Living in Gulu can be a bit of a rollercoaster ride (and not just when I’m riding my mountain bike fast over all the potholes or falling over and getting covered in mud!). There are days when I love it here and feel like it is the best place in the world to be working, and other days when I really do wonder what I am doing here! My last day with The Kids League was two weeks ago already and my original flight home was booked for today (now moved to December). The arrival of this day brought on a bit in crisis about what I have been doing here and what I have achieved over the last nine months. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t come here with some naive idea that I was going to change the world but when you invest everything into something you do hope to see a return, no matter how small. So, I decided to list my high points from the last nine months as an exercise in celebrating successes…
The Kids League Gulu and Pabbo (January-August)
Most of my time here in Gulu has been focused on the Inclusion through Disability Sports programme The Kids League runs in partnership with Gulu Disabled Persons Union and Motivation UK. Children with disabilities ranging from physical to visual, hearing and cognitive take part in a variety of different sports including wheelchair basketball, volleyball, football, boccia, showdown and goalball. I was also able to introduce a Life Skills training programme focusing on leadership, inclusion, discrimination, self-esteem, disability rights, and raising awareness. At the end of each season we celebrated their successes with an Awards Day, where each child who participated in the programme was given a certificate and a medal.
Children with disabilities are highly discriminated against, there are many myths about ‘catching’ their disability, and it is a struggle for parents living in poverty to see the point in caring for and supporting children they view as a drain on their resources, unable to contribute to the family or society. They are often undervalued, live in undignified conditions and are denied their basic human rights, including being able to attend school. Seeing these children come along weekly to play sports with their peers, increase their skills and confidence, and start to believe that they can contribute to their local community and stand up for their rights, has been incredibly rewarding.
Esperance, Rwanda (February-July)
In February I visited a sports charity set up in Kigali after the genocide to promote peace and reconciliation. Following this meeting I was asked to facilitate a Young Leaders Exchange between Esperance and The Kids League.
This led to a training exchange where one of our coaches went to Rwanda to train Esperance’s staff and volunteers in running Inclusive Disability sports programmes. In return, trainers from Esperance travelled to Gulu to train our coaches in Football4Peace – a programme using football to help promote conflict resolution. Our coaches then started thinking how they can adapt the programme to promote inclusion for people with disabilities!
Peace Corps – Camp Glow and Build (April), GirlTech (August), Peace Camp (August)
Through making friends with some of the Peace Corps Volunteers based in Northern Uganda, I was given the opportunity to nominate 10 children with disabilities from our programme to go to Camp Glow and Camp Build in April. We also organised an Inclusive Football Tournament for them. At the beginning of August I travelled with nine girls from Gulu and Lira, (some nine hours on two buses) escorting them to GirlTech, a camp focusing on encouraging girls to pursue careers in science. One of my most enjoyable moments was when I shared with some of the girls about what an inspiration my mum has been to me, as a doctor, researcher, encourager and best mum ever! In August, I was also given the privilege of nominating youth for Peace Camp and helping out with their day at The Recreation Project.
Tom (on the left) kept to himself and didn’t want to take part in the activities with his team. He came across as angry but it became clear he was shy and lacking in confidence in his ability to participate. His team mate, Denis (in the middle), persuaded Tom to give the challenge course a go by showing him he was going to do it too. Not only did Tom complete the challenge course, he enjoyed it, became more actively involved in the day and went on to do the much more intimidating high rope elements of the course with the rest of his team.
I nominated Denis for Peace Camp after showing excellent leadership potential in his wheelchair basketball team. On this day at The Recreation Project, not only did he encourage his teammates to take part but he also showed them firsthand what a bit of determination can achieve – he made it through several elements of the challenge course and then proceeded to complete the Leap of Faith, Zip Line and Climbing Wall – LEGEND!! Such a huge inspiration for his teammates and for people with disabilities, I know he will make an excellent leader in his community and I hope further afield too.
VSO – Inclusive Sports demonstration at Pece Stadium (July)
After a chance meeting at the local swimming pool, I developed a relationship with some of the VSO volunteers in Gulu. In July, we were invited to give a disability sports demonstration at their United in Sports event at Pece Stadium in Gulu. Children from Gulu Primary School got to play goalball in front of an audience at their local sports stadium, for the first time ever! They were excited to have such a rare opportunity and had great fun. Our wheelchair basketball players also showed off their skills at the stadium. Since then they gained the confidence to play regularly at the local basketball grounds next to the big market to raise awareness about their sport.
Premier Skills –Inclusive Football and Netball tournament (August)
I helped our Programme Coordinator, Michael, develop a project proposal and write a successful funding application to run an inclusive football and netball tournament during the school holidays in Gulu and Pabbo. Over 250 boys and girls had a lot of fun competing side by side in mixed teams. It is rare to see boys playing netball and girls playing football in Uganda, or to see so many hearing impaired children included in these teams, so it was great to see how much fun they could have playing alongside each other. Hopefully it will go some way towards breaking down the barriers to inclusion for girls and children with disabilities in northern Uganda.
Things I am thankful for: The great people I have had the pleasure of working with here in Gulu over that last nine months. An exciting new opportunity and an awesome mountain bike to get me to my new job. Fun camping weekends away. Words of encouragement – thank you!
Prayer requests: for health and healing – that my twisted ankle, which is still giving me trouble, completely heals, and that I finally get completely free of the stomach bug that has been plaguing me these last few weeks. Flights home for Christmas.
Last week I started my new role volunteering as Capacity Building Coordinator for The Recreation Project. I’ll be working with them for my last three months in Gulu. I’ll keep you updated on how it goes but so far I am loving working in an office in the forest, having a tree house for a boardroom and planning exciting new outdoors adventures for youth from northern Uganda!
Thanks for reading 🙂