04 Jul Getting down in Gulu: East Africa Discovery heads north!
Written by Linda Ozromano, program leader, 2014 East Africa Discovery
As team East Africa Discovery was finishing our first volunteer project in the Ugandan capital, Kampala, we felt very lucky to have worked with RWEYOWA. Our time spent working with them gave us much confidence and encouragement as we successfully contributed to the FEED Project in the Namasuba community. It was great bonding time for us OG’ers as well as with the families we built the chicken coops with. After the projects were finished, we headed back to Kampala for a day of relaxing…and a bit of adventure. We got into groups of two to explore the depths of Owino market as part of our Scavenger Hunt. The aim was to buy as many useful materials as we could with the money provided to us. This was hard core bargaining exercise for most of us! At the end of the day, we chose the winners of our photo and video competition. This brought up a little healthy competition between groups wanting to show their best bargain and telling the funniest stories behind it! In the end, it was worth the effort for all!
The next day we took a bus to head to Gulu, Northern Uganda. This was an exciting time for us since the landscape and culture of Northern region are known to be very distinct. Gulu offered us many opportunities for learning and to pitch in. We were involved in a variety of projects, including those of the Concordia Volunteer Abroad Program (CVAP) . CVAP is a non-profit organization from Montreal creating opportunities every year for Canadian and Ugandan students to be involved in many community-requested development projects in Gulu. There are around 40 Concordia students travelling throughout the summer who contribute to a diversity of projects initiated by local partners within Gulu community. As the OG’ers, we had the chance to see what longer term volunteer initiatives looks like and the positives and negatives. We visited their projects throughout the week and contributed to their daily work routine at local partner organizations. Some of these projects included a micro-finance initiative by performing qualitative assessments and research at nearby rural communities to mural painting and agricultural work at St Jude’s Children’s Home and Freedom in Creation while spending time with children. Also some of us got to join the team for the Sports Outreach Ministry working on making bricks for the process of constructing a day care/clinic. Spending time with fellow Canadian volunteers gave us more perspective on other longer-term projects done in different parts of Uganda. We had great discussions in terms of assessing our time and effort put into volunteer projects and many of us made great connections from our time spent together with local CVAP partners.
But we were in Gulu for another great mission: to begin to build a long-term relationship with the United Youth Entertainment (UYE), a very small youth-initiated local organization aiming to give a platform to every talented individual in Northern Uganda to be able to share his/her story and life experiences through film and other media-related arts. Their members are all very talented and inspirational youth working on producing as many short films as possible with a very tight budget and screening them at schools, education centres, and different communities to raise awareness on current issues related to youth in Northern Uganda.
The Gulu trip was also a time of reflection and storytelling for us and the UYE members. Northern Uganda is a post-conflict and high poverty region as the needs of the community are serious and varied. The region has suffered civil unrest since the early 1980’s. Hundreds of people were abducted and killed in the rebellion against the Ugandan government and thousands of people were left homeless. There are many post-conflict issues that the Acholi community suffers from to this date. Many of the UYE members told us first-hand stories, educated us about the historical and cultural background of the Acholi tribe, and talked about the current political situation in the region. The lesson taken from our discussions was that in spite of all the suffering Acholi people have gone through, they are full of inspiration and hope for their future and many of the youth have already taken the initiative to build a stronger society.
Our first joint action with UYE was to work with them to help organize an Arts Showcase. After having several meetings with their members, we decided that raising funds for the purchase of a professional camera was the most pressing issue. As OG and UYE members, we managed to bring together a good crowd of talented artists and organize a fundraiser art night. Gulu is full of inspirational local people from poets, painters, film makers to traditional Acholi dancers, hiphop singers and rappers. It rounded off a pretty incredible last weekend in the village, and a potential for a great lasting partnership with UYE!
We had a very productive week reaching out to these artists and promoting the event within the community! We also invited many of the foreigners from other international NGO’s working in Gulu who participated in the art night.
During the day of the event, we were painting, setting up chairs and tables, decorating the area with custom-made candles, and rehearsing for our very own German schuplattlering dance! Liam and Catherine performed during the night and made us OG’ers very very proud! Adam was the MC of the night introducing each and every artist on stage. We had a big crowd of Ugandans and foreigners with us which made the event a great success! At the end of the night, you could see artists and volunteers alike dancing on stage to famous Gulu singer Rakas Topa’s dancehall beats!
Great times, Gulu!