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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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Reflections From a Busy Week

16 May

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webshots-2Last week we had five groups on the ropes course, two that were large and included over 140 people–which means a lot of responsibility for the TRP team. One of the most powerful sessions was with a group of 25 blind kids from Gulu High School and another group of children who were born in captivity of the LRA.

The children born in captivity were full of life, engaging, and eager to try every element in the forest. They talked about their challenges in interacting with other children and also about the difficulty of speaking openly with their parents about their memories in the bush. We are hoping to start a program specifically for children born in captivity of the LRA. One day in the forest is just not enough time to begin addressing some of the wounds of war that many of them still vividly remember. Stay-tuned for the plan…and the ask.

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Briefing the Facilitator Team.

My role hosting the groups this week was to make a few plans with Charles, TRP’s Lead Facilitator, and watch them work. The facilitator team is doing great at leading our groups and it’s awesome to see them work. On one morning in particular I arrived at the site by 8AM—a large group was arriving shortly after at 8:30. All nine facilitators had arrived by 7AM and already set-up each station for the day: ropes were hung, harnesses and helmets set out, water basins and washing hands prepared, waivers and pens sat at the entrance…everyone knew what they were doing. I couldn’t think of anything else that needed to be done. I was proud to see them ready to go!

Josie on the course.

Josie on the course.

Another example of how well the facilitators are doing happened one afternoon when I showed up at the Zipline. Josie was belaying, Charles receiving on the platform. I looked up and saw a girl shuffling her hands around on the tree, searching for the next staple. She was blind. I immediately started asking Josie if all the protocol was being followed for sending a blind person down the Zipline; asking her question after question. She kindly answered all of my questions and then gently said, “This is the fifth girl in a row we have sent who can’t see”. She had it completely under control.

Even though experiential learning and outdoor adventure-based therapy programming is completely novel to this region, the facilitators at The Recreation Project continue to show me they are capable of implementing a high quality program. I was happy to hear Robert (Coordinator) say, “I wish that I could have done this as a child, some of the life lessons they learn here at TRP I have just recently learned myself, or am still learning now.”

Charles, TRP’s lead facilitator, shares a few of his reflections from the week:

webshots-3Last week we had a group of blind students from Gulu High School. As we closed the program, the blind students began to thank their teachers for bringing them to The Recreation Project. I had the chance to overhear some of their conversations: “This is my first time to do all these activities”… “The zip line, Climbing wall, Spiders’ web, and Milk Tea River–doing all these made me feel as if I have eyes because I believe other people with clear sight also do it the way I did”.

On the other side of the forest there was a group of children born in captivity of the LRA. After passing through the Spiders’ web as a group, they were debriefed and divided in three groups. They were then asked to relate all they experienced with what they expect from their parents and the community.  It was great to hear some of the responses: “In this game we felt loved, supported, and respected by our fellow colleagues and the facilitators. These are the kind of things we expect from our parents and the community”…”Sometimes our parents and relatives just shout at us when we make a mistake”…“We expect our parents to respect our ideas but not to undermine us directly the way they use to do”.

Me with the Facilitator Team

Me with the Facilitator Team

Community Service day with the Gulu Remand Home ~by Okwonga Robert

18 Apr

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RH Aywee
When the children from the Remand Home went to do charitable work at Aywee Health Centre III yesterday, the people at the Centre and the surrounding community asked a lot of questions:
1. What made these children do this work?
2. What changed their attitude toward work?
3. Why are they doing this work and yet our neighbors and community members have never offered to help?
4. How are they reforming?
It was nice to hear some of them say that their experience with TRP has made them think about community service and giving back.
Praying for soda

Parent Dialogue Day

28 Feb

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Recently a Justice and Law Committee from the District Government visited the Gulu Remand Home. Their findings mandated that the boys and girls of the juvenile detention center participate in 5 key on-going activities: Indoor and outdoor sports, Counseling, Life skills training, Dialogue and reconciliation with parents/guardians, and Literacy. We are proud that The Recreation Project provides the first 4 out of 5 activities.
This week we brought the children of the Remand Home with their parents/guardians. We were excited to see that 15 parents/guardians showed up!

We did several exercises geared toward getting the parents and children to talk about barriers in communication at home. We used an activity called “Eyes, Voice, Body” to present the challenge of clear communication and potential for misunderstanding. Here are a few comments from the debriefing session:

To the parents: What do you think makes it difficult for children to communicate with their parents?
Parent: Some of we parents over-drink and it becomes very difficult for them to talk with us when we’re drunk.
Parent: Many parents aren’t concerned with their children—they are only concerned with their work and finding money.


To the Children: What do you think makes it difficult for parents to communicate with their children?
Child: Many children are upset with their parents because parents have ideas about how their children’s life should go. For example, many parents decide that their daughters should go and get married-even when the girl is still a child. For boys, some parents push them out of the house when they are still young. We don’t want parents to just tell us what to do, but they don’t like talking to us about what we like.

What makes it easy to communicate?
Parent: It’s important to earn trust before communication can be successful. Our families are often full of mistrust and that’s a problem.
Child: we kids need to be loved by our parents before we can talk openly to them. Our parents often don’t show love towards us. That’s why we usually talk about important issues with our friends instead of our parents.

What has been the benefit from this project:
Child: I haven’t talked with my parent in a long time, until today. I have hope that this is the beginning of building a relationship with them and having unity in the family”

Other comments:
Child: “The training we get here looks small, but it has been so important for our human life”

Parent: One parent made the connection between our “Challenge course” (what we call the journey of life) and that falling off the challenge course is like making a big mistake in life. This doesn’t that you children should give up. These are learning experiences that can help you succeed in your future.

And I probably shouldn’t post this one, but this guy’s response gave the whole group a good laugh, He said “Some people peed a little bit at the top of the leap of faith—this shows both the challenges that come in life and also the ability to overcome.”

Parents made us promise to bring them back–and we agreed. They said that they had made more progress in talking to their children in the one-day program than imaginable.

We Can Reform

22 Aug

I remember asking all of you readers if you believed in the potential for rehabilitation for young people who have committed crimes. Two weeks ago I met with several boys from the Gulu Remand Home (a place where minors stay while awaiting their trial). One of the boys said “People don’t believe that we can reform—but we can, and we do!”   The boys I talked to admitted their crimes.  They showed remorse and explained how they came to committing the crime. They said most people in society think that they are worthless and need to stay behind bars—but many of the boys themselves believe that they can take steps towards amending the wrongs they have done and still live a normal life. We want to fan their resilient attitudes.

 

 

 

 

TRP has hosted the Remand Home children in the forest in the past, but we’re moving into a long-term relationship with them in bringing the boys and girls to TRP for an ongoing series of 6 trainings. Themes for the day programs include: decision-making, leadership and peer pressure, psychosocial support, family sessions, and vision-casting among others.  At the same time, we are offering a weekly sports outreach (in partnership with UNICEF) and hope to begin giving them opportunities to learn the trade of building a “kitchen garden” (small vegetable garden) and raring poultry.  These activities will keep them active while learning a practical skill which they can use upon returning home.  The final aspect of our program will create time and space for parents and family members to talk to children about ways of staying out of trouble and cultivate healthy family patterns.

 

 

 

 

Outside of weekly literacy and numeracy classes, there are no planned activities for the children at the Home.  Bringing them to the ropes course and having weekly sports training camps allows them engage in meaningful physical activity. One boy said “we usually sit here and play cards, but your forest is a place that all of the children here should experience—it is a place that we never expected we would go.”