The Frigid North

Last week was quite an amazing one. The Acholi Dream Team of 8 pctrainees traveled to the “frigid north” to go explore and experience a taste of where we will be living the next two years. Although safety has been a huge concern in the past, for the last two years it has been more than “relatively” safe as one of our trainers said.

The ride up took a bit longer since our bus overheated multiple times. I’m not exactly sure how fast we were going, but looking out the window was a bad idea during the extremely fast times (especially when another bus would fly past us). We slowed down for the random speed bumps, rest stops, baboons on the side of the road, and while driving on the bridge crossing to the other side of the nile. Six hours later, we happily stepped off the bus with our bags, excited to explore where we’ll call home in just over a month.

Monday, we checked into a hotel and our leaders gave us a tour of downtown Gulu. The big mission of the day was to meet David and Hannah, two crisis corps short term volunteers. While it was great to meet them, it was also great to be out after 7pm and feeling safe while doing so.

Tuesday, we worked on language as well as checked out Straight Talk. With the organization being such a large umbrella for many smaller branches, it was good to hear from them what all they did (such as HIV/AIDS outreaches and breakdance workshops) and to also get material from them.

Throughout the week, we attempted to speak Acholi with locals, introduced ourselves to the Local Chairman (who was rather excited about PC placing people in the north), spoke to different NGO’s (non-government organizations), and got a feel for the area as well as the opportunities.

In the mornings, we would learn new phrases to help out with the days tasks such as bargaining. Since there is a decent amount of not only foreigners but as well as displaced Ugandans from different language groups, people we would talk to in Acholi would revert to answering in English. English seemed to attain a certain level of pride and respect within the person. One man we spoke to had finished primary 3 but hadn’t been back to school for 20 years because of the LRA. Previously, I had thought only educated people knew English, but Peter who spoke English very well proved that wrong. The two PC volunteers there only ever to speak English- which could make one wonder why learn Acholi. The smiles, integration into the community, being more than a tourist volunteer, and understanding what locals are saying are reasons enough to learn. Also, there is a possibility of getting placed into a village that doesn’t have the high population of English speakers.

Although we don’t know much about the outside areas of Pader and Kitgum districts (where 4 of the 8 will be sent), from talking to the LC chairman, manager at the NGO forum, and others, we were able to get a small glimpse of what we will be working with. The leaders of the community were very welcoming and gave a brief history of Gulu. We were able to attain a list of NGO’s, descriptions of what they do, numbers for contacts, and locations.

Another trainee and I during a scavenger hunt found World Vision and spoke to a manager for about 30 minutes. It was their holistic approach to helping people in the areas of education, water sanitation, advocacy for abducted/stigma/people with psychosocial issues and much more that impressed me. Paul Powell said how WV targets the needs THEN the money rather than how some NGO’s go for the money first. There are 9-10 projects currently under them and they are in 40% of the communities there. We asked about volunteering possibly in the future and Paul said it’s a process- they want to make sure the vision of the individua matches the vision of the organization rather than compete.

Probably the largest highlight of the week was getting assigned to check out SOS Children’s Village (http://www.sos-childrensvillages.org/Pages/default.aspx). It isn’t very well known but I stumbled upon their site when I was in 11th grade. My heart was set on going to South Africa, working in childrens homes or teaching, and their site came up so we emailed back and forth a few times. I loved how SOS wanted to keep children in a home setting. To visit an actual site 8 years later, well, was beautiful. A group of 3 of us met Rose, a preschool teacher, and she showed us her better than a lot of stateside preschool classroom. We went to the village- such a clean, crisp environment with loving staff and “mothers”. Rebecca, who worked in the office, showed us around the village after a 20 minute intro to SOS. It was founded by an Austrian man and now SOS functions in over 130 countries. Each home has roughly 10 kids, mixed sexes, and a house mother with an assistant for her days off. Mama Teddy showed us her house… 3 large rooms for kids 2 full western style bathrooms with double sinks, kitchen with stove/oven, beautiful dining room… The kids had daily chores but then were able to play as they wished. This particular village has 116 children in 12 homes. They only accept the very desperate children who have no living relatives at all to take care of them. All in all, I really enjoyed seeing and experiencing an organization I had only viewed on the internet come to life- and especially since love and quality was written all over it. Although the need is overwhelming, such as over 4000 orphans in the north, I believe good people who love others are up there for the better of the communities.

We went to our language trainers house which was a hut in the middle of hundreds or thousands. After someone used the latrine, outhouse squatty style, they asked where they could wash their hands… leading to a tippy tap being built. The 15 kids around and those who helped were excited to wash their hands with the new invention- we may have just changed the sanitation and health of the village. hah. At least for Nancy’s family 🙂

Sometimes, it is difficult for me since my type of work doesn’t have visible outcomes with results you can take a photo of. When dealing with the mind, heart, people, things become dificult. Let it be mentally handicapped, leaders at a camp, pregnant teens, slum children, prostitutes, or girls that aren’t valued by others or themselves… my heart breaks for them. We went to a place where a girl started talking to one of the guys in our group. He came back to the group saying “I think she’s into me!” We then had to explain how she was a very well dressed and adorable girl and also that she was a prostitute. He was clueless. She and I talked later for about 10 minutes. For some reason, I am drawn to understand and converse with girls like Karen. One of the organizations we heard of was one dealing with abducted girls who were raped by the LRA, now have children, and are helping the girls adjust back (http://www.africarising.org/concerned-parents-association). Although work such as that is filled with sadness and hurt, the joy at the end of the tunnel into a new life is one thing that can keep us going. To work through the hurt and confusion into something life giving… I don’t know.

The needs are many and I am excited about the opportunities that are possible. Gulu was a great time for our Acholi Dream Team. Well, I need to work on those language skills and better get going…

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