Monday, May 7, 2012

I'm finally back in good ole Arua after two weeks of travel. For the first 10 days, I was in Gulu as a counselor in Northern Camp Glow (Girls Leading Our World), which is basically a week-long sleepover camp for young ugandan women (aged 14-18) from the northern area of Uganda. The camp was amazing and exhausting, as I spent my days from 5:30 am until sometimes 11:30 pm busy with the usual tasks of being an energetic camp counselor. I had 9 girls in my "Cheetah" group, and had a Lugbara co-counselor named Beatrice who I worked closely with. The girls in my group were all either Lango or Acholi, because the directors tried to separate counselors from the girls that they nominated from their area. The Cheetah girls were incredibly sweet, engaging, and active the entire week. I felt so lucky to be placed with such wonderful girls. My girls were especially interested in singing and dancing, so I sort of spent the entire week in a dancing daze. We were the first group to come up with a group cheer/song, but we ended up having about 5 or 6 cheetah songs and dances by the end of the camp. The most incredible part to witness, as a counselor, was the gradual unfolding or opening up that each girl underwent. The first few days, everyone was very shy and reluctant to speak or be goofy, but by the end, even the quietest girls had made friends. On the last day, as I was saying my goodbyes, my shyest camper named Grace, burst into tears at the prospect of separating from her fellow Cheetahs. I have spent a good amount of my life in camps, whether as a camper or a counselor, and so I'm very familiar with that bittersweet feeling at the end when you have to say goodbye to friends you have become very close with in a very short period of time. It's intense. I was not happy with my camper's tears, rather I recognized that the experience HAD indeed been very worthwhile for her, not only because of the enriching sessions, but also because of the connections formed. On my end, although this camp was exhausting and very different from American sleepover camps (think cold bucket baths in open-air and doorless concrete shower stalls during thunderstorms, 130 girls using the same latrines, and beans + posho for every meal), I think it was also even more rewarding of an experience. The language and cultural barriers are there, but you feel even more of a high after overcoming those obstacles during the week. Instead of roasting marshmellows and canoeing, I watched my campers learn how to properly use condoms, discover different income generating activities, discuss domestic violence, and grow in confidence. I hope to be part of some camps in the future, and I'm especially interested in helping out with Camp Build (Boys in Uganda in leadership development), which is essentially the same camp but for boys, and also Peace Camp for the war-affected youth in the north. It's also definitely a nice change of pace from village life, and gives you the opportunity to become very close to a handful of young Ugandans. Since I have left Gulu, I have been receiving many awkward phone calls from my campers, in which they run out of airtime after 12 seconds. But, I'm happy they are calling. I know that I will miss them. And, I'm SO excited about the 20 students that Tom and I nominated from our village. I can't wait to see the changes they have undergone, and the confidence they have grown from camp. I hope that they now will open up more with us, and be more willing to participate in after-school clubs or extracurriculars. After Camp GLOW, I went to midservice training. Not much to say about that, but it was good to see everyone after such a long time. I exchanged a lot of music, movies, and kindle books! After midservice, I spent a few extra nights in Kampala staying with my old friend Nathan from high school, who is doing malaria research at a hospital in Kampala. Nathan leads a very different existence than we do in our village, so it was fun catching a glimpse of his urban life, and see that Kampala is NOT just a dirty, hot mess. In fact, it is a place where you can eat delicious mexican food, watch boxing tournaments, and go to art galleries! At one point this last weekend, I felt like I was in Minneapolis, as we were sitting over our Turkish Mezze plate, watching premiere league, and discussing who wanted to go to the casino afterwards. Weird. But, I really appreciated seeing a different side of Kampala; a city that I try to minimize my contact with. Love and Lions to all! Ils


  1. What an incredible experience you had. We should show the folks at Camp Lake Hubert what your training has enabled!! And, also, Happy Happy!