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.

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.