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.


Sister Carla’s Good-bye

23 Mar

Today was Sister Carla’s funeral service. Sister Carla has worked with TRP since it’s beginning in 2009 and has always been a dear friend. On the 20th March, she tragically passed away in a motor vehicle accident. It was a beautiful service–lasting over 7 hours and attended by more than 3,000 people. She was well loved. Below is a brief expert from the program. We will miss you Sister Carla.

“Family Background
Reverend Sister Mary Carla Ajio was born on 7/9/1953 of Mr. Mark Kulia and Cesestina Tena, Madi [tribe] from Pakele Parish-Arua Archdiocese. She was the 4th born in a family of 7 children.

Religious Background
Rev. Sr. Mary Carla Ajio joined the Congregation of the Little Sisters of Mary Immaculate of Gulu in 1968 as an Aspirant. On January 5th, 1970 she became a Postulant. On January 5th, 1971 she joined the novitiate Canonical Year. She completed her 2nd year in the Novitiate in 1972 when she decided to commit herself to God. She made her 1st Religious Profession in the family of the Little Sisters of Mary Immaculate on the 6th of January 1982 and celebrated her Silver Jubilee of the Religious Consecration of the 6th January, 1998.
Sister Carla Greeting
Academic Life:
Rev. Sr. Mary Carla Ajio started her education at Pakele Primary School where she studied from Primary 1 to Primary 5. In 1967 she was a pupil at Pabbo Primary School. In 1968 she sat for her PLE at Christ the King Demonstration School. She joined Secondary 1 at Sacred Heart Senior Secondary School in 1969 and sat her UCE in 1974. From 1975 to 1976 she did USCE at Mount St. Mary’s Namagunga. From 1977-1980 she was at Felician College in the USA where she received a bachelor’s degree in science. She pursued her post-graduate diploma in education at Kyambogo University in 1981 and obtained her master’s degree in math and physics in 2006.

Work Experiences and responsibilities:
From 1982-1991 Sister Carla was a teacher at Sacred Heart Senior Secondary School. From 1992-1999 she was an acting head teacher at Sacred Heart Secondary School. In 2000 she was appointed a substantive Head Teacher, a post she held until 2008. She served the community at Sacred Heart as a Superior for 2 years. She was also elected a councilor to the Superior General for 2 years. From 1996 to 1999 she was a councilor in charge of education and from 2008 to date she was a councilor in charge of projects and development of the congregation. Noting the above, Sister Carla spent most of her life at Sacred Heart and for the last years of her life she was at the Mother House.

The cause of her death:
Sister Carla died in a road accident which occurred at Ddiima on Wednesday the 20th of March 2013 at around 5:00pm when she was rushed to Kiryandongo Hospital. She died at age 59.

Funeral service

Her outstanding virtues:
Sister Carla was a prayerful person, humble, tolerant, creative, very intelligent, a good listener and compassionate.

We praise and thank God for the gift of Sister Carla in her family, in the congregation, in the church and in the world at large. May God rest her soul in eternal peace.”

Parent Dialogue Day

28 Feb

Recently a Justice and Law Committee from the District Government visited the Gulu Remand Home. Their findings mandated that the boys and girls of the juvenile detention center participate in 5 key on-going activities: Indoor and outdoor sports, Counseling, Life skills training, Dialogue and reconciliation with parents/guardians, and Literacy. We are proud that The Recreation Project provides the first 4 out of 5 activities.
This week we brought the children of the Remand Home with their parents/guardians. We were excited to see that 15 parents/guardians showed up!

We did several exercises geared toward getting the parents and children to talk about barriers in communication at home. We used an activity called “Eyes, Voice, Body” to present the challenge of clear communication and potential for misunderstanding. Here are a few comments from the debriefing session:

To the parents: What do you think makes it difficult for children to communicate with their parents?
Parent: Some of we parents over-drink and it becomes very difficult for them to talk with us when we’re drunk.
Parent: Many parents aren’t concerned with their children—they are only concerned with their work and finding money.

To the Children: What do you think makes it difficult for parents to communicate with their children?
Child: Many children are upset with their parents because parents have ideas about how their children’s life should go. For example, many parents decide that their daughters should go and get married-even when the girl is still a child. For boys, some parents push them out of the house when they are still young. We don’t want parents to just tell us what to do, but they don’t like talking to us about what we like.

What makes it easy to communicate?
Parent: It’s important to earn trust before communication can be successful. Our families are often full of mistrust and that’s a problem.
Child: we kids need to be loved by our parents before we can talk openly to them. Our parents often don’t show love towards us. That’s why we usually talk about important issues with our friends instead of our parents.

What has been the benefit from this project:
Child: I haven’t talked with my parent in a long time, until today. I have hope that this is the beginning of building a relationship with them and having unity in the family”

Other comments:
Child: “The training we get here looks small, but it has been so important for our human life”

Parent: One parent made the connection between our “Challenge course” (what we call the journey of life) and that falling off the challenge course is like making a big mistake in life. This doesn’t that you children should give up. These are learning experiences that can help you succeed in your future.

And I probably shouldn’t post this one, but this guy’s response gave the whole group a good laugh, He said “Some people peed a little bit at the top of the leap of faith—this shows both the challenges that come in life and also the ability to overcome.”

Parents made us promise to bring them back–and we agreed. They said that they had made more progress in talking to their children in the one-day program than imaginable.

Meet James

31 Jan

We wish that you could meet each of the individuals we work with at The Recreation Project, but unless you come to Gulu—that won’t be possible. This week, we’d like you to meet James.

James is an active member of our climbing club “Hardcore”. James is a supportive member. Each week he brings optimism and a good attitude as he interacts with his friends and encourages them. James falls off the wall more than any other member. Not because he’s the worst climber. In fact, he is probably the best, yet he continues to challenge himself of the hardest routes on the wall. He says “I need to be ready for the real rocks!”

James comes from “Obia West”. This area (where TRP is located) was recently featured on a radio show as an area of intense youth delinquency. Appeals were made to local leaders to find positive activities to engage their youth. James has faced hardship in Obia West also. He was orphaned at a young age, raised by his brothers and sisters, found himself getting into trouble and even imprisoned twice. In tenth grade he was no longer able to pay for school.

“Often times, I have nothing to do at home. Sometimes we go watch movies in the center, but when power is not on, we have absolutely nothing to do. That’s one reason why I look forward to coming to this club—it gives me something to look forward to”

When I asked James what he liked about the club he laughed and said, “By getting a good meal and then exercising at The Recreation Project, I feel fit these days”. I am really looking forward to getting to know James better, and hope that he will be one of the leaders we select to help us run future climbing clubs.

Remnant at TRP by Grace

1 Dec

At the beginning of November we had the pleasure of hosting the women who screen print our t-shirts to The Recreation Project forest. They came to celebrate the year and to farewell to a member of staff who was returning to the USA. Their manager wanted her staff to try something new that would take them out of their comfort zone, build trust and teamwork, while also have fun and escape the stresses of their daily lives.
The women who work for Remnant are Congolese refugees who have gained freedom from human trafficking and sexual exploitation, and now have the opportunity to support themselves and provide for their families. Through the sale of t-shirts, Remnant empowers these women by equipping them with education, vocational training, and financial security.
At first, there were challenges for our facilitators to overcome, such as the language barrier – the women speak Swahili whereas our staff speak Acholi, Lugandan, and English. Also, two of the women were pregnant and another brought her nursing baby with her. Initially a quiet group, our staff worked hard to engage the women (and one man!) in all the activities, and gain responses from them. The hard work paid off as we saw the women open up over the course of the day and provide us with some insightful reflections.
Some highlights from the day:
After completing the “Spider’s Web”, one woman described how she related this to her relationship with her children. Sometimes her children find it easy and they can just step through, while other times they find it hard and therefore she needs to be there to lift them up.
Having found a way for the heavily pregnant woman to also take part in the “Spider’s Web” activity, another woman explained how we sometimes take resources (in this case a larger opening to pass through the web) that would be better for someone else and that if we share those resources everyone is better off.

Miriam was incredibly fearful on the Zipline but she managed to climb up the tree and take the leap off the platform. She was then able to further overcome her fear by reaching the top of the climbing wall. The pride that she felt was evident in the smile on her face and her workmates pride was clear in the praise and encouragement they gave her.
The determination these women had was inspiring. Even when they kept failing at the “Milk-Tea River” activity they were not willing to give up, they kept on working together as a team to solve the problem and eventually succeed. They were not willing to easily concede defeat, a characteristic also evident in their daily lives.

During the “Bullring” activity, the women worked hard to find different ways to communicate and support each other. Those who had been quiet earlier in the day found their voices. It was also a pleasure to watch Brenda, their energetic and vibrant translator, ensure everyone was involved and engaged.
By the end of the day the ladies looked exhausted but had smiles on their faces. When we said goodbye they all gave me a hug which confirmed for me what a rewarding day it was for us all.
We received feedback a couple of weeks after the day that the women were still talking about how much they had enjoyed themselves, especially taking part in challenging activities they had never tried before.
Take a look at our t-shirts on Remnant’s website if you would like to buy a t-shirt please contact Charles at TRP: