Rainy Season = Mangos!

Life in Gulu

It’s rainy season in Gulu now which means the road I live and work on has turned from a dust bowl into a mud pit. I have invested in a pair of gumboots so I can avoid getting super muddy feet on my 5 min walk to the office. When it rains here it pours! The best thing you can do is take shelter and fast as the roads become rivers of mud and you get soaked in minutes. The thunderstorms here are pretty impressive and by far the loudest I have ever heard. The plus side is that everything is looking lush and green now. Farmers are planting their crops, which seem to grow at an amazing rate. There are mangos everywhere (yum!) and our avocados are finally ripening. The sunsets are also pretty stunning. It is still warm here, I even managed a swim last week and I don’t have to wear a cardy or socks too often.

Some random moments in the last month or so include climbing our water-tank tower in the dark with my headtorch on to turn the tap off so we didn’t run out of water after the shower tap broke, killing a mouse (that I woke to find sitting on my pillow!) with a shoe, and having a boda driver ask for my number so I could have his babies one day (I kid you not!!).

However, what I should really be updating you on is what I have been doing with The Kids League. It has been a huge learning curve for me moving to and working in Gulu. I am learning so much about managing a project in a cross-cultural setting, balancing UK expectations against the realities of working in a developing country and basic communication between cultures. There are definitely days when I really wonder what I am doing but then I remind myself about how much I am learning and the things that have been achieved so far. So here is a quick rundown of my last couple of months…

The sports season for children with disabilitiesWheelchair basketball at the Gulu Disabled Persons Union started mid-February and ran on Saturdays until the end of March. We had 100 children in Gulu take part and another 50 children in Pabbo, Amuru District, which was a new location for us this season. The sports included football, wheelchair basketball, volleyball, boccia, goalball and showdown. The children who take part are deaf/hearing impaired, blind/visually impaired, cognitively impaired or physically disabled. It is such a privilege to see all of these children take part and have so much fun.

Before the new season started, I helped run a disability sports demonstration in Anaka, Nwoya District (a new location for us) with a couple of our coaches. We are hoping to start the sports programme there this coming season.

I have also assisted with planning the programme, ensuring the financial monitoring is accurate, training the coaches, making visits to the schools and beneficiaries, and improving communication with the Kampala office. Another part of my role is to network and form links with potential project partners, so I have been meeting with Peace Corps, Girls Kick It, Sports Outreach, The Recreation Project, and VSO to name a few. Out of this we have established partnerships to run a football tournament at Peace Corps camps, run a disability sports demonstration at a VSO event and send our coaches for a training day at The Recreation Project. I have also been writing grant applications and we recently were able to secure funding to run an inclusive sports tournament during the August school holidays.

One of my colleagues based in Kampala came up to Gulu to give a presentation at a training event for Ugandan paediatricians on HIV/Aids. She spoke about using sports to educate children about HIV/Aids and taking their medication. I learnt a lot!

I travelled to Rwanda to meet with Esperance, a football charity set up to help with peace building after the genocide. It was great to see how other people are doing similar work and to see the new sports centre they have built. I was also able to bring one of their volunteers back with me to Uganda for a Young Leaders exchange with support from Street Football World.

Believe it or not I found a climbing wall in Gulu! The Recreation Project is a ropes course set up to help youth overcome fear and patterns of war. It uses an experiential model to teach trust, self-belief, hope, team work and problem solving. I was able to take my workmates from Kampala out there for a couple of hours climbing and am starting to wish I brought my rockshoes with me!

On the last day of the season as the sun was rising at 7am I took an empty bus to Pabbo (1 hour on a very bumpy and dusty dirt road) to pick up children and bring them back to compete against the children in Gulu. It was a full on day and as usual things did not go exactly to plan but the highlights from the day were watching the children and coaches from Gulu and Pabbo cheering on the teams in the volleyball final, children dancing to the music pumping out of the huge sound system (I am becoming pretty skilled at Acholi dancing!), and the children I brought from Pabbo cheering on the bus as they left for home.

I met some Peace Corps Volunteers when I first arrived in Gulu and they included me in the planning of their Youth Empowerment Camps for children from northern Uganda. I was able to help them recruit local people to be camp leaders, nominate ten children from our sports programme to attend the camps and set up an inclusive football tournament on the Saturday.

I also had the great pleasure of helping to belay over 200 children and camp leaders on the climbing wall at The Recreation Project. For all the Ugandan children and leaders it was their first time seeing and being on a climbing wall, a challenging experience for them but they pretty much all made it to the top! My favourite was one of the boys who refused to go up, after all his friends went I finally convinced him and he made it to the top. When he came back down he started jumping around, pumping the air and grinning from ear to ear!!

I have found myself travelling back and forth to Kampala for work much more often that I expected. It’s a 5 hour bus journey on a good day and always brings new experiences. I have been stopped by the police and almost had my camera confiscated for taking a photo of a waterfall, I have travelled in fear of having my feet pecked by the live chicken stuffed under my seat, I have seen monkeys, baboons and a herd of buffalos on the side of the road, we broke down and had five mechanics come to rescue us, I’ve had sticks of meat stuffed in my face through the open window when stopped next to a street market, and experienced some interesting rest break situations, the list goes on…

I am now thinking about extending my stay here until December. I always had in mind that I would potentially stay longer and now I am discovering other organisations (like The Recreation Project and the Breakdance Project) that I would love to get more involved with I know I would like to stay longer. I have also met some pretty inspiring and encouraging people out here and would therefore love the opportunity to learn more from them. I am also falling for East Africa, Uganda and especially Gulu.  I believe there is so much potential amongst the youth here.

Things I am thankful for: the best care package ever – a whole backpack of NZ goodies, chocolate and tools carried in person by the wonderful Erin Mclean!! A whole week with one of my closest friends, showing her my home and the craziness, fun and beauty that is Uganda.

Prayer requests: that I can make a decision about how much longer I should stay and that I can raise the necessary funds, that I can turn my frustrations into learning opportunities, that I don’t become complacent or cynical, that I continue to find joy in working with the children and youth of Gulu and Northern Uganda.

Grace xx


About Grace

In 2011, after six years living the city life in London and with a Masters in NGO Management under my belt I decided it was time to put theory into practice. I spent 2012 living in northern Uganda working with children with disabilities and with youth at an adventure therapy centre. I then came home to NZ to spend time with my family and friends, and to enjoy the outdoors lifestyle. A year later and I am on the move again, this time to a small island nation in the South Pacific. For the next two years I will be living on the island of Espiritu Santo in Vanuatu, working on an economic development project for World Vision. All thoughts shared in these blogs are my own and do not reflect those of any of the organisations I work with.
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