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.