Thursday, July 7, 2011

East Africa Day 52 (Mon July 4): Invisible Children Office Tour & Gulu, Uganda 4th of July Party!

Such an exciting day! We checked out of the hotel, dropped our bags off at Nikki’s house, and then headed over to the Invisible Children office on the other side of town. We found the IC compound at the end of a road, marked by a white sign.

photo: this was taken later. Nikki wasn't with us at the time that we first walked in ...

Entered the compound, walked by a covered area with bodas parked under it, and entered the building in front of us. We were met by two glass wall cases full of IC merch. I know where we are!

Nikki’s office that she shares with the Media Team was right in front of us, next to Reception.

photo: Nikki's office is at the end of the hall, here. Looking through the Reception room.

She took us into the Conference Room next to her office, for the intro. First thing I noticed was two round clocks on the wall – one showing San Diego time, the other showing Uganda time. Loved it!

photo: Charlie, Nikki

We sat down and talked about the IC East Africa programs – all of which are run by Ugandans.

Village Savings and Loan Groups: IC works with community leaders in communities around Gulu. The community leaders get a lock box, to be used to set up and run Village Savings and Loan Groups. The community leaders have been trained in business and literacy skills, which they then teach to their fellow community members. This program is called Functional Adult Literacy.

LSP – Scholarship Program: Secondary (high) school and university students from all over Uganda can apply for IC scholarships. The funding helps vulnerable children who demonstrate academic excellence continue their education. The students can apply for university in the USA. Later in the day I met one of the USA University IC Scholars, who told me that the students attend USA Universities that partner with IC. I was SO excited to meet her! Each IC Scholar is assigned to a mentor. The mentors visit the students at home and in school, using the bodas with IC logos that I saw in the central courtyard when I first entered the IC compound. I later got to meet the IC mechanics who takes care of the IC vehicles!

Schools For Schools: USA high school students fundraise and support Uganda secondary (high) schools. IC has two programs within Schools For Schools – Hardware and Software. Hardware are structural improvements. (I later met two of the IC Engineers who ensure that the construction projects are sound.) Software are teacher trainings, textbooks, etc. One example of Software is KOBS – Knowledge of Behavior and Self. Meetings are held where students are provided with guidance to help them determine what makes them happy and sad, how to handle conflict, etc so that the students can do better in school.

Teacher Exchange: USA teachers are in Gulu right now – for a total of six weeks - exchanging knowledge with their peers – Ugandan teachers. Later the Ugandan teachers will travel to the USA to continue the work.

MEND – IC employs Ugandan women who have been affected by the conflict to make a variety of bags which are then sold on the IC website and on the IC USA tours. The women have been working together for years and have developed close relationships. IC employs a counselor to provide the women with extra support. Later in the day today we learned that we will get to visit the MEND Center tomorrow! It’s usually closed to the public, but Nikki was able to get us in!

Congo – We also learned about IC’s work in Congo (DRC). The last IC tour, spring 2011 semester, was dedicated to raising funds for an IC Congo program – FM radio towers. IC constructed the towers so that communities can alert their neighbors when the LRA is on the move. Speaking of the tours, I learned that any IC Uganda employee can apply to represent the org on one of the USA tours. The Scholarship Students are also eligible to apply to represent the org on tour.

After learning about the programs, Nikki walked us through the three IC buildings on the IC campus –one for Administration, one for the Mentors, and one for Schools for Schools.

Our guide, Nikki ... love this photo!

photo: backside of the Admin building

photo: Mentors office - view from the courtyard that connects the 3 buildings.

photo: the courtyard, walking towards the backside of the Admin building.

In the Mentors building I got to meet Richard, who had been my contact at the IC Gulu office, via Tom who I’d met in Jinja. I also got to meet the two program administrators, Leo and Betty. Leo was a teacher in Uganda, then became an IC Mentor, was then hired to work for IC in Betty’s current position, and was then promoted to his current role. I love it!

photo: Betty, me, Leo in their office

Leo and Betty – and everyone else we met at the offices – were so nice and welcoming! I was amazed at how warmly we were received, given how busy everyone is. I was also amazed to learn that IC’s Gulu office has ninety employees, only three of which are from the USA. Mallory, who is from MD and works in the PR office, Nikki’s housemate Bergen who runs MEND, and a guy who wasn’t in town while I was there. In addition to that, the only other two Americans in the Gulu office are Nikki, who is an Intern, and Hillary, who is a Princeton in Africa Fellow. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it was really great to see that many of the Uganda programs are staffed and run by Ugandans.

In addition to visiting the Mentors building, we got to visit the Schools for Schools building (where I met two engineers) and some other staff members.

photo: Schools for Schools staff member at her desk!

We also walked through the Administration Building where I got to meet a woman who runs the Schools For Schools program – the one I was most familiar with before our tour, because that program was the beneficiary for the first IC Tour that I attended, on the University of San Francisco campus Fall 2010 semester.

We finished up our tour by snapping some photos in the reception lobby and outside of the building.

photo: right outside of the compound, as if you are approaching from the road.

photo: right inside of the compound doors, looking towards reception in the Admin building.

photo: our tour group:)Charlie, me, Nikki, Annette in the compound entrance area.

I couldn’t help but snap some photos as we walked down the road away from the IC compound, too – who knows when I’ll be this way again. But I feel SO LUCKY that I got to visit – who would’ve thought that I’d get to see it!!!

photo: walking away from the IC office, which is at the very end of a dead end road.

After the IC tour we took bodas out of town to the Gulu Recreation Center, the home of “the fake zoo”, a playground for adults, and a lake that is big enough to sail on in a canoe. Nikki had been here once before.

photo: I snapped this while sitting on the back of a boda. That's Charlie on the boda ahead of me, in the red shirt. On the way to the Gulu Recreation Center.

We spent a few hours hanging out. I got to swing on a swing set. It brought me back to my high school days, when I had an afterschool job working as an Assistant Teacher at the YMCA Afterschool Progam at the elementary school I had attended. After homework and snack, we used to take the elementary school students to the school gym or outside to the playground. I used to hang out with the little girls – one of whom later attended Frost Valley!

photo: Annette, Charlie, Nikki

In the evening we went over to a bar in Gulu for a 4th of July Party. The bar is owned by an American who hosted the party. He threw out USA trivia questions and showed Independence Day with Will Smith. We left before it was over and headed back to the house. The electricity went out so we pulled out the candles. I had such a nice time lounging on one of the landlord’s overstuffed couches in the living room, hanging out with Charlie, Annette, Nikki and Hillary. Annette brought her guitar to East Africa with her, and played us three original songs that she’d written. The first was about a girl with cerebral palsy that she’d met in South Africa. It’s not included in the song, but Annette told us that she’d fundraised to purchase a year’s worth of diapers for the eight year old girl, who was previously laying on concrete in her own waste all day. Annette doesn’t have any videos of her playing music online, or I’d link to it here:) Overall, a fantastic day!!

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