Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Uganda: From Gulu with Love

Yesterday afternoon, following our visit to Paicho IDP camp, we returned to Gulu and had some free time. I stopped the local market and bought some fabric -- I hired a tailor to make a dress and some bags and other things out of the traditional African fabric. For fabric and labor the dress costs about 24000 USH, which is about 13 or 14 USD. I can't wait to wear my new African gear in the US. The tailor, Susan (see photo), is fantastic, and the cuts are modern. You all know I can't go anywhere without finding some kind of clothing to buy.

Today was the Gulu Mentoring Program. As I mentioned yesterday, Gulu is filled with NGOs - there are 217 NGOs in town, all with varying levels of involvement (which is a nice way for saying that some of them do nothing at all). Many of them are relief agencies, which provide food relief for the IDPs. While this seems essential, the long term value is questionable. The war has been going on for 20 years, and these people have become dependent on food aid, which will make the transition back to agriculture more difficult. Anyhow, we paired our students in small groups to visit the NGOs for the day and learn more about what they do. I visited a USAID project for HIV/AIDS, which provides reproductive education courses for youth in the IDP camps, as well as HIV testing.

After the visit, Christopher and Hon. Oola Patrick Lumumba, two of our Ugandan participants, and I had a very interesting conversation about Acholi traditional practices. Polygamy is very common in Uganda, specifically in the Acholi culture. When they found out I was 25, Christopher and Patrick wanted to know why i was not yet married, and when I intended to marry. I'm an old woman in Ugandan terms. Life here in the north is inherently communal, and raising children is the responsibility of everyone in the clan, which is composed of several families. Technically, there should never be orphans in Acholiland, which makes for a very complex problem when you look at the thousands and thousands of orphans in the camps (for example, the largest camp has 50,000 residents, 40,000 of which are children).

This afternoon I took a group of students via boda bodas (motorbike taxis) to Coro IDP camp just outside the city. A representative from Invisible Children joined us and we saw their bracelet making campaign in action - making bracelets provides valuable work for more than 200 individuals in the camp, and enables them to pay school fees via their sale in the US market.

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