McKenna- Day 12

As I reflect upon the amazing past two weeks of my life, it is hard to believe that in that short period of time, I have gained a whole new family. One that is larger than my family in America, newer than my family in America, and yet has been just as impactful in my life. Ever since I joined my schools chapter of U4U my sophomore year, the family that is our organization has been mentioned endlessly. It seemed almost as if the family was some metaphorical concept or idea used to try and strengthen the bond of the chapters. But i have realized that in reality we are a family. We lean upon each other in times of need, we build each other up, we catch on another as we fall, and without one another, we would not be the people we are today. After waking up and getting dressed for my last day in Gulu, myself and the other students gathered around the picnic tables in order to compose letters for some of our most impactful and key family members- the Ugandan staff members of Unified for Uganda. Without these people our family would not be connected and strong in the way that it is. They are the link between the beneficiaries that we all are working to support and the team of students in America working for those kids to be in the program. They are also role models and friends to all of us who have had the pleasure of spending time with them during the trip. Innocent is a mentor who we jokingly say is my twin due to our similar interests, personalities, and the blast that we have when we are together. But I honestly believe that I am undeserving of the title of Innocents other half “Guilty” because of his strength and leadership. The way he leads the children of Gulu Primary and represents the organization is truly amazing and a quality that I can only strive for. Sharon is the firecracker who puts her foot down to command a crowd and display a message that might be hard and is also necessary. She is so wise beyond her years and has inspired me to me a stronger, harder working individual just like she has pushed the children she mentors to be. Fiona has the ability to keep people feel so loved and supported no matter if she is keeping a frantic 17 year old girl calm as she tries to spend time in 6 different classrooms in 1 hour, help a struggling student to feel loved and empowered, or is balancing out the strong personalities that surround her in the office. Beatrice, or Madame PD (Program Director) as Innocent likes to call her, is like everyone’s mom. She takes care of those who need help and makes sure that everyone is being as successful as possible. Finally, Douglas lights up a room with his contagious smile and sweet heart. Not to mention as the U4U accountant he creates the most amazing spreadsheets anyone has ever seen. All of us getting the chance to gather around and write them letters of thanks was a task that could only brush the surface of what a pleasure it has been to be in their company and around them all these past two weeks.

After sitting down with the entire US team to have one final team breakfast provided by our fabulous host and cook, Emmanuel, we went to the office. There we presented our amazing family with their letters. It was so amazing to see them read the letters from us as well as the U4U members who wrote them letters at summit. If only those words could express how much we appreciate them.

Next we had the pleasure of heading back to Pope John Paul II School to see some of our friends. That happened to be our first school visit exactly one week prior and the place where a lot of us built some amazing bonds. As a bunch of us girls walked into the female dorms it was amazing to be reunited with our close friends. Their faces lit up as if it were Christmas morning and we all hugged and laughed. None of he students new that we were returning so the surprise became an amazing way to end our trip. I was lucky enough to spend that short hour and a half with my close friend Auma Sharon. She and I first met when I went on a hoe visit to her house and then continued as I shadowed her at Pope. She has a smile that will light up any room, a sweetness that is stronger than the raw sugarcane I had last week, and we have a bond that resembles sisters more than two people who have met three times. This reminds me of the U4U family and the fact that from thousands of miles away we are all supporting one another and more similar than anyone could ever imagine. While sitting under a mango tree Sharon wrote me a short letter in my journal that I will never forget. As we tearfully said goodbye I remembered her kind words that I will look to on the journey home as a source of comfort and as a reminder that she and many other students are only a letter and envelope away.

For our final Boda Boda ride the US team rode back to the office where Jake, Connie, and Abby remained for a meeting. The feeling of the wind and dirt hitting your face as the small villages between the school and Gulu pass by is one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen. The rest of us grabbed a quick lunch and then returned to the Iron Donkey to pack our  bags. Once that sad task was completed, we went to dinner with the entire U4U team that was in Gulu. We laughed and shared stories while consuming some absolutely wonderful Ugandan food. Sharon even took sometime to tell a group of us the story of how she met her adorable daughter, Sydney’s dad. It truly warmed my heart, especially as she reminded us that all love stories are great.

Next came our dreaded goodbyes. Leaving such wonderful people was enough to put a group of us into full blown sobs. Hugs were exchanged, and Sharon kindly reminded me to save my tears for the shower and to know that this is not “goodbye”, but rather “I will see you later”. I know that statement is true and I can’t wait to see them all again. To wrap up the night Innocent, Patrick, and Michael took us kids to play pool and hangout one last time. It was a wonderful way to wrap up the trip and have some fun.

Coming to Gulu is an event that really did change my life. I have learned that life is nothing if you don’t have people to share it with, that joy can be found in the most unexpected places, that I absolutely love beans and rice, and that family is more than just blood relatives. In the U4U family we are always there to love one another and support each other in times of need. I am so lucky to be a part of that and that I have had the chance to spend two weeks with the U4U Family.

Brooke- Day 11

Fort Patiko Mountain

The morning started with a bang. Abby and Jake were making breakfast and when Abby checked the oven and it exploded on her; thankfully she wasn’t seriously injured and the only battle scars she earned were a light burn on her right ankle and a little bit of shock. After everyone calmed down, we ate the breakfast untouched by the gases built up in the bottom of the oven, and a few of us climbed up onto the beloved roof. I have always taken a liking to roofs, whether it be the roof on my home, the roof of a shed at a farm near my house, my friends roofs…the list goes on. However, this roof has made it into my top five; despite the rusted, crinkly, and rather tedious structure that it proceeds to be, the views of Gulu and endless opportunity for good film is what keeps me going up there. The girls joined me this time and as they wrote in their journals I couldn’t help but think of how we’ve all become friends so quickly and how thankful I am for the way this trip has pushed me to understand and work well with all personality types.

After climbing down from the roof we headed out to Fort Patiko. The actual fort itself was created in the 1800’s as a trading post, but eventually was turned into a slave trading post where Ugandans were taken from their communities to South Sudan. There was something eerie and spiritual about the grounds within the fort, so much so that I put the video camera away after a while and decided not to include it in the video blog; there was absolutely no way that I could accurately capture the energy of the space within on camera. The tour guide took us to an area where captives were beheaded and the axe marks were still left in the stone; I felt sick when I realized I was standing on a mark, understanding that I could never comprehend the fear those captives must have felt as they were beheaded because they weren’t beautiful enough to be taken as slaves.

After we left Fort Patiko we drove to the mountain nearby and hiked to the base. We had to run up a portion of the hill to gain as much traction as we could and make it up, but a few in the group realized it really wasn’t that hard to just walk up thanks to shoes with great tread. The views included two friendly mountains with giant, incredible clouds that hovered above, surrounded and engulfed by the greenest greenery of them all; Connie said, “It’s as if Crayola came to this spot, and created all of their green shades based on this view.” Cooper, Douglass and I decided to proceed up to the higher elevations on the mountain and we quickly realized that with questionable knees it was quite the adventure. The first open slab that allowed us to look at another perspective of the view was enough to take my breath away. I couldn’t believe how absolutely beautiful the day was, it was a perfect environment for reflection on the love and gratitude the group has felt for the past two weeks. Towards the end of the day, I took a spot alone on a giant boulder and looked over towards the mountains for the last time. I am full of appreciation for the experiences I have had, the people I have met, and the unconditional love that I have been given.

Peace out.

-Brooke

Sam- Day 10

Where do I even start to summarize what we did today? I think I can speak for all of us and say that today was one of our favorite days which included relaxation and adventure.

First we had a delicious breakfast at the Iron Donkey. We had these warm, fluffy chocolate chip scones, pineapple, oatmeal, and our everyday coffee. After breakfast we hopped in the van with our driver Stephen and bumped our way through the two hour drive to the waterfalls at the Aruu waterfalls and campground.

We got our receipt to go into the park and then it was about another 15 minute drive to actually get to the waterfalls from the entrance. Once we parked the cars we started on the hike down to the bottom of the waterfalls. Innocent, one of the U4U mentors, had been here four times before so he took the lead and led us all the way down the path. Half the group, including myself, were wearing sandals and slipped down the whole path; I had to hold the hand of one of our U4U mentors, Sharon, because both of us would have fallen if we didn’t. Halfway down the path we all took our shoes off and crossed three swift rivers. We had to all link up arms because one missed step and your camera and phone would have been toast. Finally the brush cleared and we came to the bottom of the falls. You want to talk about breathtaking; well this view was something I would have seen on the National Geographic Channel and I was here now experiencing it.

We changed into our swimming attire and decided to jump into the pool of water that was right below the waterfall; we had the whole space to ourselves. I was all hot and sweaty from the hike down and the cool relief I got from the water was amazing. We quickly realized, after seeing no one from U4U Uganda move away from the banks of the pool, that none of them could swim. This created a whole new fun activity, trying to teach grown adults how to swim. Abby and I first tried to get Patrick (one of the U4U students that just graduated our program) and Stephen (our van driver that past week) to float on their backs but they both just couldn’t do it on their own when we let go. Then everyone tried to do some form of swimming and Abby said “I have never seen grown adults more afraid in my life them I did today. But they trusted us.” After this activity something changed in the way our group and the U4U Ugandan group connect with each other. We all started to integrate ourselves and just have fun together. When I took a look around everyone was just hanging out with everyone and enjoying themselves. We all ate lunch together and had a little entertainment while we munched on our peanut butter, banana, and Nutella sandwiches. To make a long story short there was a man and a woman who decided to try and climb up the side of the waterfall. Turns out the woman went halfway up and got too afraid to climb the rest, so her boyfriend had to come back down the rocks to get her after already making it all the way to the top. It was a classic tale of the prince saving his princess and the whole time we were laughing and terrified at what they were doing. They made it down safely and we all were relieved after they did.

We went back out swimming after lunch and decided to go sit on the rocks under the waterfall. This was by far one of my favorite parts of the day, having a cool rush of water fall on you, the feeling is sensational. It was 4:30pm at this point and we needed to start heading back but I did not want to leave the rush of the water falling on me and this place as a whole. It is hard right now for me to put words down for how amazing and beautiful this place was. It felt like I was in a dreamlike state and I was just waiting for Jake or Abby to pound on my hotel door telling me to wake up. Some pictures don’t accurately show how beautiful a landscape really is and this place was a perfect example of that.

The hike up was easier than the hike down, which was weird to me because we had some difficulty coming down and I figured it would be even harder to come back up. We got to our vans and departed back to Gulu for dinner. We got to dinner and ordered our food but of course it wouldn’t be a Ugandan meal without at least four of the things on a menu not being there. For tonight there were no beans, chicken, cow peas, or greens. Which is basically what we have eaten every night, but that wasn’t a problem for us. We got something else and enjoyed the company of everyone at the table.

After dinner some of us decided that we wanted to go out to BJ’s to do some dancing, so we meet up with Innocent, Patrick, and Sharon at Innocent’s house and just hung out until it was time to go. At Innocent’s house we played Xbox, listened to music, and shared stories. We left Innocent’s house and took some bodas to BJ’s and met up with Stephen there. At BJ’s we danced the night away to every song that we knew and just watched when the traditional Ugandan songs came on. This was a lot of fun and overall I could not have asked for a better day. 10/10 would do it again for sure. It is getting late now, so I’m going to say goodnight.

Haley- Day 9

Today was a great day. This morning we woke up to a wonderfully delicious breakfast, just like all the days before this one. We had French toast, fresh pineapple, the most amazing hash browns, passion fruit juice, and of course, the famous Iron Donkey coffee that we have every morning. I think this is the fourth time we have had this same French toast and I don’t think anyone has gotten tired of it yet- honestly, I don’t think I ever will. The hash browns were just wow. Words do not describe the goodness. Golden brown, crunchy but you know, not potato chips. They were amazing. But anyways, we ate breakfast and then headed out the door to Wayti Ki Gen.

Wayti Ki Gen is a nonprofit here in Gulu that mentors women who were captured by the LRA and their children who were born in captivity. We got to hear personal stories from Angela and Janet, the founders of this organization. They themselves were formerly taken into captivity by the LRA. They told us of their struggles while living in the bush and of their children born in the bush. There is such a stigma towards the children that were born there and how their families often reject them. So Angela and Janet realized that they had to do something about this. So they created this organization that mentors these women and their children to help rebuild the lives of the women and make the transition into society easier for the kids. A lot of the time the children who were born in captivity do not understand the injustice and terror that is accompanied by the lives they previously lead. Wayti Ki Gen allows the whole community to work together in order to accept these women and children’s past while still helping them integrate into post war lives. “Wayti Ki Gen” means “we have hope”; hope for the future lives of the women and children.

After Wayti Ki Gen we came back to the Iron Donkey for a bit and then shortly after we went on our way to Wend. We went to Wend yesterday and saw all of the amazing bags they had to offer. Some people had ordered backpacks so we returned today to claim those. Yesterday we put in an order to have pencil bags made to sell in our merchandise sales back in the states and when we came back today they already had twelve made! We are excited to get the full order on Monday; they look great! I even got one myself. After Wend we came back to the Iron Donkey again to join back with the full group. Connie then took all the kids to this very quality touristy Ugandan shop a few blocks down the road. They had such nice stuff for sale but their prices were a bit ridiculous. I got a key chain for 5,000/=… Connie tried to negotiate but we got nothin’. The keychain is pretty cool though if you ask me so I was going to purchase it for that price anyways. After we made our purchases, Connie, McKenna, Olivia, and I went back to the hotel and Sam, Cooper, Brooke, and Hannah went to go look at watches with Sam. When we got back to the hotel, McKenna, Olivia, and I just talked about how happy we are to be in Uganda doing what we love and how we wished we could be staying much longer and could be building stronger relationships with the beneficiaries and mentors. I cried. A lot. But I’m really emotional anyways so it’s no big deal.

Once everyone was back at the Iron Donkey we decided to go for a boda ride with no destination. As if boda rides aren’t freeing enough, setting off on a ride with no actual destination was just great. We told the driver to head to a town a ways away and then we would turn around there in a village called Pece. The trip was about 30 minutes round trip and we all enjoyed every minute of it. The breeze was nice, the views were nicer, but the company of my nine best friends was the nicest.

Dinner was very good and I ate chicken and rice for the first time since I was on the airplane. I still have PTSD from that chicken and rice. I had that meal three times in 24 hours and whenever I think about it I get queasy. We didn’t go out to dinner with a specific place in mind, we were just looking for a place that had enough rice and beans to feed all of us because that has been a problem in the past (ha ha yesterday). It was very good though and everyone was finally pleased and happy to get their Ugandan rice and beans. After dinner we sat around for a bit and played the Celebrity Name Game and a clean, appropriate game of Never Have I Ever.

After dinner, we ran into our good friend Steven the Driver and he drove us to his barbershop so Sam could get a clean new cut. Sam got his hair cut and his chin shaved. I would call it a beard but there wasn’t that much hair there. He looks very fresh and is very excited about his experience in a Ugandan barbershop (its not much different that in the states). Then we returned back to the hotel and here we are getting ready for bed.

‘Twas a great day and I’m so excited to spend a great last few days here as I look back and think about the amazing memories already made. Uganda rocks and I’m having the time of my life.

Jake- Day 8

Gulu is a special place. I am fortunate enough to say that this is my third trip with Unified for Uganda to Gulu and each trip has been drastically different. However, each trip, no matter how different they are, reminds me of three things about life: the importance of building human connection, the power of love, and to simply live.

Today all of the trip participants traveled to various primary schools shadowing students in our program. Brooke got to hang out with little ones at the nursery, Cooper got to teach a lesson to the classroom about the difference between cell phones and land lines, Hannah got to shadow the student that she sponsors and I could go on and on with stories. While they were at the schools I had the opportunity to sit with our accountant for the Ugandan office, Odong Douglas, as well as our Uganda program director, Beatrice, to talk about the financial structure of our organization and a few of the future plans for U4U. I can’t go without mentioning the value added to our organization because of Douglass’s and Beatrice’s qualifications and capabilities. They have really taken our organization to the next level, providing accountability and structure that reassures our stability here in Uganda and the readiness for growth. Over the last few days Douglass, Beatrice, and I have spent hours discussing the in’s and out’s of our organization and by doing so built a relationship supported by trust, honesty, and equality. Anybody can start a non-profit to send kids to school in Uganda. Yet, it is the kind of human connection that I experienced with Beatrice and Douglass and the kind of human connection that the trip participants experienced with our students today that separates U4U from the rest of those non-profits. We are giving our students in U4U a whole person education and it has taken us years of hard work to build a family that provides this level of education and support. Human connection allows for valuable decisions to be made that not just sound good, but truly transform the lives of our students. Sometimes it may seem impossible to reach the goals U4U sets for itself and for it’s students, but through family and through human connection we have proven that they are possible.

Last night we had the opportunity to go to a club in town to see a tradition dance performance. Innocent, one of our mentors, as well as Papito, Ronald, and Michael who are good friends ours, took our group as well as one of our students from the program, Nyeko Patrick. Patrick is recently one of our first students to graduate from secondary school and will soon be attending university. The dancing was amazing and it was so fun and relaxing to just hang out with everyone after a week full of structure and mental exhaustion. At the club though I had a moment. It was when I looked over and saw Papito, Innocent, and Ronald all graduates from Invisible Children’s legacy scholarship program. Innocent now works for our organization as a mentor, Papito just graduated from law school, and Ronald is starting a non-profit called Backup Uganda. And then I saw how each of the three of them has taken our student, Patrick, under their wings. They really have built a human connection with him that is providing him with guidance and support that is so beneficial for his success. Patrick is the one of the first of our students to reach their goals. He is the first one of our students to truly begin working towards providing a better future for himself and his community. It was a moment where I saw results. What U4U is doing is working.

After school visits today and my meetings with Beatrice and Douglass, we had the opportunity to visit two non-profits: Wend, and Krochet Kids. Krochet Kids was really awesome. They produce products with high quality and provide programs that empower Ugandan women to support themselves and their families providing brighter futures for hundreds of Ugandans. I want to spend more time talking about Wend though and to do that you must meet Jolly. Jolly has single handedly transformed the world through her goal to provide a brighter future for children of Gulu. She has testified in front of Uganda parliament, spoke to US senators, she was a noble peace prize nominee, and she oversaw all of Invisible Children in Uganda after she introduced the founders, Bobby Jason and Laren, to Gulu. Needless to say it was one of the most humbling experiences of my life just to be in her presence. After Invisible Children closed their doors in the United States, her mission to provide a future for children in Gulu never stopped. She has continued to work tireless to support the 150 children in Invisible Children’s legacy program so that they can complete the education they were promised. She has also taken their MEND program and transformed it into WEND, an organization that hires women to create extremely high quality bags. Our trip had the opportunity to shop amongst prototypes of Wend before they launch their products in the US this coming September.

Jolly has an amazing story to share, but what makes her so powerful is her love. There have been many times where it would have been easier for Jolly to quit what she was doing and live an easier life full of comfort, but she never choose to go that route. She loves Gulu and she loves everyone she works with more than I have seen anyone else love before and this is what has allowed her to accomplish everything she has. She is truly a woman for and with others exemplifying every ideal that active citizens should strive to be. When someone is able to work out of love to the level that she does, nothing is impossible. Today our organization was inspired by the work of Jolly. As we continue to grow in both the United States and in Uganda we must remember the importance of love and this love within our family is what will transform lives.

As I reflect on the trip up to this point I think about the differences between life in the states and life in Uganda. I am not talking about the physical differences or the economic differences, but I am talking about the life style differences. In the United States we all are living for something everyday. We live to make money, we live to work hard to make a difference in the world, or we live to learn. These are all completely different and unique reasons to live, but in Gulu I am reminded to not live for something, but to just simply live. I am not here to build a church, I am not here to teach English to children and I am certainly not here to push westernized ways of thinking upon the Gulu culture. I am here to build relationships and immerse myself in the culture and by doing that it has forced me to just simply live. I am not trying to say that we should not have goals or we shouldn’t have a purpose. I’m actually saying completely the opposite. To simply live allows you to completely experience whatever you are doing and accept your thoughts and emotions as you go through it. By simply living one can clearly see the path before them and discover their goals and purpose for life.

Gulu is a special place. As you read this blog think about the human connections in your life. Keep those connections close and utilize those to help each other grow. Use the power of love. Decide who or what you love and make that your work. Working for who or what you love is the strongest form of power in the world. Lastly remember to simply live. Experience the world around you without an agenda. Allow yourself to feel and think the way you want to without society telling you any differently and clarity will begin to appear. I have built human connections with our U4U family in Gulu. I love the students in our program and the opportunity to work with them to provide an education and I have found the opportunity to simply live when I am with them. Because of my u4u family, because of my experiences and because of love that is here, Gulu is a special place.

Abby- Day 7

I’m already in disbelief that it’s Wednesday and we now have less than a week until we are on our way home to the states. The further we get into the week the more jam packed the days will be, as we try to squeeze in dinners with old friends, conversations with other nonprofits, along with visiting schools. Our time here has been exciting and reassuring that the future of U4U is going to be thriving.

The students and myself started the day going to different secondary schools to catch up with some of our older students. Meanwhile, Jake attended a riveting meeting, as a board member, talking finances and other important stuff while Connie sorted and counted thousands of donations that we brought over. I, along with McKenna and Brooke visited Graceland, an all girls’ school. Olivia, Hannah, and Haley went to Sacred Heart, another all girls school, while Cooper and Sam departed to Ocer and Layibi College respectively, which are all boys schools. Having gone to a co-ed high school, (shout out to all the Rams reading this) it’s always interesting to visit the all girls’ schools in Uganda. Differences include the amount structure and discipline, along with the fact that they are boarding schools. Our mentors have don’t an excellent job selecting school for our student to attend, preparing them well for what’s next to come in their lives.

The three of us arrived at break time and they fed us chipati and porridge. And let me tell ya, Goldilocks was wrong—it did not taste just right. We sponsor a number of young ladies from Graceland, but unfortunately there have been some issues with a few of them. One beneficiary got pregnant over the Christmas holiday and another, her aunt pulled her out of school to keep her home to help sell the family’s trade. Sadly, this is not uncommon in Uganda, but our mentors work tirelessly to prevent this as much as possible with our students. However, sometimes the immediate needs of the family become too much to handle and families compromise the education of their children. As an organization, we try to ensure that the long-term goals of the families are the focus, and thus education is made a priority.

Coincidently, while in the classroom with Alimocan Brenda, the girls were discussing the ramification of prostitution and premarital sex in Uganda. There are only 14 girls in Senior 6 (the last secondary level before anyone can go on to University) at Graceland. Brenda said that many girls drop out due to school fees, but also pregnancy and family problems as well. The teacher was out and the girls were left to themselves, so Brenda took the lead. I could tell right away that the other girls look at her with respect and that she is a confident young woman who will achieve great things. The girls told me that they often discuss topics such as these women issues, both amongst themselves and amongst teachers. Even with the teacher out of the classroom, the students took the discussion very seriously. It was awe inspiring to be a part of a discussion in which the girls were empowering themselves and preparing for bright futures. Despite the issues occurring with some of our other older girls, it was reassuring to see that preventative measures are being taken within the schools that our students are attending.

After lunch, consisting of muno food and some mangos and pineapple, we went to an organization called Surface Uganda. Kids who are living on the street are picked up and taught different crafts, such as beading bags, making shoes, and braiding bracelets, and are taken into shelter. Currently there are about 20 kids in the program and also receiving shelter within the organization’s compound. The organization also does HIV/AIDs education, due to the fact a majority of their participants are effected by the disease. The products were just as amazing as the work that the organization does for the children. Not only do the profits from the beading go directly to the children’s needs, they receive different forms of counseling and advocacy. This is just one of many organizations that U4U could partner with, brightening the futures of both of these organizations.

The remainder of the day we went to market to pick out traditional fabrics to make different clothes, including skirts, pants, shirts and boe- ties. There could even be gifts for our families in on the action (hehe). Our next stop was to the jersey store and then we romped over to a have a traditional Ugandan meal for dinner. But never fear, the muno in us came out as Haley and Sam did some hip-hop dancing in the street, making fools of themselves and us. We’re all excited to head to a traditional dance competition tonight, accompanied by our mentor from the office, Innocent. But don’t worry though moms and dads, we won’t keep them out too late J

In closing, today had unique events, yet they all had a common theme: empowerment. Whether it was sitting in on a student led discussion, contributing to the small business economy of Gulu by buying fabrics, or learning and working with an organization such as Surface Uganda, I felt fulfilled throughout the whole day. Not only did I feel like we as a group were empowering Ugandans, I whole-heartedly feel that the Ugandans were also empowering us. Brenda exemplified what a true leader looks like, presenting herself with maturity and collectedness. Her classmates inspired me to believe even more in the power of women and the strength we have, welcoming me with open arms and embracing me in discussion. Surface Uganda taught us resilience. They incorporated traditional crafts in an economically sustainable model for the good of helpless children. All parties involved today were supporting each other in thinking as global minded citizens, ridding any barriers that exist between us. We listened to problems and needs, and discussed partnership and support.

Today was an exemplary day of everything our organization is doing and hoping to be. Partnerships will continue to play a vital role in our organization to provide a whole person education to our students. U4U prides itself on being an organization that empowers people on both sides of the pond, in which I feel like we’re doing an incredible job. This trip and all the participants have been nothing but inspirations and light. It’s been a thrill to be around such great representatives of the organization and I can’t wait for the work and future that lies ahead.

Olivia- Day 6

Today we woke up to the smells of fresh coffee, French toast, and eggs. After our delicious breakfast we began the short walk in the crisp morning air to the U4U office. Today we had a parent meeting with about 14 of the parents from students in our program. We were not really sure what to expect for this meeting except that it was going to be amazing.

When we got to the U4U offices we were greeted by a few parents, the staff, and Patrick, a recent sponsored child who just graduated from secondary school. As we all were saying hello we had an interesting surprise jump onto us because a dog had followed Connie and Cooper to the office (Before any parents start freaking out, the dog was very clean and it didn’t bite any of us. We don’t have rabies). As we played with the dog, and tried to lock it off the grounds, we said our farewells for the week to Oscar, the groundskeeper. He is currently in a pharmacy program out of town and it was the last time we were going to see him on the trip. As more parents came to the office we began the meeting. It was pretty funny to see “Uganda time” in action because parents would stroll into the meeting up to two hours late. One really interesting experience was that the meeting was in two different languages. Not all the parents speak English and our lesson was very limited yesterday so the mentors translated everything. We started the meeting introducing ourselves and our roles in U4U. Beatrice then spoke about the importance of communication and family within U4U. After Beatrice, each mentor spoke about different examples of what the parents need to be doing in order to show how important parent involvement in the students’ lives are. Although I spent a good amount of time with Sharon, a mentor, yesterday, it wasn’t until today that I saw how empowering and overall amazing that we have her on our staff. She is an inspiration to not only the students but to me as well.

After this, the parents were able to communicate to us their appreciation for us as we all ate Glucose cookies and different types of pop. I am unable to describe the feeling of hearing the praises we received from the parents. Here in Gulu, prayer is one of the highest forms of flattery and to hear that every single parent had been and will continue to be blessing and praying for us is a feeling I will never forget for the rest of my life. If you don’t already know, the parents in this program are so incredibly grateful for every single thing that we do. For us, $300 for a sponsorship does not seem like that much but to them it is everything. We are not only giving these students and education, we are giving them the opportunity to empower their entire family, village, and whole community. Today was the first time I really saw that in action. Connie then said a few words on our behalf about how this experience is changing our lives more than it is changing theirs and that 7,000 miles does not define family only love does.

After the meeting came to a close we all socialized outside with Patrick where he set up a booth of all his jewelry for sale. During his holiday, Patrick makes paper beads with his aunt in his village. On our home visit to his village we all fell in love with his work so he was kind enough to bring all his jewelry to the office for us to buy. We almost bought out his entire supply of jewelry.

One moment that stuck out to me the most was being able to speak with Lagum Peace’s mother again. Hannah and I co-sponsor Lagum Peace and had the opportunity to go on a home visit to her compound. I was very upset on Sunday because I thought I would never see her mother again so seeing her today made my heart so happy. She hugged me for the longest time and continuously held my hand. When Hannah and I said goodbye she responded, “Simon says goodbye!” The three of us began laughing hysterically because at the home visit earlier this week we taught her kids how to play the game “Simon Says”.

During the walk back to The Iron Donkey for lunch, the dog saga continued. The dog was named Gollum and apparently the name fit perfectly because according to Sam, “Gollum is in every movie and it keeps coming back and no one likes it and it’s just really annoying.” On numerous occasions we thought the dog was gone but she always came back. We tried to make people take her but they just laughed at the silly munos with a dog. We later found out from Anne that the dog actually follows around munos because her previous owners were white.

After a lunch of snacks we got on boda bodas and rode to Gulu Primary, one of the oldest schools in Gulu. There we were greeted by one of the teachers who gave us our soccer jerseys. The U4U team was blue and the Gulu Primary school soccer team was yellow. We began a chant “Let’s go U4U” (with clapping) while running around the campus with tons of kids led by Coach Sharon. When we got to the soccer field the entire school was waiting for us. The entire school had afternoon classes cancelled just so they could watch this game. We than began to warm up with running, stretching, and passing “drills”. Everything that one of us did received a laugh from the crowd of kids and teachers so we embraced it completely. We were watching the school team do their real warm ups so we ran in front of them and did the exact same stretches they did. The kids thought it was hilarious.

After taking some hilarious group pictures of our motley team of mentors, students, and all us from the trip, the game began. It was not long before they already scored one goal, then two, then three. Being a soccer player for about 10 years myself, I must say that playing soccer in the rain, in a skirt, and gym shoes is extremely difficult. I soon asked to be subbed out and became a cheerleader with Beatrice’s son. He saw how dirty I was from playing that he insisted that he could clean me off with wipes and hand sanitizer. He told me I now don’t have to take a shower.

We finished off the half with the score of 4-0 Gulu Primary (shocker). Innocent tried to make a game plan for the second half and I guess it kind of worked because Patrick finally scored our first goal with the final score being 4-1 Gulu Primary (again, shocker to everyone). I will never forget the excitement of the U4U family when he scored. Beatrice, Fiona, and Sharon stormed the field and we were all cheering so loudly. It was a great moment.

Once the game ended we were free to do whatever we wanted. McKenna began teaching kids repetitive exercises like chants, jingles, and songs. Haley was taking videos of kids while Sam played seven sticks and pumped water. Brooke and Cooper went off to take some awesome Polaroids with Patrick while Hannah and I decided to make some friends while playing volleyball. After a few rounds of volleyball I went over to talk to Lagum Peace and her friends. They were all so excited to meet me and couldn’t believe that I didn’t know how to play netball. I soon learned and we were having a blast. Netball is very similar to basketball except you are not on teams and can only shoot twice on one side before running back to the other side. The girls were nice enough to give me multiple chances to shoot.

After being worn out from netball I watched Sam teach kids tic tac toe in the dirt and took some Polaroids with Brooke, Cooper, and Patrick before joining McKenna and Jake who were teaching all these younger kids fun songs. I taught all the kids a fun camp song called “Richicha”.

Before we left we had the insane opportunity of meeting the head teacher (a principal type figure) who was incredible. She is such a strong woman and I am so happy I was able to meet her. She was saying things about the organization and our family that just clicked in our heads like yes. This right here is what we’ve been trying to achieve. Family. A few teachers were also there and they told us about how some of our kids are breaking Gulu Primary records. I felt like a proud parent when I heard a teacher talk about how proud he was of Bodo Kenneth, a kid who I met on Saturday who has fractions written on the walls of his hut. Bodo Kenneth recently broke a school record for his term grades. We are so proud of him.

Time really does fly when you’re having fun because soon enough it was time to leave Gulu Primary. We hopped on boda bodas for the last time that day to take us to a local restaurant. It was a little bit of an adventure because Sam and Haley’s driver got lost so Abby had to go find them on the streets of Gulu. Their boda boda ran out of gas so the driver needed to get some more. After a just okay meal Chaperone Abby and Chaperone Jake took us to get samosas, a beef turnover type fried food and fresh fruit. We decided that Chaperone is both of their Acholi names meaning “one who counts” and “one who leads”. We stopped at the market on the way home and got the best mangos in the world. We also got a whole pineapple but we’re saving that for tomorrow.

Today was probably my favorite day but I keep saying that every day so who knows what tomorrow will bring. Today I truly started to believe that the U4U family is connected from the sponsors to the mentors to the students to the parents to even you reading this blog please know for a fact that at least 14 parents in Gulu, Uganda pray for you and send their blessings our way every night. Like Connie said earlier, distance doesn’t define family, love does. Whether you’re currently 7,499 miles away back home in Cincinnati or you’re a few miles down the road at the office know that you are a part of the U4U community and this global family.

It’s 11:11 pm here so make a wish. Goodnight!!

Olivia Barnaclo