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Reflections From a Busy Week

16 May


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.


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

RH Aywee

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


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.”

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.