Breaking the Norms!

13 Jan

Traditionally, when women and men are together, women should be quiet and men should do all the talking.  In our mixed group, we encourage all participants to learn from one another and encourage women to engage fully in the activity as well as express their thoughts during debriefing.  Moreover, it has not been socially acceptable to talk about issues to do with our bodies, size, etc… but several of the obstacles on the course deal with our physical ability, and we try to make the environment where this can be talked about.  Here is one such example.

On January 9, 2012 we brought the youth group from Gulu Bible Community Church.  They were really excited for the program.  During debriefing, a girl shared with the group saying, “I got a lot of encouragement today from this Centre.  I looked at the Spider’s Web and thought we were going to move on the strings like a spider. When the facilitator told us that we shall pass from one side to another side using the holes within the Spider’s Web, it looked like all the holes were too small. I was worried and thought to myself, ‘Will I make it since I am the fattest in the group?’   We planned together and I was encouraged to hear my group say that they were going to help me pass; and indeed they helped me to pass through. Today, I am leaving this forest more aware of the importance of supporting other people. Good planning and timing leads to success.”  

Happy New Year!  And thanks to all TRP supporters. 

New Kids in a new environment!

16 Dec

On the December 8th and 9th TRP had groups of kids age 6 to 16. These were kids born under captivity of the LRA. These children are facing difficulties in integrating with other people in the community, they are looked at as rude children and they are stigmatized.  Some of these kids never saw their father because their mother came with them before they were born.

Bringing them to The Recreation Project gave them a new experience of life.  A young girl of 14 years cried to our facilitator on the Zip line platform saying she fears but after seeing a girl of six years going down the zip line she became strong-hearted and flew. However one of these girls came up to the platform and refused to step off.  She kept on asking me to let her go down. At the beginning of the day most of these kids looked out-of-place or lost, they had no smiles on their faces.  In the middle of the day I was about 60% excited which later rose to 99% because some of them started to smile freely. I like working with such kids whose parents caused suffering to many of us, I am excited that TRP is helping us to integrate with these kids.

As we closed the day, I asked the kids what they learned from the day. Their response was skill, courage, and one of them was like I learned how to be UMEME, UMEME is company supplying electricity in Uganda. These kids were really excited at the end of the day because of our high elements such as the Climbing wall, Leap of faith and Zip line.

My message to the community is to encourage us to keep working and exposing such kids to new environments to help them face and overcome the bad memories, help them reintegrate with other people, and help them focus on a positive future.

 Below is TRP Climbing wall one of the high elements that the kids enjoyed.

Is Reform Possible?

21 Nov

re-welding my panels

In the last couple of weeks, I have had my solar panels stolen (and recovered thankfully), and the radio stolen from my vehicle. In our new neighborhood, I sit on my front porch and watch groups after groups of young guys wandering aimlessly. “These youth are terrible”, our local councilor tells me. “There is nothing for them to do except cause problems”, he says.

There is an increasingly large cohort of youth with little to no prospects for going to school or getting a job. With urbanization influencing the small town of Gulu, young people are experiencing all sorts of new temptations. When asking young people what the alternatives are to joining gangs they unanimously say “playing football and digging”. No camping, going to the movies, shopping, organized sports, or other extra-curricular activities.

The formal justice system is overwhelmed and under-resourced to manage the growing criminal activity. Moreover, consequence for a crime varies tremendously. For example, last year we had three computers stolen from our house. The two young men who stole them were caught and later sentenced to ten years in prison. On the other hand, the guy who stole our solar panels was released two days later, and may or may not have a hearing in court.

A friend recently told me that a course he had taken at the LSE presented data that prison was the only effected deterrent to crime, and that there was no evidence to suggest that programming aimed at youth rehabilitation was effective. And yet, so many of our first-time offenders (in the West) are given a chance to re-evaluate their lives through mandatory community service, fines and rehabilitation programs, etc… No such programs exist in Gulu.

The idea of starting a program for first-time offenders has been stirring in me. What do people think—Can state-sanctioned programs for first-time offenders rehabilitate? Please comment.

Never give up, never give up, and never give up!

15 Nov

Last week we had a youth group from a secondary school called Bishop Angelo Negri College and Christ the King Primary Teachers College. They were brought here through a program with Comboni Samaritan. This program has brought almost 300 youth to the course from various schools over the last few months. 

When debriefing our participants, I was excited to hear one of them say our program helped him learn not to give up.   “What can you tell your group then?” I asked.  “I am telling them not to give up in life if they want to be successful in whatever they do” he responded.

ogeno directing students through the spiders web

Whenever we face problems we do not anticipate, we tend to focus much on how impossible the problem is to overcome.  Participants in our games often face this difficult feeling.  By the end of the day we encourage our participants to move out from the forest with the mind of anticipation.  Anticipation involves being ready, alert, and aware even before something happens.  You must begin to think of what is needed in that situation in order to come up with solutions to difficult problems.  The forest is an excellent activity for youth to practice these skills.

A young girl from Christ the King told her group that she learns in two dimensions.  The first is the social dimension where she desires love, relating to other people, and belonging to a group.  The second dimension was mental where she processed through ideas and how to overcome issues with her brain.  On this day she was grateful that she was able to do both. 

Personally, I want to thank all TRP friends for making a Centre of excellence for recreation for young people in Northern Uganda. It seems the forest teaches many different things depending on the group, and I am encouraged by all the different responses.

kampala highway

Finally I want to appreciate The Next Level (TNL) Church and Eldorado Climbing Walls for helping to construct the first climbing wall in Uganda!  The Climbing wall is providing a visual representation of hope, and an excellent and enjoyable activity for all those that come to the course. 

Long lasting TRP, long lasting TNL, and long lasting Eldorado.


What a Month

28 Oct

Charles and Kenny putting the first holds on the wall

We knew October was going to be quite a month, and it certainly lived up to its expectations.  For 3 days now I have been trying to decide what to blog about that would really communicate all the things happening and I simply can’t land on one.  So here is a brief outline of what transpired:

  • We launched our Rotary Grant and are currently working on 2 of the 4 projects.
  • We started taking school groups through our course, focusing on making our program something all schools in Gulu will take part in eventually.  This program is set to ramp up in 2012
  • We made significant progress on our tree house and it is well on its way to being another beautiful part of the forest.
  • We had a team from The Next Level church come and build a climbing wall for us in 4 days!!  Truth is, they did so much more than that, and

    Job well done Jared and team, and then it was time to see kids flying up the wall!

    we will be sharing stories from their trip over the next month.

  • We built an office in the forest and are moving there today!  For those who don’t know, our office has been located 20 minutes away from the forest for the last 18 months.  Moving to the forest is a major step towards long term success of the project and gives our staff the ability to work together all week long instead of being split between the forest and the office.  Robert and Ben have just been amazing at making it happen this month.
  • We have talked with World Vision, Restore Academy, Norwegian Refugee Council, Justice Reconciliation Project, District Education Officers, and many others in an effort to start filling our schedule for 2012!

It seems like it was yesterday that Ben and Kimbal thought of this crazy idea of living in community together and starting this project.  Lots of things have changed, but the vision continues to grow.  As we were helping build the

crazy group where it all started, on the first element built at the course

climbing wall there was a moment where I stopped and just took it all in.  Charles was getting instructions on belaying from an expert climber, Robert was staining the wall, Ben was discussing the final parts of construction with a Jason from TNL, and about 50 children were standing at the fence in amazement of what was being built.  At that point I had to thank God once again for giving us this opportunity to work with these people.  I know there are many things ahead, but I don’t want to forget how much has been done already.  18 months after 3 couples joined committed to this project on a hope and a prayer there sits a transformed forest in Gulu, Uganda where people who have been traumatized by war and poverty can experience something they will remember for the rest of their lives.  We thank God for the grace he has given us to be a part of His work here.