Sensitivity

5/5/15 – 15/5/15

I got over my slump during the remainder of IT Camp. It amazed me what Peter Balaba could do with his expertise in hooking up UTL (Uganda Telecom Lines) to a village PTC and allow students and tutors access to reasonably fast internet speeds. I performed the typical action of taking photos and videos of campers and the directors, since the long-term goal of the camp was to follow up the skill of the youth with another advanced IT Camp in August. I documented sessions regarding Microsoft Office, YouTube, Typing, and even some basic Python Programming. A lot of these students never had the opportunity to be exposed to a computer program, let alone a computer.

I also got to spend more time with some of the facilitators from the Centre for Creative and Capacity Development (CCCD). They shared with me part of the story concerning how they came together as artists, dancers, and musicians a few years ago through YEP (Youth Empowerment Project). A lot of the members of In-Movement and CCCD shape the typical Peace Corps Uganda camp experience through kinesthetic learning. The message propagated by these facilitators empowers Ugandan youth to feel special and witness their ideas being brought to life. In the United States, it could be argued that not every youth should be told that he or she is special, but in Uganda more often than not most youth are told on a daily basis that their ideas do not matter.

With this perspective in mind, a lot of the creative facilitation sessions at camps such as IT Camp involve free and valued expression of self through skits, songs, dances, and group presentations. In many instances, these artful expressions evoke deeper emotions from the youth. During one River of Life session during a Peace Corps camp, the youth were asked to draw and write their life stories on a mural. One of the youth depicted herself being raped by her father, and shared this information with the group. The facilitator of the session shared that it was very probable that this was the first time in her life that she was asked to share her life experiences in a comfortable, safe, and non-judgmental manner.

It’s during moments like this that the problems concerning logistics, arguments, and petty difficulties among PCV’s take a backseat towards the larger issue that we are working to address. I feel like I’m making good use of my time exhausting myself through my participation in different camps in order to share the stories of these youth. By giving them a voice, they can be heard.

After a busy week at IT Camp, I spent the weekend in Kampala where I was able to simply chill and relax. On Saturday, I attended a TEDx Talk at the Serena Hotel where Ugandans shared their ideas concerning, healthy lifestyles, productivity, and smartphone apps. Not only was it cool to be at a TEDx talk, but it was amazing to hear Ugandans give short, succinct, and reasonably engaging presentations that delivered a message. One of the most interesting presentations came from a recently graduated Ugandan university student who developed a smartphone app that would easily relay the amount of produce that farmers could provide and transport to market day consumers.

Afterwards, I spent the rest of my time in Kampala watching YouTube videos and catching up on some news stories and pop culture over the past two years. I mean, I realized that within 7 months I will depart Uganda and head back to the developed world. In this sense, I am slowly easing myself back into what I used to be used to doing. I then went back to the village for two days where the money for the ICT Lab finally arrived in my supervisor’s bank account. Funnily enough, as I enter the home stretch of my Peace Corps service I can see my projects and worth as a PCV coming together. Right now I am back at the NARO agricultural center in Mukono where I am planning Community Integration sessions for the incoming Health and Agribusiness June 2015 group.

If the key point for the last training group was to be realistically positive about our experiences in Uganda, the modus operandi for this incoming group is to acknowledge sensitivity concerning pressing issues about gender, race, and poverty. Desensitization for older PCV’s vs. hypersensitivity for newer trainees is the overarching theme that we as community integration trainers have to address. There have been some complaints about older PCV’s that they don’t care enough the issues in Uganda.

I hazard that so many people back in the US can take the moral high ground and have the opportunity to discuss thoughtful articles and responses to those articles articulating the idiosyncrasies of gender identities, gentrification, and double standards. Here I believe that PCV’s have to choose their own battles to fight. Idealism only gets us so far and sometimes the haggard, pragmatic, and slightly jaded outlook of a PCV who just finished a male/female condom demonstration can bring about more positive change than someone gives a riveting speech in the village about the beauty of abstinence, family planning, and respecting your fellow person

Gratitude

22/1/15 – 23/1/15

The new Education group of trainees finally swore-in at the ambassador’s house on Thursday. It really  didn’t hit me how much things have changed until I sat down and heard the speeches that I’ve heard time and time again by the Country Director, Ambassador, and new PCV’s. It struck me just how optimistic of a tone this new group had when its representatives gave speeches during the ceremony. It doesn’t mean that they weren’t eloquent or heartfelt, but they sounded very optimistic and intangible. There were a lot of metaphors and comparisons of empowering Ugandans in a sustainable way.

I believe that if I had heard these speeches a year ago, I would have been inspired. It’s funny just how much stock I now place in tangible goals instead of intangible aspirations and how all of the beautiful rhetoric in the world still won’t make the borehole pump itself. Some of my fellow PCV’s from my cohort who also attended the ceremony commented, “How long do you think it will take until they become jaded?”

New Group Swearing-In

Of course we all congratulated them and welcomed the newly sworn-in PCV’s with open arms, but I kept asking myself that question. Was there a turning point or was it a gradual shift in attitudes that made me the Peace Corps Volunteer who I am today as opposed to a whole year ago at the Ambassador’s house. I still welcome the fresh perspective to this country that only new PCV’s can offer.

The next day, I returned back to site. It’s almost as if my entry into my metaphorical junior year of my Peace Corps service was a reminder of what I had gone through. I had a mini-bout of giardia in the morning which caused me intense pain even as I wolfed down the chicken skewer appetizers after the swearing-in ceremony and drank glasses of wine at the Country Director’s house afterwards. I threw up later that night after much diarrhea.

The next day, I travelled back to site on an empty stomach. Even in my own town, a market vendor called me muchina and I chewed him out in local language. My bicycle’s back wheel had low air pressure, but as I made it back to my house a smile grew on my face. My neighborhood kids were yelling, “Marvin” as I made it to my front door. Even the berry plant that was eaten by a stray goat started to re-grow its leaves. So much has changed in this past year, and I think back to that last speech given at this new group’s swearing-in ceremony. PCV Emery gave a speech entirely devoted to gratitude towards all people and parts who made Peace Corps Ugandan possible: from the UPS man/woman who delivered our visa applications to the Peace Corps Uganda staff and trainers.

As I entered the front door of my house a for the first time after a whole year, I think back to the experiences and interactions that continuously led me back to that door when I could have just as easily ignored it for somewhere else. In this case, I’m grateful to call his place my home.