Today is a New Day! -Ogeno Charles

4 Oct

We recently had a group at the course consisting of youths from very difficult pasts.  The group had some students who were formerly abducted, others that were child mothers, and many orphans.  Currently they are in a technical school and being sponsored under a non-governmental organization called AVSI. There they undergo training in electrical, mechanic, tailoring and many other specialty trades. They were brought to experience the course while learning life skills and character development skills.

It was very interesting for me when a participant told me, “Today is a new day and it feels like I am born again. I have never experienced anything like this. I used  to not like being around people but today as I moved out of this forest I am choosing to create friends, as many as possible!  Why? I saw that contributions of friends led to the success of our group today.”

Another lady told her group she wouldn’t be able to do certain things during the day.  But today in this forest she did what seemed to be impossible. She said, “This day gave me the confidence to accomplish many things I never dreamed I would be able to do.”

Towards the end of the program I asked one of their teachers to evaluate the day in the forest and he started by saying, “Today is a new experience and I wish I would have participated with my students instead of choosing to watch!  After 28 years of my life I have never seen a recreational activity like this. I have seen a few of the activities in movies but never with my own eyes. Above all am really very excited to see my students going through these kind of experiences and I think next time I should try the Zip line!”

I then asked the students what they learned.  Their response was unity, teamwork, overcoming challenges, making friends, cooperation, planning, the dangers of segregation, influencing others, and many more.

This day is yet another example of the life changing work being done at the forest.  We are striving daily to put more and more people through this experience with the hope of seeing positive change in northern Uganda.  Our current project with AVSI put 8 youth groups through the course.  They called us back after the last group and said they want many more to experience the course early next year.  Please be praying for us as we move towards booking our schedule for next year.  Groups from World Vision, Public Schools, and AVSI are just some of the groups we are connecting with to fill up the forest with laughter, joy, and healing in the coming months.

GOD BLESS YOU ALL!

Unbelievable, Unbelievable, Unbelievable! – by Ogeno Charles

16 Sep

Hello everybody!

I am Ogeno Charles, the new Development Coordinator for TRP! I have a bachelor’s degree in Public Administration and Management.  At university I worked as vice treasurer of Public Administration and Management Student Association among other activities. I have also worked as an intern for Athletes for Africa (A4A)-Uganda and TRP.  Being a recent graduate of Uganda Christian University this will be the first full time position of my short professional career.

I am excited to be a Development Coordinator (full time) for the Recreation Project. I had no idea I would work with such a unique project and it is an absolute joy to do something that gives great hope to young people in Uganda. The social fabric of northern Uganda was vanishing because of the 21 years of war.  But now programs like TRP give us more hope for a better life, breaking away stigmas that have plagued us in the past.  It will be used as a way of building group trust and relationships and empowering individuals to face their fears, which is critical to the overall development of Uganda.

Personally I enjoy facing challenges and overcoming them, swimming, watching football, drama, reading, and making new friends.  I look forward to using all of those skills and interests to help develop TRP into a long term and sustainable project for northern Uganda!

Thanks to friends and all well-wishers involved with TRP in US, I look forward to interacting with you!

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit ~by Ben

28 Aug

I have never had so many participants cross themselves and say a last prayer before jumping off the Zipline as I did last weekend when we brought over 40 nuns to The Recreation Project. TRP is owned by a congregation of nuns that are passionate about seeing positive social change in northern Uganda. They run programs on health, counseling, and educational initiatives focused on girls, women and people with disability. One of my initial ideas for a project name was “The Flying Sisters”—but I was voted down by people more savvy at communications than I am!

Our day of introduction to the course for the sisters was a long time coming. I can’t believe it didn’t happen sooner. They were ecstatic, and such a joy to celebrate with! In fact, one of the objectives for their upcoming strategic plan is to “become more fit”. The congregation recognized the importance of staying physically healthy in an environment that concentrates so much on the state of the soul and being right with God. “We’ve been doing a lot of praying, but not enough playing”, one sister said. It was a great opportunity to talk about a well-balanced life that involves a healthy mind, body, and soul—especially when you can make it experiential by having them stand on a giant see-saw. It was a wonderful day with the Little Sisters of Mary Immaculate—we’re already planning for another outing in the forest.

I have been running again. I’ve been jogging about 4 times a week recently. I don’t know why I ever neglect physical exercise: it clears my head, rejuvenates me spiritual and of course, keeps me fit. Strapping on my running shoes at the end of a long day gives me perspective and helps me keep going.

(More pictures of Sisters soon, I promise!)

A Chance…

17 Aug

With around 750 participants going through our course in the last few months you can easily say there are some good days and bad days.  Last Friday was a difficult day.  We brought a group of secondary students (high school) from Kitgum district, which is about 2.5 hours from Gulu.  The bus had a flat tire on the way and the group arrived more than 4 hours late.  Bad start.

planning to get through the web

In one of our games participants are asked to get their team of 12 people through a man made spider’s web (bungee cords).  They CAN’T touch any of the webbing, or the whole team has to start over.  One of the main tenets of the teaching is we don’t tell them how to accomplish the tasks or give them the answers.  They have to use what they already have (themselves, their team, their environment) in order to complete the objectives.  Safe to say, I was getting very frustrated when 45 minutes into the activity and after several tries the students couldn’t figure out they needed to simply lift each other up to pass through the web.  They needed to work together.

On the porch with Case that evening I started to think about the day and couldn’t shake it.  You could see in their eyes they just didn’t know, systems here don’t encourage thinking for yourself, or coming up with different answers to a single problem.  The people “helping” are supposed to tell them exactly how things need to be done without any input from them.  Because our team chose not to do that, it was an incredibly frustrating activity.

A few days later I came across this quote:

“Unless you’re willing to have a go, fail miserably, and have another go, success won’t happen.” Phillip Adams

After praying and thinking about the day, and this quote, my angst has since turned to complete joy.  What a blessing this project is.  When these kids go through our course they get a chance.  A chance to run, play, learn, dream, apply, think, and fly.  They get a chance to succeed, fail, or do both.  They get a chance to try.  I haven’t been with a single participant yet that didn’t give it a go or make an attempt to take advantage of the opportunities in front of them.  Some have succeeded out the gate, some have struggled, but all continued to get up and keep going.

It is not something to be taken for granted here.  Most of these kids have never, and may never again have a chance to do something like this.  We pray though, that it opens their eyes to the possibilities in their lives.  That by seeing, and then doing, a fire will be lit in their hearts to dream big, and to think in new and positive ways about their spiritual, physical, and emotional development.  The game is changing here, with every chance that one of these kids gets.

trust me, they are very thankful for this opportunity

In the next year we are hoping to pour youth through the course.  It only costs $4 to give a kid the opportunity to experience our ropes course for one full day, including a very sustaining lunch, which can’t be underestimated.  That means for every $25 monthly donation we can send around 80 kids through our project in a year.  Please consider making an impact and joining our team by signing up for monthly donations.  Your gift literally gives these kids a chance to experience this type of joy and learning for the first time in their lives.

And for all of us, I hope we see our failures as opportunities to learn, but more importantly, as an opportunity to pick ourselves up and go at it again.

You’re On Your Own–by Al Leone

3 Aug

These past few months have been fast paced and full of excitement for the facilitators of TRP. Many of our training activities involved our willingness to trust each other in order to be successful and a phrase that often ended an activity was ‘you’re on your own’. Often, I have wondered, “what does this actually mean?” In an activity we say it to let the participant know we will not be ready to catch them when they fall any longer. Outside the forest our friends and family tell us this in times of great joy when we feel that we have achieved independence or possibly used during times of great sadness when we feel most vulnerable and alone. Perhaps we are the ones who announce we are alone or it could be that others announce it for us. Yet, in the forest even when we announce ‘you’re on your own’ the participant is never unaided. Their team is always there for another activity, another encouraging word or another insightful comment.

‘You’re on your own’ could mean, “if you continue you will no longer receive help”. Yet, because of the activities that we complete, participants come to realize that there is more support than they might have realized if they continue with their current community. In this apparent contradiction lies the magic of our work here in Northern Uganda. You aren’t on your own anymore. Youth are building faith in one another so that they will be supported through the hardships of growing old and the old are trusting that their youth can grow up in an environment no longer marked with war. The facilitators of TRP are well on their way to completing this mission of instilling hope in a resilient community. As their trainer, I can say with confidence that they will do wonderfully and I am very proud of their skills, energy and passion. I know that even though I am now leaving Uganda, the work of these amazing people will continue to change the lives of those they work with. While it is with a heavy heart that I say “You are on your own” to TRP, I know that they will make great changes for their community in my absence.