June 22 in the Forest we had a group of seventeen girls, ages seven to fifteen, come out from Zion Project to play in the forest. First of all a little bit about the Zion Project; it is a holistic rescue home housing seventeen young girls who have been used in child prostitution, abandoned and abused. Zion Project is breaking the devastating cycle of the global sex industry and giving young girls a chance to dream and be successful. Zion Project provides these girls with education and tutoring, spiritual development, loving relationships, counseling, art and music therapy, leadership skills, nutritional meals, purity talks, mentoring, and medical care.

They came to the Forest with smiles and a ton of energy! We began our day with warm ups and energizers to get familiar with one another. The Forest resonated all day with sounds of joy and laughter, sounds of freedom.

I looked at these girls, who knowingly have gone through tragic satiations that no child should endure, and I saw a potential that I have never seen before. A potential to change lives, to be the first, to fulfill their dreams, a potential to succeed when everything in their past tells them that they can’t.

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A couple highlights from our day:

Building relationships: We did many activities that challenged the group to work together and one of them was the Spiders Web. This is a web made between trees that the group has to get through without touching the strings of the web. They also cannot pass through the same hole as another person. This activity involved communication, teamwork, and planning. It took a few times to get through, but they accomplished it learning to make a plan, learning to communicate, and learning to work as a team to accomplish the goal. They were then given the challenge to do it without talking and they were successful not only in completing the challenge, but also in learning to communicate in new ways. This activity involved everyone, involved trusting your team and your friends to sometimes lift you up and through the web, it involved getting close to one another, and through that relationships were strengthened.

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Overcoming Fears: In the afternoon we took the girl on the zip line. All morning they had been asking when they were going to do it and they were excited that the time had finally come. The first girl climbed to the platform and after being walked through on how to leave the platform we counted to three together in anticipation that she would go and instead of walking forwards she took a step back. She turned to the facilitator and said, “Can you push me.” She wanted to do it she was just scared to do it alone. This was a common occurrence with the girls, but each one wanted more than anything to do it, so they asked for help. One girl climbed so quickly to the top and then froze in fear. She kept asking if others could go before her saying that she was fearing. She asked many times if she’d fall, if she had to go, she wanted nothing to do with the zip line after reaching the platform. She stood on the platform for a good amount of time. The facilitator kept assuring her that she was safe, that her harness would not allow her to fall, the facilitator kept having her take deep breaths, having her take small steps forwards, and telling her to trust that she was safe. The facilitator encouraged her and told her that the hardest part was climbing up the tree and telling her the rest was the fun part. The girl then asked to be pushed and as the facilitator went to push her she put her feet out in front of her and stopped saying she couldn’t do it. Again the facilitator walked her through reminding her she was safe and that she wouldn’t fall, telling her she was brave to have made it as far as she had. The girl stepped to the edge and the facilitator counted to three and pushed her off. She did it, she overcame her fear, she trusted, believed, and took the step off the platform. Even one of their staff got part way up the tree and said she couldn’t do it, the facilitator on the platform yelled down telling her she could and she made it to the platform. She fears height and the first thing she said on the platform was, “I can’t do this.” She was reassured that she could. It took a moments and some encouragement, but she too took a step to the edge and on the count of three she left the platform with her eyes clenched shut and in fear, but upon reaching the other end she had just overcome something she promised me she couldn’t do.

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Believing in one-self: The last thing we did was take the girls on the climbing wall. Many of them would make it part way up and look down in fear saying that they wanted to come down, that they couldn’t do it. They were asked if they were sure they wanted to come down and encouraged to make it just a step further. After they had all gone through once they were asked if they wanted to go again. Most of them came back for a second attempt, even those who had feared the first time. Again they were encouraged to just make it one step further than the last time. Many of them got up and again in fear looked down saying they couldn’t do it. They were encouraged to reach up and go one step further. They all made it one step further than they thought, if not making it all the way to the top. They believed in themselves and gained confidence that they could do it and they did do it!

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Ella Fitzgerald once said, “It isn’t where you came from; it’s where you’re going that counts.” These girls have come from a past that tells them they are not worth anything, that they are not loved, that they are dirty, unable, whatever it may be, and the Zion Project and The Recreation Project are working to break those lies and empower these girls and others that they have worth, that they have potential, and that their dreams can come true!

Importance Of The Whole

19 Jun

This week in the forest we had a group called Mend from Invisible Children come to the forest for a two day program. This was a group of about thirty incredible women who had been abducted during the war and later rescued. Invisible Children is bringing them through psychosocial healing and training them to tailor in hope of seeing them off to bright and successful futures. I had the privilege to work among these women and as much as they learned, I too walked away having learned much.

Our program for this group focused on team building, communication, and trust. We did an activity called Bull Ring where there is a small ring with ten ropes attached to it. One person is to hold the end of each rope and then a ball is placed on the ring. The team then is instructed to get the ball into a tin can that is placed in the facilitators desired location without touching the ball and without holding anywhere other than the end of the rope. They accepted the challenge with questions and in fear that it was not possible.

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One group struggled to get the ball into the can the first time, but after their failure they did not give up, but were determined to succeed. They tried again and failed, yet they did not give up. They tried again and rejoiced as the ball fell into the can. There was a method to the madness however. The first time the group tried, they all had thought of their own way to get the ball into the can; they shouted out their own ways, but no one took to the others ideals and that was shown in failure to get the ball into the can. The second time they began to listen to one another and they followed one person’s plan, but the communication was poor on who was to do what and again the ball failed to get into the can. By the third time the group not only followed one person’s plan, but they too communicated well, making sure everyone knew their role before tipping the ball successfully into the can.

We did the same activity with another group and they got the ball successfully into the can the first time. So we challenged them by putting the can in a stump that was about three feet off the ground and again the group got the ball into the can on the first try. Then we challenged them placing the tin can in a fairly easy location, but telling them they could not talk. The group failed to get the ball into the tin can the first time and again the second. After the second failure some of them threw their hands to the ground, others sighed, and some encouraged the group to try again. On the third try the group was successful at getting the ball into the tin can without talking. This group too had a method to their success. The first two rounds they succeeded because one person took the lead in telling others what to do. The round they couldn’t talk brought the challenges. They had done so great at communicating and then they were stripped of that ability. We watched as the team learned how to communicate silently to one another in order to succeed. The first time they tried and failed because they couldn’t understand one another in their sign language. They were getting frustrated as they couldn’t understand and they couldn’t be understood. The next time they silently tried, things seemed to be going smoother, but a few of them didn’t see the possibility in the ball going into the can so it failed. Yet with encouragement and direction the third time the ball landed in the can and these women rejoiced, hugged one another, laughed, and celebrated their success.

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Upon debriefing with the groups they were asked what challenges they face and how they overcame them. Their answers were real as one of them said, “I didn’t believe it was possible, I didn’t understand how the ball was to get into the can, but we did it as a team.” Another said, “Our ability to communicate how we are used to was taken away, and we struggled to then understand and communicate, but having seen success previously, we were not going to give up.” They were asked how it could relate to their lives and their answers were all related to working together, communicating, and listening.

These women would comment saying, “I realize now…” Through the two day program in the Forest these women realized so many new things. They saw how the games, activities, and challenges we walked them through related in some way to their lives. One of them said, “I realize the importance of each person, because if I was doing that alone it wouldn’t have been possible.”

The women left the Forest yesterday having learned the importance of each other, the importance of the whole, but also the importance of themselves as even without them in an activity like Bull Ring, it would not have been the same. They all contributed to the success of the group.

I (Cassie) and the other facilitators enjoyed being with this group for two full days and upon debriefing the overall program I too saw how each of us contributed to the whole of the program. Not one of us could have led these women through those two days by ourselves, but as we worked together as a team, facing challenges with open minds, we succeeded to lead this group in a successful two days.

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Welcome To The Forest, Where Lives Are Changed

15 Jun

Greetings blog readers. First of all I welcome you to this blog and to The Recreation Project page. May your browsing encourage you!

My name is Cassie (Lamara) Buelow and I am the newest addition to The Recreation Project staff. I am here in Gulu, Uganda for the next two months doing my internship here in the forest. You may be wondering who I am, what I am doing, when I am doing said things, where am I doing them, why I am here doing them, and how on earth I found myself so far from home? Let me answer those things for you.

Who am I? Again my name is Cassie, now also known as Lamara as I have been given an Acoli name, and I am a (5th year) senior at North Central University in Minneapolis, Minnesota. My degree is in Intercultural Studies with a focus on Children and Youth in Crisis. My hope after graduation next May is to get involved in mission work in Africa, or wherever it is that God calls me.

What am I doing here? I am here with The Recreation Project to do a two month long internship. After a first successful week I now know more of my role here. Thursdays and Fridays I will be in a nearby primary school helping coach softball/baseball. Mondays through Wednesdays I am in the office doing any number of things from social media to creating and planning new games and activities. I too any day of the week will rearrange my schedule to help facilitate groups that come into the forest. This first week I have had the opportunity to be taught all of the facilitating roles and I cannot wait until Monday when we have a group coming in so I can put into action what I have learned.

When am I here in Gulu? I have called Uganda home for now a month and a few days, but I have specifically called Gulu home for a full week now and it shall remain my home till the beginning of August when I shall return to America.

Where am I? This is a silly question, but in case you have missed it, I am now a part of The Recreation Project staff for a while here in Gulu, Uganda.

Why am I here? I could answer this question in two ways. In short I need to do an international internship to complete my degree. However, why did I seek to do it here in the forest. First of all because I love the mission behind TRP. I believe in what they are doing and I know firsthand the impact that recreations have on a person and his/her life. Secondly, I love to help the hurting. Many of you know that Northern Uganda was a place of manmade conflict for over twenty years. There is a lot of hurt out of that conflict and I seek to make even the smallest difference. Third, I adore children and youth and TRP’s mission is to empower the youth of Uganda. Over half of the population in Uganda is under the age of fifteen, so there are plenty of youth to empower. And finally I am here to help people build up their character in a safe and fun way. Rest assure however, that I am not only here to show and teach, but to be shown and taught by the people here as well.

How did I get here? I ended up at TRP by the grace of God. One of my professors had been out here doing research and found TRP. She mentioned TRP in class one day and I knew that this is where I was supposed to do my internship at. With a few e-mails, a handful of support letters, and lots of prayer I found myself on a plane to Uganda and now here in Gulu.

As the time passes I have to opportunity to share with you; our friends, family, supporters, and new visitors what is taking place in the forest, what is taking place through waveland (the sports program) in the different schools, and what is taking place in the community as we go about our work. I hope you enjoy the blogs, the stories, and that you are encouraged to take part in changing Northern Uganda for the better.

Until next time,

Cassie (Lamara) Buelow

Charles teaching me (Cassie) the ways of the forest!

Charles teaching me (Cassie) the ways of the forest!

Please visit the following pages to see whats taking place in Gulu, Uganda.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/133490843327594/

https://www.facebook.com/groups/wavalandacademygulu/

 

Reflections From a Busy Week

16 May

webshots-2Last week we had five groups on the ropes course, two that were large and included over 140 people–which means a lot of responsibility for the TRP team. One of the most powerful sessions was with a group of 25 blind kids from Gulu High School and another group of children who were born in captivity of the LRA.

The children born in captivity were full of life, engaging, and eager to try every element in the forest. They talked about their challenges in interacting with other children and also about the difficulty of speaking openly with their parents about their memories in the bush. We are hoping to start a program specifically for children born in captivity of the LRA. One day in the forest is just not enough time to begin addressing some of the wounds of war that many of them still vividly remember. Stay-tuned for the plan…and the ask.

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Briefing the Facilitator Team.

My role hosting the groups this week was to make a few plans with Charles, TRP’s Lead Facilitator, and watch them work. The facilitator team is doing great at leading our groups and it’s awesome to see them work. On one morning in particular I arrived at the site by 8AM—a large group was arriving shortly after at 8:30. All nine facilitators had arrived by 7AM and already set-up each station for the day: ropes were hung, harnesses and helmets set out, water basins and washing hands prepared, waivers and pens sat at the entrance…everyone knew what they were doing. I couldn’t think of anything else that needed to be done. I was proud to see them ready to go!

Josie on the course.

Josie on the course.

Another example of how well the facilitators are doing happened one afternoon when I showed up at the Zipline. Josie was belaying, Charles receiving on the platform. I looked up and saw a girl shuffling her hands around on the tree, searching for the next staple. She was blind. I immediately started asking Josie if all the protocol was being followed for sending a blind person down the Zipline; asking her question after question. She kindly answered all of my questions and then gently said, “This is the fifth girl in a row we have sent who can’t see”. She had it completely under control.

Even though experiential learning and outdoor adventure-based therapy programming is completely novel to this region, the facilitators at The Recreation Project continue to show me they are capable of implementing a high quality program. I was happy to hear Robert (Coordinator) say, “I wish that I could have done this as a child, some of the life lessons they learn here at TRP I have just recently learned myself, or am still learning now.”

Charles, TRP’s lead facilitator, shares a few of his reflections from the week:

webshots-3Last week we had a group of blind students from Gulu High School. As we closed the program, the blind students began to thank their teachers for bringing them to The Recreation Project. I had the chance to overhear some of their conversations: “This is my first time to do all these activities”… “The zip line, Climbing wall, Spiders’ web, and Milk Tea River–doing all these made me feel as if I have eyes because I believe other people with clear sight also do it the way I did”.

On the other side of the forest there was a group of children born in captivity of the LRA. After passing through the Spiders’ web as a group, they were debriefed and divided in three groups. They were then asked to relate all they experienced with what they expect from their parents and the community.  It was great to hear some of the responses: “In this game we felt loved, supported, and respected by our fellow colleagues and the facilitators. These are the kind of things we expect from our parents and the community”…”Sometimes our parents and relatives just shout at us when we make a mistake”…“We expect our parents to respect our ideas but not to undermine us directly the way they use to do”.

Me with the Facilitator Team

Me with the Facilitator Team