10/1/2015 – 16/1/2015
After my Satellite Liaison duties in Mityana town, I proceeded to Fort Portal where I met up with other Peace Corps Volunteers. We gathered together at the Kyaninga Child Development Center (CDC) near YES Hostel where Camp Kuseka would take place from January 12 – 16. The goal was to empower youth, caretakers, and parents connected with special needs in the community. The following tale is one of the relationship between myself as a counselor and my camper Deus.
I was eager to start this grand adventure at the CDC, but the Camp Directors informed us that we first needed to go through two days of training. The camp was to take place in this beautifully walled-off compound with areas designated for sports, arts and crafts, reading, and lectures/dancing. During this time, we underwent basic information involving special needs education in Uganda and how little it is understood. We discussed worst-case scenarios, how to act with different special needs campers, basic Ugandan sign language, basic Rutooro, adapting activities to suit individual campers, and the various Ugandan groups who were involved with this camp:
TOCI – Twerwanemo Orphans Community Initiative
YAWE – Youth and Women Empowerment
KCDC – Kyaninga Child Development Center
RSNF – Rwenzori Special Needs Foundation
YALI – Young African Leaders Initiative
On the last day of training, each counselor was matched up with unique camper with a special need. Each counselor and camper duo was then placed in a specific color group: yellow for auditory, orange for physical, and red for mental. I found out that I was to be paired with Anifa, a 16-year old girl who had problems with fine motor skills. Despite having an older camper, I was eager to start off this journey.
“You call yourself normal, but you’re not normal. No one on this world is normal.”
~Swaib, Ugandan Counselor
12/1/15 – Journal Notes
I don’t feel nervous at all for this beginning part of camp. I felt that I learned a few new things about PWD (People with Disabilities) during ToT (Training of Trainers), but now I’m excited to once again get this camp started.
At lunchtime, I switched campers from Anifa in the orange group to Deus in the red group. Deus is a 12, 14, 15, or 16 year old who has a mental disability. He is easily distracted and has the mind of a 6-year old.
It was a fulfilling and tiring day. I wasn’t nervous, and funnily enough I felt confident in my abilities as a counselor. I guess that in the past, I’ve always worried about being good enough in situations like this.
I was sad that I had to switch from Anifa to Deus by mid-day, but I think that the fit worked out in their best interests. In the end, I suppose that my energies and personality jive much better with Deus and his interests than with Anifa’s. She is a girl’s girl and Deus likes to do more guy things.
13/1/15 – Journal Notes
It was another long day in the tale of Deus and Marvin. It went by so fast from the get-go. We started by playing sports and continued our tradition of throwing cones in a hoop, cricket bat fighting, and me chasing Deus with hula hoop fingers. One of our favorite past-times was hitting the indestructible ball back and forth to each other.
During library time, we read all of the books with the pictures, especially Richard Scarry with the fruit and vegetable cars. I’ve realized that in this journey, he likes to attend to literary obstacls and encounters with a judgmental eye. If there are no good pictures, he rushes through the book. Words are his greatest downfall. For example, space was impossible to navigate. The adventure continued with speeches right before lunch, where I was very tired and sleepy.
Lunch was good, and I got to meet Deus’ father, who was also a part of the Amooti pet name clan.
Lunch: Beans, matooke, cabbage, meat, tomatoes, sweet potatoes
A cool session was the arts and crafts session with scenarios for the campers. It was cool to see the campers answer somewhat complicated questions concerning scenarios. Then there was an excruciating Ugandan panel that welcomed questions from the audience consisting of the campers’ parents. Anifa’s mother asked the panel what she could do to protect her daughter from the men in the village community who want to seduce her and have sex with her.
As the panel attempted to answer this question, Deus and I drew in my notebook and threw hula hoops at each other. After the panel, all the campers, counselors, and parents joined in a dance party consisting of our favorite Ugandan dancehall songs.
14/11/15 – Journal Notes
I have realized that I haven’t described many of the other campers here at the CDC. Accompanying us on the journey are campers with autism, Down’s syndrome, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, deafness, and various other disabilities. At any given moment I can see Mary or John crawling faster than I can run through a soccer game with the indestructible ball. Then I’ll see Michael and Apolo laughing with Benson as they sign jokes towards each other. Meanwhile, Alex, Michael, and Deus are all taking pictures of each other and “crazy legs” Stuart is dancing his heart out in the middle of the dance floor regardless of whether or not there’s any music.
Stuart is one of my favorite campers. Our directors informed us that their first memory of him was when they visited his school and saw him kicking a ball out on the field. His head perpetually swings to either his left or right shoulder, his mouth is open and askew, and his limbs move in a jerk-like fashion due to cerebral palsy but for all intents and purposes he is a 9 year old at heart. The directors watched him kick the ball for a while, fall down, get back up, and run towards them to give them a hug.
In the morning, Stuart comes up to me and starts signing the tattoo on my left forearm.
endlich daheim = finally home
During the morning session, Deus opened up. He said that he wanted to be a lawyer and make friends as his goals in life. He didn’t want to participate in singing with the group, and just wanted to kick the ball. We discussed HIV/AIDS during discussion time, drank some tea, and made origami during arts and crafts. We made a paper bag, in order for us to store our items, as well as a pet paper bird to accompany us on our journey. Mine was the smaller and inferior one compared to Deus’ amazing mama bird.
The red group really enjoyed having the opportunity to use their hands and make something tangible. I got annoyed with one of the Ugandan counselors, because he kept trying to fix the bad folding job of his camper and wouldn’t let his camper do it himself. The goal was to empower them, not to be the best origami maker. We wanted them to fight their own battles.
One of the directors led us with animal yoga and then with the parachute game filled with multitudes of colors.
Sad Anecdote: John the scout with no feeling in the lower half of his body, spends most of his day on the potty at the child center because his caretakers don’t want him soiling himself or the center. But it still doesn’t give him an excuse to act out during camp.
We made it over the hump of the week, and it’s downhill from here. Since the beginning, I have started to notice that my partner is becoming more and more independent. I am fearing that he won’t have much need for me anymore.
15/1/15 –Journal Entry
He made it late today, and surprised me during song time with travelling bard PCV Paul.
“Strong Love, Strong Heart”
Karate was taught by a visiting German lady in knit elephant pants. I suppose that it’s good for us to learn how to defend ourselves. I have started to grow accustomed to my partner.
He laughs and makes me smile.
Deus really loves that indestructible ball. We colored some maps of Africa in order to expand our knowledge of the surrounding areas. Grandmaster Country Director Loucine stopped by to visit and see how our respective journeys have been.
We are here, near the end of the journey, and sloping down.
Watercolors are a small way of reflecting on life after camp. The fourth day in and already it feels like a liftetime on the Kyaninga CDC Road. Though well-versed in the art of bean eating, ball kicking, and friend-making, Deus’ color-identifying skills are rudimentary at best, as are his literacy skills.
But out of all his traits, dedication and full commitment to a task are his greatest assets. His favorite thing to draw is a cow. The day ended as per usual, but with more of an emotional reaction for me.
It made me realize just how different my partner’s life was compared to my own life. How he saw the world through is own eyes and mindset and how I saw the world through my own eyes and mindset.
I wonder if he even realize that he has a different mindset compared to other children and young adults who are his age. Will he ever be able to feel that sense of contentment and self-worth from life or just focus on the immediate road in front of him?
The more Deus and I travel together; I become sadder and more confused about how life works.
I end the day with other counselors on an open air patio with a thatched roof on top of Phylicia’s family’s compound garage as the sun sets in violet hues over the waves of dust-covered matooke. I wonder if Deus sees this too at his house.
“Stay with Me”
He’s found an interest in using the camera and taking photos of the world around him. I wish that I could give him a camera of his own, and to see a small snapshot of the world in his own eyes.
We started filling out our final assessment of the week, and what we learned from our journey through Kyaninga.
Now, there’s a little bit of an arts reflection with drawing and homemade play-doh.
He’s very proud of the photos that he takes. He even showed the drivers for the Rides for Lives mobile HIV/AIDS testing clinic some of his photos that he took on my camera.
I’m definitely gonna miss these kiddos. I like to think that for this one week, they get to feel like other kids in their community.
He’s a big eater and has a big belly. Fortunately, we had beans and meat today. He got seconds. And now he finally got his certificate of completion. I don’t know if he understands that this day is the last ay of camp, because he asked me what we would be doing tomorrow.
“This is just the beginning.”
I honestly feel that this was one of the most memorable weeks of my Peace Corps service. Despite it only being a day camp, I was physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted by the end of each day. This caused most of the counselors to sojourn to the Sweet Aromas bakery near Gardens Café at the bottom of the Fort Portal hill. Aw man, I can still taste the pumpkin glazed cookies, chocolate chip cookies, cinnamon rolls, and tea cakes baked fresh to order each day. I also made an effort to exercise every evening, whether it was running 5 miles (which reminded me why I’m not a runner) or doing a T25 workout video.
This week was a very cool Peace Corps experience. I got the opportunity to really see a new side of Fort Portal, while participating in a special needs camp in Uganda. Once again, I felt that I was right where I needed to be in life.