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

Introduction: Welcome Sarah!

2 May

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Hello world…I’ve been TRP’s Marketing and Development Intern for over two months now and it’s about time I introduce myself.

I’m Sarah. It’s great to be here.

When I first learned about The Recreation Project, I was immediately intrigued. You see, I traveled to Uganda in December 2009–it was a trip that would forever alter the trajectory of my life. For a small town girl from Colorado, traveling to Africa was a dream come true. Literally. Up until that point, I spent the majority of my life dreaming of Africa. I wanted desperately to see this place I had read so much about. Having turned down law school the year before, I was searching.

Searching for a purpose.

For understanding.

For meaning.

My dream was calling and I had to go. And I’m so glad I did.

In Uganda, I saw the pain and struggle that comes with living in an impoverished, post-conflict society. But aside from that, and more importantly, I saw the beauty and hope that beats in every person I met. Despite a traumatic past, Uganda and its people are so much more than that—they’re full of strength, resiliency, and a magnetic energy that cannot be ignored. I left feeling inspired, changed, and ready.

After returning home I began working with a variety of nonprofit organizations on causes like girls’ education and women’s entrepreneurship in developing economies. I’m currently in my final month of graduate school, where I have been working toward an MPA with a focus in nonprofit development. I’m excited to have this opportunity to work with TRP, an incredibly unique organization that is doing amazing work for Uganda’s youth.   As a lover of the outdoors, I believe in the healing powers of adventure, team work, and risk-taking. TRP and its reliance on experiential learning is truly unlike any organization working in post-conflict communities. I feel blessed to be a part of this wonderful team.

Watch out for my social media updates, blog posts, and calls for action. I hope we can all join together to create an energetic and excited community that is eager to take a stand for the hope and potential that rests with Uganda’s youth.

 

A Story of Generosity

30 Apr

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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

  

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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