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A Diary of Events

January 25, 2009

August 29, 2008

My experience in Uganda, with Artfully AWARE, is difficult to summarize in words, because being there gives you a feeling that is indescribable until you have been for yourself. It warms you, and not in a patronising way – “to have helped a developing country”, but warms you in a way that you have experienced a reality which is very different to your own, and within that difference you learn about what matters, and that is humbling. Ugandans know what matters, and I have been blown away by the grace, dignity and compassion of the people I have met. Although my words will not do my experience justice, I will try to give as best insight as possible with the hope of inspiring others, who are hesitant, to leap into Uganda’s beauty, and soak it up like a sponge, for it is Uganda’s beauty that is a forgotten truth.

Firstly, I have to mention the scenery of Uganda……..absolutely breath taking views; Lake Victoria, the Nile, Sipi falls, the green open landscapes and  towering mountains all highly contributed to the beauty of Uganda.

And now the people…….

“So……How is your life?”, said the first Ugandan I met, full of interest, compassion, hospitality, friendliness. How welcomed I felt, how at ease, how refreshing it felt, what a great first person to meet, after such a long flight, of my first time flying alone, to a country previously inexperienced to me. Little did I know that this would be asked by the second, third, fourth, fifth, Ugandan I met, and continued on throughout the whole duration of the work trip.  I have never ever been as inspired by people’s humanity as I was in Uganda.  Uganda is about promoting and trying to achieve peace, empowerment, development, dignity, grace, future, compassion, progression, good will to others, and to quote the name of an inspirational person I met, Uganda is about “HOPE.” All these aspects are so easily lost in my every day reality, and so to have communities focussed on what are ultimately the foundations of importance and of a positive future were so refreshing and educational. Uganda opens your eyes to a way of being alive that should be aspired to, what ever your reality, for to have experienced the worst of times, Uganda believes in good, and the right way to treat each other, which is certainly something I look up to as a person trying to make my way in the world; a person the same as everyone else.

Hilary was so passionate about starting our Artfully AWARE mission in Uganda, and I was excited, but didn’t understand completely, why Uganda?  But you go there, and you realise that it just fits, Artfully AWARE just fits there.  Uganda is so creative, and responds so well, children and adults, to expressing themselves creatively, it would be such a powerful tool to incorporate into the already existing organisations that aid personal welfare, development, and education.  To be part of that realization was unbelievable, so exciting and yet so natural.

As part of Artfully Aware, we visited many organisations whilst in Uganda, including a women’s refuge centre, which is run by an outstanding woman who is an incredible role model and blew me away with her intelligence and passion towards helping her country.

We visited an orphanage, which was hard to separate from the obvious poverty, but despite this very clear struggle, I was again blown away by the welcome we had. Children are taught Christianity in the best possible sense of its meaning.  They sing about hope, respect, a better tomorrow, and good will to everyone.  They celebrate their lives with song, dance and enjoyment, and this positivity rubs off on you to the point where the poverty around you which was once so obvious, is secondary to the humbling humanity of who is around you.

In Gulu we spent days at Karin Children’s Development Centre, which is a centre dedicated to cater for children’s medical, educational, recreational and welfare needs.  The staff consists of two wonderful people, Jackie and Martin, who between them cater for hundreds of children.  They both were very inspiring, such a positive influence, and full of fun and laughter.  I cannot wait till the day I see them again.

Kristy flying the parachute.

Kristy flying the parachute.

The children were children; curious, fun, innocent, intelligent human beings which is universal to being a child, and I was so happy to see this. The awareness of the struggle and poverty of Uganda often gives stereotypes to those who have not been, of a distorted reality, that is not what a community solely consists of.  Yes, there is struggle, yes there is poverty, but there is also joy, laughter, fun, and so much positivity to experience, mostly through the children of Uganda.  I was most looking forward to playing with the children, before going to Uganda, as play and children are my areas of professional development, and I just loved every minute of the experience.  Learning Ugandan games, playing without materialistic aids, having open space to run and explore, and experiencing cultural play was educational and so fun.  And I am convinced that introducing creative e expression as a therapeutic tool would be greatly responded to, due to the obvious creativity of the children.

The parents of the children at the children’s centre, were so welcoming, and when all of us had the opportunity to speak about their lives and the beauty as well as the pain within Uganda, this exchange was   riveting and so educational to us in terms of empathising with and respecting how they have faced and continue to face the horrors of Uganda, and why they are so proud of Ugandan people and their culture.  The balance of talking about positive and negative qualities of their country was very effective in establishing a productive conversation and enthusiastic rapport. Despite hearing the horrors of Uganda’s past, it is very clear, that Ugandans are not, on the whole, defeated by it, they won’t let the past define their country, and are actively establishing a positive future.

The relationship we built with the parents resulted in some unexpected experiences that were definite highlights of the trip, that could never have been pre-meditated, and just show the hospitable nature of Ugandan people. The parents prepared a Ugandan feast for us from scratch, and welcomed us into their homes, We created the traditional feast step by step with them, laughing and learning together in their homes and finding out about each others lives with interest and respect.  The role reversal of  the parents teaching us something that was important to them, as opposed to us teaching them something important to us, was so effective and really created a natural equilibrium between us, confirming we were together to learn from each other, and to create something together, as opposed to being doctrinaire and one sided. The opportunity for this reality to be conveyed to the world via our community book project echoes this idea of learning from each other, and a balance of knowledge that is true and comes directly from the communities themselves, which is so exciting. The evening of the feast was an incredible bonding experience for us all and a real connection was made and celebrated.

The Artfully AWARE team also bonded greatly throughout the duration of the work trip.  I have to now mention Justin, a member of our team, from Uganda, and a man so talented in his artistic skill and teaching ability, that it was a joy to learn from him, especially his approach to facilitating groups of adults.  Emily did an amazing job of leading the group and went out of her way to make us all feel so welcome in Uganda. Hilary‘s passion for Uganda totally rubbed off on us all. Katie was a joy to be around.  Evonne was my room mate of Uganda and we shared so many special moments that only old friends can share!!!ooooh, the bonding!!! : ) Zillah and Suzanne were there for one night the same as me, so was short and sweet, but always fun.

From meeting each other in February for the first time, we were strangers with shared passions.  We are now friends with shared passions, and there’s nothing like a life changing experience to bring you closer together. Bumpy ,rides, the disappearance of vanity altogether, long journeys to talk in between villages, and 3 hour meals at restaurants were great opportunities to bond and get to know each other’s differences and similarities, making us a stronger working team…  The days were intense and long and hard work, but because it consisted of doing what we love, the whole experience was incredible.

I cannot wait to go to Uganda again with Artfully AWARE to maintain the relationships we have built… and to establish new ones.

Kristy Algar

Arts and Play Consultant

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