A Reflection of My Life after living in Uganda as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer

Monday, December 13, 2010

Making Christmas Cookies

Grace and Joseph working together to make Sugar Cookies
Grace and Joseph mixing hard
Grace, Maria and myself in our Christmas Red
Christmas Cookies baking with sprig and holly sprinkles
Grace and Joseph doing dishes after making Christmas cookies
We went around our compound today passing out the Christmas cookies we made. Grace instructed everyone to, "take one," and then said, "Happy Christmas!" Sister Carol asked Grace and Joseph exactly how they made them which turned into a 10 minute lecture on mixing sugar, eggs and flour along with the process of baking the cookies and checking on them after 1 hour. I had to insert a correction at that last statement. It was fun to see them share their knew knowledge and to share something they were so proud of.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Christmas Season

How does a girl from Minnesota make constant 85 degree days feel like Christmas? Christmas is a little over 2 weeks away and I have yet to have an overcast day, see snow falling or watch my breath leave my mouth. I don’t hear Christmas music being played over every intercom and I have yet to see A Charlie Brown Christmas on TV. With the help of gifts from friends and family in the States and the keeping of a few promises I made to my neighbor children, I began outfitting myself for this Christmas season.

Grace came over and helped me stick window-clings onto my wall. The window-clings are great though the placement of them on my wall leaves much to be desired. Grace is so proud of her work and thinks it all looks wonderful. I’m not sure how you can make a snowman stand proudly next to a black African woman in a painting. I lit a Christmas Mix essential oils candle making my house smell like cinnamon and spice. I pulled out all my Christmas underwear from storage and am trying to wear red and green everyday. Joseph, Maria, Grace and I even made Christmas cookies complete with red and green sprinkles! Tomorrow we’re going to go around our compound and hand out cookies to all the teachers wishing them a Merry Christmas.

While this is my first Christmas away from home and without snow, I am trying to make the most of it and bring the feel of Christmas to my life in Uganda. Every time Grace walks in my house she reads the words written on my wall, “Happy Holiday’s!” Today, I asked her what holiday’s we were getting ready for to which she replied, “Me.” I was confused and asked her what she meant. “The holiday’s for me to turn into P2.” I think I have some more work to do on explaining the multi-meanings of holiday!

Camp GLOW is Over

Well, Camp GLOW is officially over. Camp went really well and the campers left with big smiles on their faces. I received several parting hugs and declarations they would see me next year.

Once again, I'm very proud of the wonderful staff we had whose efforts and contributions daily made camp so successful. Camp GLOW wouldn't have worked with out these great people.

Of course the girls are holding up the boys!
Thomas (laying),
Me, Celeste, Lauren, Cassandra
Hunter, Tony, Caleb

Counselors signing Camp GLOW
We had a closing ceremony complete with guests, many speeches, songs and girl-empowerment self-defense demonstration. Everyone got certificates and pictures. Lauren, Celeste and I baked under the beaming sun as the masters of ceremonies. I think I have become a little Ugandan in that I needed this ceremony for it to feel finished. It was a good ending.

Passing out certificates and pictures

Awarding Mary, our Program Manager from Peace Corps
for all her help with Camp GLOW
I feel very happy and relieved to be done with Camp GLOW. It was a wonderful project to work on and I'm very proud of the outcome. What a great way to end my 2 years of Peace Corps service! It's truly a compilation of much of what I've worked for while in Uganda.

Me with Sister Valentine
She was in charge of all food and grounds. Camp would NOT have worked without her!

On the way home, I had a taxi pick all the girls going home along Gayaza road. It picked us up from camp on Saturday morning at 7 and we were home by 8:15! It was so much less stressful than battling the taxi park again. I paid for 5 empty seats but it was worth every extra shilling!

When I got home I hesitantly placed my things on my dirty floors and looked around. Grace, Joseph and Maria came running across the campus with joyful exclamations of "Kodi" at my door. After many hugs and jumps around my house they wanted to feel my tee-shirt and sat looking at pictures from camp pointing out the PCV's they know and looking for the girls they go to school with. Grace kept telling Joseph that when she is in P6 she'll get to go to Camp GLOW but he won't because he's a boy. I finally told them to go outside and play so I could unpack and start cleaning my house. I sat down on my couch, just for a second, and fell asleep! I was out cold for the next 2 hours! I woke-up when I heard my neighbor Annet call my name and Grace poke her head in my door. I kept my eyes closed and pretended to still be sleeping. I heard Grace tell Annet, "She's resting. I think Camp GLOW made her tired." Ha ha!

I have the best friends, neighbors and community in Uganda! As I was walking to Gayaza to get yogurt I ran into my friend Daniel who welcomed me home and invited me to go walking that evening. Then at the dairy, Rose gave me yogurt for free to welcome me back. And, my friend Jen brought fish over to my house for lunch because she knew I wouldn't have any food or want to cook. I always feel so loved when I come back from being away. I love that feeling of community and belonging.

Camp GLOW is over but now there are 150 girls all around Uganda with more knowledge and hopefully initiative and drive to make changes to their own lives and in those they are surrounded by. I'm excited to hear the stories from PCV's as times goes on as to what their girls are doing at their schools, in their communities and in their homes. May GLOW go on forever!

Goodbye Camp GLOW!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Talent Show

We had a talent show tonight. The girls signed up and practiced all day. The thing about talent shows in Uganda is that talent often means lip-singing and dancing to a song. This is talent. In our case, the talent being showcased also quickly turned into all that girls friends coming on to the stage and dancing alongside the girl. So, essentially a whole camp dance party took place during every act.

There are 5 deaf girls at camp. I have been so impressed with their participation and active involvement throughout every aspect of camp. Tonight for the talent show they did an interpretive dance to show that they can still dance to music even if they cannot hear it - they can feel it. In Uganda, it is customary to give money when you like or appreciate someones dancing. These 5 girls danced and soon into their performance girls started getting up and handing over money to the dancing girls. It was a touching scene of acceptance and appreciation for beauty and talent.

Tomorrow is our last day of camp. I can't believe how fast this week has gone by. It is so encouraging to look out at the girls and see the way they have come together and become friends. They care for one another. They look out for one another. I look at these girls and think that Uganda really does have the potential to grow and become truly great with these girls working together.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Fantastic Staff

Camp GLOW is being run by the best PCV’s and Ugandan woman in Uganda! Things are going so well all due to the team work of our fantastic staff members.

I am so proud of our counselors. They are essentially “on” 24/7. They have occasional times off throughout the day but for the most part they are interacting, guiding and encouraging their group of girls constantly. It’s been so uplifting to see the counselors take the techniques and games we discussed and taught them at counselor training and use them with their groups. During out counselor meetings they have been able to seek advice for any problems they’ve encountered and other counselors have offered sound guidance and examples. I love how they are working together! The groups have really meshed. It’s beautiful to see the bonds that are being created between the counselors and campers. I am so proud of our counselors for their key role in making campers feel loved, supported and affirmed.

I am so continually impressed and encouraged by our staff. We (the directors and me (Lauren, Celeste, me)) have 5 extra PCV staff members who take pictures, run errands and go and do what we tell them. They are incredibly helpful and all move with selfless attitudes doing what needs to get done without complaining.

On Monday we sent Hunter to Kampala to print extra manuals, get certificates printed and pick up random items like toilet paper. He left at 8:30 in the morning. Hunter didn’t return until 11 pm! He spent the entire day running errands and sitting at the printers. He came back with a smile on his face and stories of the nice people he met along the way.

Cassandra is continually offering to help when she sees me walking with my arms full. After our counselor meeting yesterday I was walking to the kitchen to wash all the cups from tea. Cassandra met me along the road and turned to accompany me to the kitchen where we washed together making the task go quickly.

Dan works to write blog posts to keep our website updated so all our friends and families can follow along with us as we go through each day at camp. He also is willing to jump in for a counselor when they need a break or can’t do an activity.

Tony is always smiling, joking with the girls and snapping pictures capturing the candid moments. He worked hard to create a slide show to show the girls our week thus far last night which went over as a major success.

Caleb stood under the blazing sun taking pictures of every group under the Camp GLOW banner and retaking pictures when a camper’s head would be turned or someone’s eyes would be closed. Yesterday he worked tirelessly leading the arts and crafts sessions, something he wasn’t fully comfortable with. He also takes pictures and edits them every night to be used for the website or slide show.

While Celeste, Lauren and I worked hard at laying out the foundation and organization of camp, it is truly our staff who is making camp a success. I am very thankful for each staff member we have and their dedication to these Ugandan girls. They are the change-agents.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Enthusiasm and Excitement

Camp has started and things are going well. The things that surprise us are minor and most problems are fixed quickly. The hitch that has surprised us the most is how big of babies Ugandans can be! They are always coming to us with stomach aches and headaches. They want medicine immediately. We had prepared for basic first-aid which includes Tylenol and ant-acids. I’m finding myself encouraging drinking of water and telling campers to suck it up, in a nice way of course.

Monday night greeted us without power. Everyone took it in stride and you wouldn’t have thought we’d ever even needed power. Tony led the girls in relay races passing toilet paper between their legs while counselors stood by shining the light from their phones. Relays were followed by a cheer off. All the girls have been divided into groups with African animals for names. Our counselors created cheers to create identity, unity and pride for their groups. What followed was 16 cheers with thick Ugandan accents. The girls jumped and sang with enthusiasm. They called themselves gee-rafs (giraffes), beautiful cheetahs, leading buffalos and the mighty mighty antelope. It was the gorillas who thumped their chests and deeply grunted who won this cheer off. As I watched them all go back to the dorms for that night it was the gorillas who continued to run, jump and yell with excitement and happiness.

This continued enthusiasm and excitement is so fun to witness. The girls are seriously glowing with positive emotions. It makes me happy to see everyone enjoying themselves so fully. May we continue this high throughout the whole week.

Getting to Camp

I woke up early on Sunday morning partially afraid I’d be late getting to camp and partially too excited to sleep. Shortly after waking, I heard a knock at my back door. Still in my pajamas I opened the door to find Solome standing there with her bright floral duffle bag - 2 hours early! I laughed at her excitement and told her to go check on Daphine who had stayed the night at school. I had just enough time to dress and start boiling water for coffee when Solome, Daphine and Teddy all arrived at my house. They stood outside my door for the next hour as I continued packing and readying my house to be closed up for the week. I’d occasionally put my backpack, laptop and loose bags out the door only to find one had taken it and was carrying their own belongings and mine all ready to head out.

We finally left to pick up Rose Mary and Zam. Both girls were waiting at the gate of their residence and we marched off for the taxi park. Our taxi let us out early in Kampala and we had to walk down the hill to the taxi park that would take us to Kisubi. I found out quickly that this was a major challenge for Zam who has the severest limp. I took her bag and we continued to painstakingly make our way to the taxi. What should have been a 5 minute walk took us 15 minutes. But we made it! At the taxi park we picked up two other girls and scrambled into the taxi.

Arriving at our stop we then had to walk 20 minutes to the school. Along the way we passed a University and a well known boy’s secondary school. The girls were in awe over seeing these famous places and also at the beautiful landscaping of them. Arriving at camp, I went straight to work while they settled into the dorms and took naps.

The rest of the day was full of camper registration, bubbly get to know you games, good food and laying out the rules, expectations and making other announcements. Everything has gone pretty smoothly. It seems like we planned things out well enough that we are able to meet any changes that come our way. I’m excited for this week! It’s going to be a whirlwind but truly life changing for all involved.

Camp GLOW Website and Updates

Camp is off to a great start. Our media staff are doing a great job of updating our website with pictures and stories each day from camp. Check it out here!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Wedding with Friends

Susan passing out cake
My friend Susan's uncle got married today. She had been asking me to attend this wedding for months. Since it was the day before camp would start I was hesitant to commit. I also don't like attending functions that I don't have close friends in because they are long, tiresome, and too much attention is given to the token white person in the audience - me.

A few weeks ago I finally agreed to go to this wedding. Susan would be a maid in the wedding and my friends Maureen, Norah and Andrew were also going to attend. Susan met my PCV friend Khrissee at counselor training and they hit it off so an invitation was also extended to Khrissee. The plan was to meet Norah and Maureen at 2 and go to the wedding together. Khrissee and I took a bit more time getting ready (we even put on make-up and perfume!) but met up with the girls around 2:30. They were not ready. We made it to the wedding around 3 and found ourselves some of the first guests to arrive! Finally at almost 5 pm, the wedding party arrived. What followed were traditional dances, speeches, prayers and food. We slipped out after eating due to the fact that I still had several things to accomplish before camp starts tomorrow.

I enjoyed my time at the wedding today. I have great friends that I converse with and feel comfortable to joke, laugh and share my life with. I used to dread events because people didn't know how to talk to me and I would spend most of the time being stared at or sitting alone. Now, I have good friends that I feel at ease with and I find myself wanting to spend time with them like at special events. It's nice to see how far I have come in my relationships over the last almost 2 years. I am so very thankful for these opportunities to have authentic friends here in Uganda.
Khrissee and I dressed and ready to go
Me and Maureen - she never looks at the camera!
Norah and Andrew

Thursday, December 2, 2010


I continue to think about the future and make an effort to open all the doors I can. This day in age, networking is a vital aspect of one’s future. This is a skill I feel I lack. It’s difficult for me to meet and greet people. I get nervous and am unsure of what questions to ask. A friend and I decided a few months ago we were going to take every opportunity to network that came our way. We both are interested in staying in Africa but without connections chances of that happening are lower.

So, over the last few months, I have taken up the offers to meet different ex-pats and African leaders in NGO’s, government positions and other organizations. This past week I was able to have dinner with an American man who has lived and worked in Uganda for the past 10 years. He does Public Health work and was able to give me good advice on graduate school and the steps I should take to go in the direction I’m interested in. He was also a PCV in Ghana back in the 70’s so it was fun having that connection and talking about PC and the impact it has on your life.

Last night I met up with the Chief of USAID here in Uganda. He brought 2 others with him. All three were former Peace Corps Volunteers from Burkina Faso, St. Kitt’s, and Guatemala. Again, it was great to talk to people who know this life I’m currently living. It’s also great to talk with people who have continued to pursue work and life in the development world. Hearing their stories and learning about their journeys is inspiring. It gives me hope and possibly a little direction. These three were wonderful too because they wanted to hear about my life in Uganda. They have an interest in what PCV’s are doing on the ground and lots of ideas of how to be effective. They were also very supportive about Camp GLOW and 2 of them are able to come visit camp next week!

I have learned there are really great people in the development world who genuinely care about you and your hopes and dreams. Even though they often can’t make any of those hopes and dreams come true, they still offer encouragement and support. Networking has become a chance for me to make new friends, to find like-minded people who provide encouragement, and to hear stories that offer inspiration for me.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Pauline, Celeste's neighbor
Valentino, Celeste's neighbor and Pauline's friend
There is no snow on the ground. The temperature still sits in the 80’s daily. Green vegetation and flowers abound everywhere you look. This is not the image my mind usually envisions when I think of Thanksgiving. But these are the images and feelings I now associate with Thanksgiving in Uganda. This was my second Thanksgiving in Uganda and after a wonderful time last year with Peace Corps friends, I was excited for another experience. Celeste invited me and some friends to have Thanksgiving at her site where we were to prepare Thanksgiving for her community.

We all worked together making different dishes: Stuffing, pumpkin pie, sweet potato casserole, and green beans with cransins and pecans. The Ugandans contributed with matoke, a tomato sauce, the turkey, cabbage and a pizza. Celeste and Joe made decorations to hang around and remind us of holiday traditions we have from America.
Celeste making a wreath
Joe and Pauline cutting green beans
John cutting the turkey with his hands
All day we wished people a Happy Thanksgiving which led to many conversations about having a holiday for the purpose of giving thanks. The Ugandans really liked this idea and it caused us to step back and also remember the importance of giving thanks. Sister Valentine, the head nun in Celeste’s community, organized a Thanksgiving Mass for us. A priest lead mass from an American prayer book he’d found that was copyrighted in 1984. It was a beautiful time together and I am so thankful for this family we have made in Uganda who supports us and offers what they have to make us feel welcome and loved.

As is only fitting, just as we were about to eat the power went out. Sister Valentine said, “God can take the power when He wants and return the power when he wants. I think God knows we don’t need the power right now.” And so, our Thanksgiving continued without light. As is also customary, the evening could not end until speeches were made. Sister Valentine thanked God for bringing Celeste to their community and for Celeste’s hospitality in bringing friends to meet her Ugandan community. As frustrated and annoyed as I can sometimes get over the lengthy, usually lack of substance filled speeches, I was very touched by the words Sister Valentine conveyed and also of the words Celeste offered to her community. Celeste was able to express her thankfulness for the family she has been adopted into and how their generosity and kindness has shown her a deeper love in this world. It was a beautiful Thanksgiving.
Father Edward, Valentino, Pauline, and Sister
Sister Valentine, John, Joe, Celeste and Me
As we were leaving on Friday morning we ran into a Canadian nun who wished us a happy Thanksgiving and then asked if we were off to practice our consumer culture, it being Black Friday and all. We laughed and in reality that’s exactly where we were headed. Joe needed to get some gifts for his family at the craft market, I needed to go grocery shopping, and even Celeste had a few items she needed to pick up.

I am currently cat sitting for my Country Director who is home for Thanksgiving in the States. I have been able to enjoy his full kitchen and offer his house as a refuge for a few other friends. After our Ugandan Thanksgiving, we decided to utilize the big kitchen and have a dinner party making another meal that is close to my heart – Enchiladas! Thanks to my wonderful sister in California we had corn tortillas to work with. It was a delicious and fun filled dinner with good friends.

I am thankful for my life in Uganda. I am thankful for the opportunities to share special parts of my culture with my Ugandan friends and also for the opportunities to enjoy good food with American friends. As the Ugandans have reminded me, it’s important to spend time giving thanks for what we have, where we are and who we are. Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Training of Counselors

28 of our 31 counselors showed up at Kisubi Girls’ this weekend for our Training for Counselors. The morning of, Celeste and I had stomach aches from nerves. What would these counselors be like? Would they catch our vision and make camp great? Did they have the energy to work 24/7 for a whole week? Were they going to get along with each other? These questions plagued us along with asking ourselves if we were ready to train them.

It turned out that every evening Celeste and I went to bed with big smiles on our faces thoroughly happy with how things were working out. We have some of the best woman in Uganda working at our camp! There will be 16 PCV counselors paired up with a Ugandan counselor. We let the PCV’s find their own co-counselor and they brought truly inspiring women. Some are teachers, administrators, midwives, secretaries and NGO workers. They were so enthusiastic and ready to learn all we had to share with them. They participated in all our activities and games. We even had weave-wearing women playing Drip Drip Drop (like duck duck goose but with water)! And let me tell you, American’s should not challenge these natural black gazelles in any kind of running games. They were made to run!

Some of the topics we cover are heavy and can be controversial. One of the activities we will be doing with the girls is condom demonstrations. While we were talking to counselors about this I looked in front of me and saw Sister Rose nodding her head saying “yes” over and over. Afterwards, she came up to me and said, “This veil makes it so I can’t say some things. But you are doing the right thing.”

As with any gathering of people, you find minor complications or annoyances. When you mix two cultures those can become apparent quickly. After the first night we asked if there were any issues that needed to be discussed and addressed. Immediately, the PCV’s brought the issue of cell phone talking up to us. The cell phone networks in Uganda offer different prices at different hours. It is the cheapest to call in the middle of the night. So, Ugandans call and talk in the middle of the night! Typically, Americans value sleep. Ugandan’s do not! Several Ugandan counselors received or made calls throughout the night. While the Ugandans are used to this and able to fall back asleep, that is not true for Americans and the PCV’s lost their much cherished sleep. In this instance, it allowed for a good cultural exchange talk about the differences in phone etiquette between our two countries. We hoped after this talk it wouldn’t be a problem the following night. It was.

Camp is less than 2 weeks away. We are getting closer and closer to being ready. Though there are still cultural differences we will have to work through, at least after this weekend I feel our staff is united and ready for the campers!


Sanyu and Renee making a poster for their group

Playing a song game

Human Knot

Trivia Night - working in teams

Nature Walk

Working together to find a counselors missing glasses - they were found!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Moving On

I attended the graduation of some dear friends from Pere Cadet, a vocational and technical school in my community last weekend. The school offers a two year program in the following programs: catering, hotel management, tailoring, nursery school teaching, and hairdressing. The girls who just graduated are the ones I have been working with for the last 2 years. We’ve been through a lot together. I let the hairdressing students practice on my hair, I tasted the food the catering students cooked, I accepted crooked stitched dresses the tailoring students made for me, and I observed some teach nursery students. A group of us met once a week to learn Lifeskills. I’ve talked with these girls about every subject imaginable: friendship, gender roles, assertiveness, STD’s, sex, menstruation, vocation, HIV, nutrition, boys, etc. I would say some of these relationships are the ones I’m most proud of during my time in Uganda because of the authenticity and depth I have with them.

Knowing that, I was excited to attend graduation to cheer them on for the accomplishments they have achieved. I am so proud of these girls. But I had no idea how much it was going to hurt to see them graduate and move on, without me. It was also my first public event that really hit home I too am about to move on. I’ve watched these girls gain new skills and confidences but they have also watched me grow and learn more of who I am and what I want to become. I invested myself for 2 years and now it’s getting closer to the time for me to move away and start another life, just like my girls. This breaks my heart.

Ugandans do not cry unless it’s for a funeral. When I was going home to the States for my sister’s wedding Sister Nabasumba told me I couldn’t cry because I’d wreck the wedding. So, as I sat at graduation I told myself to hold those tears back. But I just couldn’t and I found myself sobbing at one point. Most of the Ugandans looked at me in horror. They didn’t know what to do with me. But my girls looked on with sympathetic smiles and funny faces trying to make me laugh. They knew those tears were for both of us. They were tears of joy, pain, accomplishment, loss and so much love.

My girls have packed their trunks, rolled their mattresses, hugged their friends goodbye, taken their certificates and left Pere Cadet forever. I may never see them again. I still have several month of my service left but I can already feel the pain my leaving is going to inflict upon myself and my dear friends here in Uganda. How am I ever going to leave?

Girls fanning themselves - HOT day!

One of my favorite families:
Mama, Oliver, and Sister Kizito

Lydia, Me, and Immaculate - Lifeskills girls!

Saturday, November 13, 2010


As can be imagined when planning a big event, numerous details must be accounted for. I find myself waking at all hours of the night, grabbing the pen and paper I keep next to my bed and writing down the thought that interrupted my sleep. I will be in the middle of a meeting and another item needed for camp will enter my thoughts causing me to falter in the speech I am giving. It seems Camp GLOW is becoming an extension of my body.

While I am overcome with making spreadsheets, creating supply lists, visiting professional Ugandan women’s offices trying to get them to speak at camp, gathering permission slips and passing out packing lists, my girls are so excited they can barely contain themselves. A few nights ago, Zam and Rose Mary came to my door at 10 pm. They are both lame so I can only guess how long it took them to walk the short distance to my house. They brought the packing list with them and wanted to talk about the items listed. Zam doesn’t have a mosquito net. Rose Mary doesn’t have a pink or red shirt. Those were both small matters that they knew we could take care of. What really concerned them was that the packing list enlightened them to the fact that there are going to be sports at camp. What ensued was me reassuring them they would be able to participate and that we would accommodate for all differences in campers. I told them about 5 deaf girls who are coming. This seemed to reassure them a little and by the end they left with big smiles.

Teddy and Daphine came to my house during their lunch yesterday. “Madame Amanda, when exactly are we going to camp?” They have a paper with all the details on it and school doesn’t end till the end of the month so they know it’s not until at least that is over. I smiled and told them we will be leaving in the morning of December 5th. They grinned and ran off to play with their friends.

Beth, Solome’s mom, asked me just the other day about transporting the girls. I have had this detailed conversation with her twice already! Everyone is so excited for camp. I’m excited too but there is a lot that needs to get done before we actually have camp. I’m going to suggest to whoever takes over next year, that they don’t tell campers until the week of! Ha! That might just be a bigger stress than all this other stuff if they actually did that!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Traveling Compassion

Getting places in Africa takes a lot of patience and skill. Each country varies to some degree but most have some form of public transportation. Here in Uganda we have public taxi’s, “matatu’s,” and buses. You also have the option of taking a special hire that no PCV could ever hope of affording.

Matatus run from town to town and you get on or off as needed. To flag a matatu down you simply lift your hand slightly or if you are really skilled you raise your eyebrows catching the attention of the driver. If you are leaving from the capital city you go to the taxi park, a large area filled with matatus holding signs signifying the direction they are going. It is the biggest organized chaos I have personally experienced. There are men everywhere asking where you are going and trying to point you in the direction and even occasionally trying to get you to take their taxi, wherever that may be going.

The bus is the other option you have as a traveler in Uganda. While matatus leave when they have filled up, buses sometimes leave on a schedule regardless of how many passengers are present. Sometimes. Last week I went up to Apac and Lira in Northern Uganda to visit some friends. I left early in the morning to catch the 9 am bus to Lira. I arrived in town at 8 and was a little perturbed with myself for having so much down time before the bus would leave. I got to the bus park as the bus turned on and was about to go! A whole hour early! I managed to get on and made it to Lira with only a few extra stops along the way.

Traveling brings the best and worst out of you. With the constant bumps from a lack of shocks and bad roads, the dust that billows in through the windows, the cockroaches that crawl all over you and the heat radiating from the poor engine and beaming equator sun, patience and compassion tend to diminish. Yet, there are the redeeming times too when you look around and acknowledge the communal suffering. You smile and greet one another. And you commiserate over the terrible roads. Sometimes you even show the extra measure of kindness and share what you have with others. On my way home on the bus I bought maize for myself and my seat mates. Throughout the trip I received bottled water, a newspaper and a soda. There is beauty in human suffering (if you ever ride the bus in Uganda you’ll understand the strong wording) and it’s important to focus on the compassion and patience we are capable of offering to ourselves and to those around us.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

English Based Instruction in East Africa

For the last week I have been working with the Rwandese Ministry of Education and the British High Commission. Two years ago Rwanda joined the East Africa Community and so determined their official language of instruction would be English. For several generations Rwandese have been receiving instructions in their native tongue and also in French. Now, all of a sudden, they are required to speak, teach and learn English. This brings them to Uganda in search of qualified English teachers who can teach their teachers not only English, but also how to teach their subjects in English.

I acted as a native English speaker who is a qualified English Teacher to interview potential teachers to go to Rwanda. I worked with Paul from the Rwandese Ministry of Education. Paul spent many years in Uganda because of the genocide and even received his University degree and Masters from Makerere University in Kampala. He now works high up in the Ministry of Education in Rwanda. He is happy to be back in Rwanda though this cross over from French instruction to English is a big challenge for his country and in his professional career.

We interviewed over 1000 applicants over a 3 day period. They would come to us two at a time and we’d ask them questions about their methodology in the classroom and why they want to teach in Rwanda. They sat before us in their oversized Armani suits from the second hand market and their laminated school records (diplomas, certificates, transcripts, etc.). Many were seasoned teachers and I can only imagine what they must have thought being interviewed by a young American girl.

I was impressed with their desire to go to Rwanda. Many talked about wanting to help their fellow Africans and close neighbors. Some mentioned family members who came from Rwanda. If chosen they will be there until Christmas Eve. Also if chosen, they will receive around $50 a day! Yes, a day! When you consider the fact that an average teacher in Uganda makes around $100 a month this daily figure is astronomical! They will do whatever it takes to get this job.

Some of the people we interviewed were very impressive. Ugandans know the buzz words in Education and they know how to talk their way into most anything. I only hope we passed the ones who will really use inventive methods in their classes and appreciate their time in Rwanda.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Camp GLOW is Coming!

My girls have been selected for Camp GLOW and they are so excited! I am busy cross checking stationary store prices, asking Ugandan businesses for donations and making clear spreadsheets of counselors, staff and camper information. Now, we also want you to know more about the issues that are involved as to why a Camp GLOW is necessary.

The Problem (written by Lauren Simkulak):
Currently young girls in Uganda face very difficult odds each and every day. They are at a high risk of teen pregnancy, early marriage, lack of school fees, discrimination towards proper education and jobs, pressure of entering into sexual relationships, among a variety of other potential problems. Although times are slowly changing, the idea that girls do not need to be educated and should instead remain at home and assist with housework, cleaning, cooking and digging (farming), i.e the traditional female roles in society, still exists within Uganda’s culture. Females still hold less executive level positions than men in Uganda, and many Ugandans still believe that typical female jobs are nurses, teachers while men are doctors, businessmen, Members of Parliament, etc. This, of course, is not true for every Ugandan. But it is still a struggle for Ugandan girls to become empowered in their society, and at times even in their own homes and relationships. Young women especially have a difficult time breaking from these traditional female roles and lack the confidence, leadership skills and initiative to make good, healthy decisions for their future. History has proven that an empowered female is an integral part of development of a community and country. They are more likely to demand condom use, be able to provide for her children and achieve a higher level of education.

What is Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World)?:
Camp GLOW began in Peace Corps Romania in 1995. The goal of this camp was to encourage and inspire young women to become active citizens by building their self-esteem and confidence, increasing their self-awareness and developing their life skills in goal setting, assertiveness and career and life planning. Since 1995, many Peace Corps countries have implemented Camp GLOW or very similar camps via Peace Corps Volunteers. Uganda, until now, has had no such camp. This year will be Uganda’s inaugural Camp GLOW! It will take place from December 5-11th, 2010. And I, along with my two friends Lauren and Celeste, are the Directors of the camp.

Camp GLOW Uganda:
Specifically, the goal of our Camp GLOW is to empower young Ugandan girls (ages 13-15), provide them with new information and education and give them the opportunity to see for themselves all the possibilities they have in the future when they make good decisions. This will be accomplished through leadership training, health education, sports activities, arts and crafts, HIV/AIDS prevention and education, career outlooks and goal setting. Over 150 girls from across Uganda will be participating in the week-long camp. 30 Counselors (15 PCVs and 15 Ugandan women) will assist in guiding the girls through various sessions all week. Each day, they will participate in sessions on the prior-mentioned topics, in addition to meeting and interacting with an empowered Ugandan adult female. We have already recruited a CEO, a Member of Parliament, a musician, a medical doctor and a professor at Uganda’s national university. This will, without a doubt, be one of the most memorable parts of the camp for the girls.

What makes it sustainable?
These girls will return to their communities, form a life skills club with at least 20 new girls, with the help of their female Ugandan teacher/community worker, who also attended the camp as a Counselor, and the help of PCVs in their area. Also, the 15 Ugandan female counselors can return to their communities and teach the skills they learned at the camp to other students, teachers and colleagues.

We have applied for a US government grant and are also working with Ugandan businesses to provide the necessary money to run this camp. If you are interested further in Camp GLOW please check out our website here and if you are interested in supporting Camp GLOW look here.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Kyakuwa Rose Mary

Kyakuwa Rose Mary is the final girl from my community selected to attend Camp GLOW. Rose Mary always ducks her head and gives me a shy smile out of the corner of her mouth when I see her. She also stays at the home for disabled girls. Rose Mary is lame with club foot and I would guess her to have a form of cerebral palsy.Her English is pretty awful and she is in Primary 6. This is what Rose Mary has to say:

Regarding being a good citizen: “I follow the rules of my country. I love my country so much.”

Regarding advice to a ten-year-old sister: “Take time to education. By respect of elders. Love herself as a woman.”

Regarding why she wants to attend Camp GLOW: “But me want to learn good behaviors and good manners. I want to learn work in Camp GLOW for girls.”

*Kyakuwa Rose Mary wrote her responses exactly as they appear.