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And we’re off: TRP and Restore Leadership Academy climbing club!!!

27 Jul

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Today we received 15 girls from Restore Leadership Academy for our first climbing lesson. We are always so excited to get a new batch of climbers and filled with hope of what will come. We introduced the project, had some practice, and then Irene asked “What are your expectations from this club”. In the past, this question inevitably evokes responses such as: “I hope we will get a sitting fee”, “We need identity cards”, “A certificate”, “Transport allowance”, etc… in this case, we heard a new kind of expectation:

1. Learn how to socialize. ~Joan
2. Gain experience on how to help others. ~Barbara
3. Learn now about our environment and how to be more creative. ~Faith
4. Create unity among students and at home with people in myIMG_1841 2
community. ~Agnes
5. To be able to lead others. ~Prossy
6. Learn skills with creativity and teach others. ~Pauline
7. Know how to react and to lead people. ~Patience
8. Help friends in trouble and get more skills. ~Leah
9. Learn new leadership skills. ~Bridget
10. Learn more cooperation with others. ~Fiona
11. Learn how to take and live life with others in the environment. ~Vivian
12. Learn how to fit into the community. ~Olive
13. Learn how to help others reach their dreams. ~Anenocan
14. Be more courageous. ~Mercy
15. Work hard to achieve my goal and learn more about leadership.
~Gloria

You guys are doing something right Restore International and the Leadership Academy! They already have so much of what we hope to instill in young people in Gulu.  We’re really excited to see where this goes.

My experience on the Wilderness Excursion, by Alex Pycroft

20 Jul

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Arriving before the rest of the group, Ben and I got a chance to scope out what was in store for the day. Looking over the 80 foot cliff—gave even the experienced climber “Jelly Knees”. Imagining 17 high school girls, whose only climbing experience is a 7 meter climbing wall in the forest, I wondered how or if they were going to attempt the climb. The pride of witnessing all 17 overcome their fear of heights was something amazing to watch. All were nervous with a few wet cheeks rappelling down, but none gave in to the challenge before them.

DSC_0099After watching all of the girls rappel, I was one of the last people to head off the cliff. My experience leaning backwards over that edge was terrifying and gave me all that more respect for the girls club.

To get back to camp we needed to hack our way through dense grass and trees. It was a group effort with each of us taking turns with the machete clearing the way. The hike back to camp was a grueling hour, that fortunately ended with with a hardy meal of beans and rice.

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After lunch we set up tents—again, the girls showed exemplary leadership and teamwork to complete the campsite within 30 minutes. With the campsite up, and our things stowed away, we assembled the group to begin another key activity of the wilderness excursion—the LIFELINE. The lifeline was carried out on the smooth rocks using chalk. It’s a creative and simple way for each of the girls to present their whole life story. We asked them to include both positive and negative experiences that they’ve encountered—events that shaped their lives. A curve up shows a positive experience and a curve down, a negative one. I was privileged when asked to come and see some of the lifelines. I saw a number of events about academic achievement and challenges, several instances of death in the family, moving to new locations, but all ended with aspirations of a full and positive future (we had future doctors, lawyers, fashion designers, business managers). I shared my lifeline as well. We shared our stories, challenges and joys, and this created stronger bonds between us.

Around the bonfire in the evening, we were asked to say something positive about someone we saw doing something remarkable. I didn’t expect to be among the people praised, but was so grateful to hear some of the girls talk about the difference I had made for them that day. It was touching, a trip I won’t soon forget.

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As Another Season Ends, The Future Looks Bright

26 Sep

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Over the last month or two TRP sports has been wrapping up another successful year. Even though the students are on the calendar year schedule, we have our busiest time from September to July, culminating with our national tournament.  In August and September we take stock of where we have been, where we are at, and where we are going.  It has essentially been 3 seasons since we started baseball programming, and we want to give you a picture of where we have been.  A fun way of doing this will be to compare our work in Gulu, Uganda to the Chicago Cubs.  No, not the Cubs that are known as the lovable losers who haven’t won a World Series since 1908.  We feel a lot more like the Cubs of the last three years, who have patiently went on a journey to rebuild their entire team from the ground up.

As the Cubs bottomed out in 2010 with massive contracts for players who couldn’t produce much on a baseball diamond, they ventured on an innovative and aggressive rebuilding of their minor league system. They chose to value youth and long term gains over flashy contracts for flashy players who wouldn’t contribute much to a box score.  As a Cubs fan this has been rather painful.  About a month ago it looked like we were headed for a third straight last place finish and not a lot to look forward to.  But since then, the Cubs have started to call up to the Major Leagues a youth movement they have developed over these three years.  Javy Baez first, who homered in his first game.  Jorge Soler next, who homered in his first at bat!  And then there is Kris Bryant, who is still in Triple A Iowa but is arguably the best minor league player in the game, and will join the Cubs major league team in April.  This list goes on, with Kyle Schwarber, Almindsey Alcantara, and Addison Russell.  Cubs fans can certainly see the fruits of their patience, and a new season where pennants and world series titles can be legitimate dreams.  But it will always be important to remember what it took to this get in this position.  Having a plan, doing the hard work to execute the plan patiently, and waking up with hope each day that your future is out in front of you. dirt field

Plain and simple, three years ago baseball didn’t exist in Gulu. As TRP did its best to launch a program there was a strong push to see quick results.  Anybody who knows sports knows that’s not a sustainable path.  And when you are in the business of changing the life of kids strapped with decades of poverty and war, the quick approach only brings more risk of disappointment and discontent.  We had a volunteer named Chen, from Taiwan, come help us in those early days.  As the kids threw baseballs from long distances trying to impress with how far they could throw and catch, Chen stopped us.  He said, “You need to play catch from ten feet away until they are perfect, then move to 11 feet.”  Chen was right, we had to focus on doing things right from the beginning, trust the process, and give it time to flourish.  So we did that, as best we can.  But there are now big things on the horizon.  We feel like the Cubs a bit, that our planning is starting to pay off, that momentum is building, and that we are entering a season where we can truly start to see the program take off and reach our ultimate goal:  To watch northern Ugandans take the lessons they learn on a field and use it to create the life and community they desire off of the diamond.  So with that, I would like to leave all of you with some accomplishments over the last few years, as well as some of plans in the future.  We hope you all stay on the ride with us.

Big Accomplishments for TRP Sports:

  • 4 coaches have been trained and brought onto our staff in various functions, with 3 of them still remaining with us. Mike, Patrick, and Faith are ambassadors for our program and we hope they stay for many years!
  • We have grown from one school program at Bishop Negri Primary School to 3 school programs, adding Vienna Primary School and Gulu Primary School.
  • We have competed in 3 Uganda National Little League Tournaments, finishing as runner up in our second year! This was a huge accomplishment, and is something the kids look forward to every year. Many have never traveled out of the north, and this allows them to visit their capital and compete against others from across the country, stay in dorms, and just enjoy their youth experience!
  • Mike, our project manager, has implemented a values based training for all of our kids so that while they are on the field we maximize the lessons they are learning. From teamwork, to personal commitment, to how we should live in community and the importance of our spiritual lives, these lessons are vital to the success of our program, and more importantly to the futures of our ballplayers.
  • Weekly meetings with US Staff! Over the last year we have worked with Mike to set up weekly meetings to give updates on progress, ideas for improving programs, and planning for what we want to do in the future. These are so valuable for our team here in the US, and we hope for Mike!

Where we are headed:batting tee

  • We are looking to expand to 5 schools over the next year, including 1 secondary school, Gulu High School. This will allow us to continue working with the youth as they get older and move on to higher levels.
  • We are in conversations with the TRP board about adopting a full sports curriculum for our school programs. This would allow us to consolidate our lessons and make a replicable program where we can train coaches quickly and help them to see full impact. Many organizations have already done this, so we are hoping to collaborate with some of them instead of designing from scratch.
  • With that, we need to build a proper full baseball diamond. 330 ft to all sides! We are in the process of designing a fundraising campaign to challenge donors to be a part of this. Bishop Negri Primary School has already promised to provide the land.
  • Right now our leagues are inter school leagues. Over the next year we will be looking to run leagues that have the different schools competing against each other, which opens a world of possibilities when it comes to personal growth and developing community.
  • We want to be able to fund 4 full time coaches this year. We are right now creating a campaign which will help us reach this goal through monthly sponsorships.
  • Finally, we are hoping to bring Coach Mike over to the US for training in the next year. Our dream is to have him coach a little league team in the US, and also travel around a bit to introduce our program to a wider audience.

This year, as the MLB playoffs begin, and you watch the players take the field and compete, we hope it reminds you that kids half way across the world are being transformed by this game.

Play Ball

30 Oct

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Game 6 of the 2013 World Series is just a few short hours away. Fans from across the nation are decked in their team colors. People are making plans to watch the 8:07pm EST game start. Bleachers will be full, stands will be packed, and homes and bars across the country will be crammed with excitement and dueling hopes. Hopes that David Ortiz hits a few more out of the park tonight to seal in the victory and crown the Sox with their 8th World Series win. Cards fans will be glued hoping to see a miracle win on the road to force game 7 tomorrow night and to have a chance to take home the championship.

While we all root, cheer and hope for the next World Champions, there is an overgrown field with fresh tracks from a group of kids leaving practice for the day just hoping for a shot at the big leagues. In a country recovering from an astounding 25 year long war, waged in the currency of youth, Bishop Negri Primary School’s little league team has made considerable strides over the last year. Last year, with a few committed coaches, some gloves and some baseballs, our kids finished second in the Uganda National Little League Tournament.  As a result of a technicality with the 1st place team was disquallified, our team was offered the spot to compete in the Africa/Eroupe regional finals and a chance to play in the Little League World Series (LLWS). Due to a significant lack of funds, time and recourses, our kids were unable to participate in this once in a lifetime opportunity.

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Cassie Says Wabinen (See You Next Time)

5 Aug

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What can I possibly say to summarize my last two months being part of The Recreation Project and living in a culture so different and new to me? Well, let me begin by saying that I have loved every moment of it, even the challenges!

I’d like to reflect on some of the highlights from my summer here in Gulu.

First of all I was welcomed in a way like never before. The staff, beneficiaries, the community, everyone welcomed me by showing me unexplainable hospitality.

There were also the groups I got to facilitate in the Forest. I certainly hit the ground running when I got here with a group my first day, but I couldn’t imagine it any other way. I have enjoyed more than anything being with our groups and watching them undergo change in the matter of our program. I loved all our groups, but working with the girls rescue home from Zion Project was one of my favorite memories. Those girls have come from backgrounds I cannot begin to comprehend and they choose daily to face the challenges that are presented to them with a confidence I have never seen in a child their age. They are resilient, energetic, fun, loving girls, and it was truly a life changing experience to work with them.

I too enjoyed the week we worked with rugby groups from different secondary schools around Gulu. I was challenged in that week by the differences from group to group. We had groups that were easier to work with and others who caused me to stumble as I facilitated because they were stubborn or couldn’t cooperate well together, but it was a growing and learning experience none the less.

And I cannot forget to mention my joy from working with the primary schools coaching softball and baseball. Watching those kids grow in the last two months has been a delight. The boys at Negri Primary blew my mind with how honestly great they were at baseball, but they continued to grow and learn. The boys and girls at Vienna Primary also were a great deal of joy as I watched them transitions from not knowing how to pick and put on gloves to swinging bats and playing the game. It has truly been a joy and blessing to have so many experiences with The Recreation Project. I cannot thank TRP enough for letting me come be a part of them for this short while and for those of you who continue to support the project.

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Besides the groups I too fell in love with the people I had the opportunity to work with day to day. Like I have said before their hospitality is unexplainable and their friendship is true. I love facilitating with Charles, Irene, Josie, and Robert. I’ve loved seeing Ben’s heart and passion for this project and having time with his family. I too have loved coaching softball and baseball with Mike and Patrick. The staff, facilitators, and coaches connected with The Recreation Project don’t do what that they do because they need the job or want the fame of doing it, they really do it for the beneficiaries we work with, they do what they do to empower the youth of Uganda.

And to talk about what is next may be a bit premature, but I will be home and soon to start my final year of University. I plan to stay connected with TRP by starting our first campus chapter at my University. I will also be planning a new program that, when I graduate in May 2014, I will hopefully have the opportunity to come back to Gulu, Uganda and put into action. I have every God-given dream and desire to do overseas mission work and having the opportunities I have had here with TRP and in Gulu have done more than prepared me for my future.

So for now I say Wabinen, which in Acoli means see you next time.

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