Giving Hope and Healing in Gulu, Uganda

Our last trip of 2008 was to Gulu, Uganda, the site of one of the worst humanitarian crises in recent history.  Joseph Kony, the leader of the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army), has terrorized northern Uganda by abducting children and forcing them to do unimaginable acts.  Most of the children we met had in some way been victims of this horror.

The court we built is in Kaunda Grounds, in the heart of Gulu Town.  Countless kids flock there daily and this court will give them a much needed positive alternative.  Sports have a unique way of bringing hope and purpose for young kids as they recover from trauma.  In fact, many non-government organizations in Gulu are attempting to use sports to help in their efforts.  Our court will be a space where genuine healing will take place.

This court was a very challenging project.  One of our steps was to put a layer of small stones on the court before pouring the concrete.  When the truckload arrived with boulders, and the only tool we had was one sledgehammer, you can imagine our disbelief.  After going to buy some more sledgehammers, it took 2 1/2 days of the hardest work imaginable to finish. Needless to say we made quite an impact on the locals; this wasn’t exactly work that they were used to seeing ‘white people’ do.

In addition to working on the court, our team was able to take part in a number of other activities.  We visited the shelters where thousands of children would migrate to nightly escape the threat of abduction from the rebels.  We also visited an IDP (Internally Displaced Persons) camp.  It was so sad to hear stories from 19 year old young adults who were born in the camp and that is all they knew of life.  The kids performed some of the traditional Acholi dances that are being used for therapy.  We took up an offering and bought them new drums and other equipment to use.

Our group took some time to visit with two organizations, Invisible Children and Compassion International.  We were inspired to learn ways that we can continue to help support the people of Uganda when we get home.

One final personal highlight was being hosted for dinner by one of the Acholi tribal elders.  In fact, our host was the chairman of the Acholi elders during the initial peace talks with Joseph Kony.  It was amazing to listen to his stories. Plus, they served a feast of food from their garden and even killed one of their goats for our team.  We didn’t watch the slaughter, which was good news or bad news depending upon which member of our team you asked. Regardless, it was such an amazing cultural experience.  We got a taste of the richness of the Acholi culture, and it helped us understand northern Uganda as a region not only of devastation, but of beauty and hope.

“I love the community in this place, and that is one thing I hope to take back home with me – to greet strangers, to include the loner, to open my heart to the people around me.”

“I knew coming into this trip I would go back changed.  However, I didn’t expect ALL of my views to change.  I feel that by coming here, I have found my calling.”

“They challenged my way of speaking, thinking, living, and showed me how to love life for what it is, and not regret it for what it could be.  Perhaps the most important truth they exemplified is that happiness does not come with money, comfort, peace, or convenience, but with love. It is such a simple fact, but often forgotten in our fast-paced way of life.”

A special thanks to the Gulu court sponsors:

Dr. Scott and Glenda Burns, Sean and Ashley Rybar, John Taffin, Pfizer, Derek and Selene Nesland,

Marna Kaady, Rob Kyne, First Presbyterian Church, David and Caryl Ann Copenhaver, Hinton Development