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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.

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


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.


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.


Introducing Grace

5 Oct


I moved to Gulu in January and almost immediately started hearing rumour of a climbing wall. Being a keen climber and general outdoor adventure-nut, I had to investigate. This is how I found The Recreation Project.
My first impression was one of amazement that someone had even thought to build an outdoor activity centre in a developing country, in a former conflict zone. With a background in youth work, outdoor education and mental health, I understand and have witnessed the benefits of adventure-based therapy first-hand back home in New Zealand. What I didn’t expect was to meet people with the vision and drive to use this tool to work with war-affected youth in northern Uganda. My first reaction was to ask when I could climb on their wall!
I was then roped into (excuse the pun) helping out with some of the big groups they had coming through the forest. Seeing the youth trying out the zipline, leap of faith and climbing wall for their very first time was an absolute pleasure. Their energy was infectious but most rewarding was seeing those who had the greatest fear overcome it and make a huge gain in self-confidence. I was also impressed by the professionalism and enthusiasm of the TRP staff and facilitators, most of whom come from the local area and can tell their own moving stories about growing up during the LRA’s insurgency. I enjoyed these days so much I started talking with Ben and Zach about how I could get more involved with TRP and this resulted in a three month volunteer placement as their Capacity Building Coordinator.
One of my first tasks has been to work towards setting up Uganda’s first Youth Climbing Club. The goal being to provide the opportunity for local out-of-school youth to learn how to climb, develop leadership skills and learn about protecting the environment. When they complete the training programme we’ll take them on an Outdoor Adventure Excursion to a National Park – a place few local youth ever get the chance to visit. I am incredibly excited to be a part of making this happen and hope that we can bring others onboard to lend their technical and financial support as well as provide climbing gear for these youth!

I’ve also been able to look at how we can make the ropes course and programmes more accessible for people with disabilities. I’ll finish with one of my favourite pictures from working at The Recreation Project so far:

Fred fell out of a tree when he was 13 years old and broke his back, he has been using a wheelchair ever since. Now in his mid-30s, he climbed a tree for the first time since his accident last weekend at The Recreation Project. Strapped into a harness, with a couple of strong facilitators hauling on the rope, Fred managed to pull himself up the ladder to the platform in the tree. Once up there and clipped into the zipline trolley, he started to question the safety and sanity of what he was doing. But he still managed to launch himself off the platform and fly down the zipline. As he came down from the wire and reseated himself in his wheelchair, he had a look of shear amazement and joy on his face. Fred told us he couldn’t quite believe he had done it but that he was incredibly pleased to have overcome his fear and enjoyed flying through the air. He now wants to do it again and bring his sons next time to share the experience.

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.

Needs by Al Leone

25 Jul


The primary senses: sight, touch, taste, smell, and hearing. Perhaps the first thought for those of us from Western culture is that without one we will be unable to communicate. We will be inefficient. We will not survive and be successful. Yet, during the second official facilitator training, the staff of TRP demonstrated that nothing is impossible as long as you can think outside of the box.

One of the first initiatives that the facilitators had to perform was an exercise in which there were three leaders and five followers. The followers were blindfolded and had an unknown list of tasks to complete. The leaders knew what the tasks were and had been instructed to help the followers complete the task without speaking to the followers or touching the followers or the objects needed to complete the task. Some of the tasks included passing a ball, singing a song and putting on a pair of sunglasses. Like other groups that I have seen attempt this activity, our facilitators struggled and frustration grew as the communication, apparently nonsensical, was leading them nowhere.
“What do you need,” I asked both groups and quickly they listed off needs for understanding and better communication. The followers were in agreement that they were waiting to be lead. Yet, when I asked why they were waiting there was no response. When I asked what was stopping them from asking for what they needed from their leaders there was again no response. Slowly, progress began. The blindfolded participants began to ask questions to promote their own learning and those with the answers were finally able to give information.
The activity ended in a wave of relief as the knowledge that they had been successful brought about celebration. Again I asked ‘what did you need’ and ‘why did you wait to get it’.
“What do you need’? The answer is never simple, especially in a place like Gulu where so many of the resources we once could rely upon on are taken from us. Yet, just like in this activity, the people have found ways to think creatively and use the greatest asset they have: each other. While there are still more struggles that we must face the people have each other and TRP facilitators are bringing the resources of creativity and community back.