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After the Guns Stop Firing

28 Nov

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Today’s blog features an article which was published this month in Peacewrites, a newsletter by the Department of Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney. The article was written for the newsletter by TRP’s new Country Director, David Brice.

 


 

On the 13th of June this year I was midway in my travels between Uganda and Australia. I was passing some time flicking through my Facebook news feed when I stumbled across a flood of updates from friends in Gulu, Northern Uganda:

“Gun fire all over senior quarters. Get inside and lock down.”

“Heavy gunfire in Gulu town. Streets deserted…”

An armed group had attacked a police station, apparently in an attempt to free an individual who had been arrested. In the hours that followed, the police and army exchanged fire with the group in the streets of Gulu and south of the town.

This came just weeks after an attack on an army base in the same district in which a soldier was killed and weapons were stolen.

While Uganda enjoys relative political stability, recent events are a reminder that not all is well beneath the surface.

 

A troubled history

My wife, Tash, and I started jogging earlier this year. One morning as we jogged down a dirt road close to where we were living we saw one of our neighbours out digging in her field. The day before she had been joking with Tash and yelling at her that she should help her dig. We stopped to say “hi” and introduce ourselves.

After first berating us for trying to speak to her in Acholi—as if she couldn’t speak English well—she began telling us about herself. In the midst of this fairly casual conversation she told us that she was now back in Gulu after having lived in Kampala for a while. Her parents, she said, had sent her down there after she had been abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) for a time.

I’m not sure what caught me off guard more: the fact that she had been abducted as a girl by a brutal rebel army or how casually she commented on it, almost as if this was a pretty normal thing to say.

The saddening thing about this area of Northern Uganda is that it is actually quite hard to find anyone who wasn’t impacted in some way by violence connected with the LRA and Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF).

Over the 20 years of fighting it has been estimated that 66,000 young people were abducted. In Gulu District over 90 percent of the population was displaced. The majority of those displaced have only returned to their homes or land within the last ten years.

You wouldn’t know all of this by simply looking around. People just get on with their lives. They dig in their gardens, go to school, chat with neighbours and sell charcoal by the edge of the road. It feels like the buzz of normal life happening all around.

The hot spots have moved across the borders to places like The DRC and Southern Sudan and much of the funding for interventions has understandably followed.

The difficulty remains that peace isn’t built by just stopping the violence. Conflict isn’t resolved when the shooting stops. Scars haven’t healed just because people have stopped talking about them.

While widespread violence captures our attention, the work of healing, reconciling, rebuilding and pursuing just systems remains vital for the building of a “positive peace” which interrupts cycles of violence.

After the recent fighting in Gulu a security briefing was held by some of the NGO’s based in the area. Whilst recent incidents appear fairly isolated, an advisor suggested that we are witnessing all the hallmarks of the beginning of an insurgency. The military wing of a group calling themselves the National Democratic Alliance reportedly claimed responsibility for the recent attacks.

Perhaps the recent heat will dissipate. Perhaps it won’t. If it doesn’t, there may well be enough kindling in the widespread anger, sense of voicelessness and unhealed wounds for a bushfire to be lit.

 

Re-writing the future

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In a little Eucalyptus “forest” just outside of Gulu a different future is being written. Instead of the sound of gun fire there is the sound of laughing.

In this little forest an organisation called The Recreation Project (TRP) is doing something slightly unusual: they are playing games. They are riding zip lines, navigating ropes courses and untangling human knots. In between the games they talk, debrief and laugh.

For the youth impacted by violence who participate in TRP’s programs, the activities, in conjunction with life skills and agriculture training, provide an opportunity for them to begin to heal some of the scars which remain. Here they have a safe place to feel and work through some of the hard emotions which emerge as they attempt to work with, and trust others.

They are creating within themselves a new future: one that is not dictated by pain and cycles of violence.

I am really pleased when I see individuals and organisations continuing to invest in so-called “post-conflict” areas like Gulu. Let us not forget all those who face the threat of imminent violence. Let us also not forget all those who quietly go on after violence, carrying the weight of scars and hurt relationships.

Celebrating The Recreation Project

28 Aug

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There is a lot to celebrate here at TRP! Just a week ago we held our annual summer fundraiser in Denver, Colorado. We were extremely humbled by the overwhelming support The Recreation Project received throughout the evening at The Posner Center. It really gave us a chance to reach out and not only share what TRP does, but more importantly to introduce our team who works extremely hard in Gulu to help build joy and confidence in the lives of young Ugandans.

We had a lot of support this year not only from donors but also through the generous contributions of our sponsors! We would sincerely like to thank:

  • Chipotle! Who provided us with all of our food for the evening
  • Alright Alright! They have amazing music! Please check them out here
  • AB InBev! Thank you for the beverages
  • Stray Dog! This is an incredible blue grass band based in Denver! Please look them up!
  • The Posner Center! Thank you so much for letting The Recreation Project use your facilities!
  • C2D Productions and Andrew Syed! Who produced an amazing video on TRP

Towards the end of the evening Andrew released the film he had spent the last couple of months working on in Gulu. The impact of the film was incredible to say the least. If you were unable to attend the fundraiser and want to see the film; don’t worry we have posted it at the bottom of this blog. YOU HAVE TO CHECK IT OUT!!!

Once again thank you so much for all of the continued support! If you want to learn more or want to find out how you can help/donate contact us! Also visit our Facebook page or our Instagram for weekly updates!

 

The TRP board and interns!

The TRP board and interns!

Meet Our Team Information Wall

Meet Our Team Information Wall

Andrew Syed speaking about the film and Uganda

Andrew Syed speaking about the film and Uganda

 

 

 

 

 

The Recreation Project from Andrew Syed on Vimeo.

Movement as Therapy

1 Aug

With the month of July coming to a close The Recreation Project was happy to host five organizations for team building activities including: the International Justice Mission (IJM) and Bicycles Against Poverty (BAP), both who have offices based in Gulu. Charles, our Development Manager, also shared a story about an experience he had while working with the Sacred Heart all girls climbing club:

I remembered the bright morning of July 23, when the climbing club girls entered the forest with beautiful smiles on their faces. Last Saturday TRP hosted the WellSpring project- this brougt the alumni members of the climbing club together to participate in a Dance and Movement Therapy program. The girls expressed that participation in our programs helps them relieve pressure they face whether at home or in the school- it gives them a change of scenes and a chance to play.

Dancing being part of Acholi’s culture, we are keen to understand how somatic-experience based therapy fits into TRP’s program. The Wellspring project is training us in new ways to build confidence in the young people we work with. At the beginning, ‘movement as therapy has felt very awkward to me. we are not used to expressive therapies, but are having fun exploring new ideas for healing. We the youth in northern Uganda are still recovering from our past experience of conflict; we lost hope for a better future a long time ago. At TRP we are proud to be one of the agents helping youth to reclaim themselves as successful agents of action and change. -Ogeno Charles, TRP

We are excited for what August has in store for the camp in Uganda as well as our team here in the United States! TRP will be hosting a Summer Fundraiser in Denver, Colorado at the Posner Center for International Development on August 2oth. To find out more about the fundraiser email info@therecreationproject.org or to donate click on the GET INVOLVED tab above!

Thank you all for the support!

Life Line

9 Jul

Life Line

The month of June was enormous for the Recreation Project! With over 200 participants coming through the camp in Gulu; we had tremendous success in helping various youth groups experience joy and learn valuable life skills through rock climbing and the ropes courses.

In addition we held our largest Wilderness Excursion to date! Over thirty six participated in an outing to the cliffs near Patiko. A large number came from the all girls climbing club based at Sacred Heart High School. Two days were spent building camp and practicing rappelling skills that were learned earlier in the month at the TRP camp in Gulu.

In the evenings there was time to relax and eat while stories were shared around the campfire. Ben along with girls from the climbing club created life lines. These were stories drawn on the rocks using chalk that told of hardship and good experiences. Rocks indicated moments of struggle that were overcome while flowers signified happy memories. Poetry and song were also shared throughout the night. One climbing club member reflected on the loss of her parents and how going to school seemed hopeless until she joined the climbing club and found purpose and strength while rappelling from a 100 foot cliff.

Our largest Wilderness Excursion to date!

Our largest Wilderness Excursion to date!

86,400 Seconds

23 Jan

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Coach Mike training up ballplayers

Coach Mike training up ballplayers

A couple days ago we posted a blog highlighting the work TRP is doing through baseball. If you missed it, go ahead and take a peek at what we wrote here. Since starting baseball programs in Gulu there are many days that we have felt like we are batting .1000 and that this tool we have tapped (baseball) could unlock so much potential in the youth of Northern Uganda. But during the hard days, it feels like we are taking our best swing, with all of our power, and instead of a home run the ball deflects off the bat forcing us to, at best, eek out a bunt single. There are challenges, and sometimes those challenges seem huge:

  • TRP owns 30 baseball gloves (remember, we work with over 500 kids every year!) that Coach Mike guards with his life. They are about 3 years old and get used every single day. The rest of our equipment is also rather inadequate and overused. When we do find people who want to donate equipment, the cost of getting it to Uganda is so prohibitive we usually can’t get it anyway!
  • Speaking of Coach Mike: he is the number one reason why baseball continues to thrive in the North (you can read about him here). This guy works with passion, joy and gratitude. Because of this we would really, really like to compensate him more than we already do. Not to mention, with the amount of kids who want to play ball in northern Uganda, there is enough work to employ THREE more Mikes! If only we had the funds!
  • The effects of a  20 year civil war are still prevalent, evident in stories like this one. TRP is in the final stages of designing a curriculum to help shift a cultural and mental mindset of poverty and “I Can’t” to “I Can”. With a curriculum that turns lessons learned on the field into holistic life learning opportunities, we hope to see long-lasting change, both on and off the field. This will require more time from our current US-based team as well as additional on-the-ground support in Gulu to implement the teaching.
  • In sports there is a constant need to be pushing to the next level. We are there. Our kids have developed a good understanding of baseball fundamentals so in the next year our goal is to find someone to work with Coach Mike (stateside) on how we can take the next steps on our ballfields.
  • Most of the support staff for TRP baseball are volunteers who work full time jobs, raise kids, and have other extra-curricular commitments while also doing their best to support a program which takes place a thousand miles away. TRP baseball would benefit from the energy of new volunteers who would be willing to give their time .

To help us meet these needs, our goal is to mobilize some additional tangible support by the end of this year’s Little League World Series. Currently, we run our baseball programs on$15,000 annually. To hit a ‘home run’ with baseball funding, and fully address the needs above, we would need $60,000 annually. To start to chip away at that number, this is our goal for the next 10 days:

  1. We would like to challenge just 10 people to donate 50 dollars a month.
  2. We want to find two volunteers to donate their time. We would like one volunteer to train with Coach Mike on baseball development remotely  via phone/skype calls a few times a month. We would like another volunteer to support the team stateside helping us tell our story to a wider audience in the US.

If you are interested in either of these opportunities, you can contact us at zach@therecreationproject.org or sign up directly as a monthly donor on our website: DONATE HERE

In the last blog, we shared a video of Uganda’s first home run in the Little League World Series in 2012 . This seemingly instant life-making moment actually took a lot of time, hard work, and resources. Regarding this, Kevin Carroll says:

“Each day contains 86,400 seconds, that’s 86,400 opportunities to chase, kick, catch, and run after your red rubber ball. Pursuit must become your daily routine, not a New Year’s resolution once a year sport. It is a constant exercise in listening, learning, preparing, and acting.”

Today, we are asking YOU to join our team. While we understand that most of you already squeeze the life out of those 86,400 seconds each day, if you do happen to have a few spare moments or dollars and you’d like to do something significant with them, we know you will not regret giving them to the beautiful kids in northern Uganda. In return, we promise you they will do their part to maximize the day.

Join Our Team!

Join Our Team!