Thursday, January 13, 2011

Sermon on Uganda JustJourney Available as Congregational Resource

Rev. John Gibbons, chair of the UUSC Board of Trustees and a participant on the Uganda JustJourney, has written a moving sermon that offers an insightful account of the trip. "White Men Stuck in the Mud!" follows the journey from Kampala to Pader and back, delving into the African concepts of sankofa (taking what is good of the past into the present to make forward progress) and ubuntu (interdependence).

With UUSC, Gibbons has generously made the sermon available as a congregational resource for anyone interested in addressing and bringing to light the struggles of Ugandans — from facing anti-LGBTQ discrimination and violence to returning home after years of war in northern Uganda. We hope that you can use this as another tool to join us — UUSC, the UUA, our partners in Uganda, and all the Ugandans who face these issues each day — in solidarity as we strive to make human rights a reality for everyone.

Read and download the sermon on UUSC's website today!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

This Is What Experiential Learning Looks Like

Nichole Cirillo, UUSC’s campaign manager, reflects below on the ingredients of a successful experiential learning trip: the partners, effective planning, and — most of all — engaged participants.

A month ago today I set out for theJust Journey to Uganda. As the trip’s leader, I was unsure of many things then — whether everyone would arrive on time (they didn’t), whether the transportation across bumpy roads would be smooth (it wasn’t), and, mainly, whether I could provide the kind of experience that would bring the issue of our partner’s work in northern Uganda to life. To animate it in a way that would make people truly understand what was at stake and how complex the process to restore justice to those affected really was.

On the way back from the airport that first night with a load of weary just-arrived participants in the van, I asked the young woman sitting next to me why she decided to come on the trip. She was effusive: the description sounded amazing, she’d never been to Africa, someone in her congregation had read about UUSC’s work. “Lots of reasons,” she said, a little bleary-eyed but happy. “But really, it was just a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I couldn’t pass up!”

Her words made me nervous, and all the way back to the hotel I worried about the sacrifice it had taken for her to get here — the cost, the time away from work, the toll of the international flights. Had I done enough, I wondered, to ensure that this woman would go home saying that this indeed had been a once-in-a-lifetime trip?

The thing is, at UUSC we can only do so much. We have fantastic partners, and our work with Caritas in Uganda is no exception. They are people who have put their lives on the line so that those ripped from their communities during the brutality of the civil war with the Lord’s Resistance Army can go home again. They are an inspiration to all those who work on behalf of justice. Staff at UUSC work hard to construct pedagogy for these trips and to lay out what we hope participants will take home with them.

But ultimately, that learning is up to the traveler. And once the plans are made, the speakers lined up, and the transportation seen to, we put our faith in those who opt to come along that they will let themselves grasp the true meaning of being there.

“The longest journey you will ever make in life is from your mind to your heart,” Chief Joseph once said. That night on the bus, I couldn’t have foreseen it, but everyone aboard would indeed be making the trip of a lifetime.

For more information on UUSC JustJourneys, please contact me, Nichole Cirillo, at

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

JustJourney to Uganda comes to an end

Written by UUA International Resources Director Rev. Eric Cherry.

The JustJourney to Uganda ended on November 16 after two days of delightful hospitality with the Unitarian Universalists of Uganda. On Sunday we arrived in Kampala in time to attend a special worship service at the New Life Church, led by Rev. Mark Kiyimba. The service was extraordinarily welcoming, inspirational, and lively. Our group presented the congregation with a chalice from the United States, and appreciated the warm welcome we received from the congregation. During the service, Rev. Mark described the work of the UUSC's partner - Caritas - in Northern Uganda, and how important those efforts and BGLT work are for Unitarian Universalists.

On Monday morning, we drove down to Masaka district where the New Life School and Orphanage are. Along the way, we stopped at the equator and saw the Coriolis Effect demonstration, which was really neat.

The welcome we received at the New Life School was pretty incredible, and the continuing growth of the school was amazing to see. The presentations that the children made for their parents and us, their visitors, were great: singing, dancing, etc. They must have prepared for weeks, and we were so grateful. We also visited a poultry project that was inspired by a UU Community Capacity Building workshop held in the same community last spring. The project is doing great and is inspiring similar livelihood projects around the community.

Our last visit of the day was also remarkable: The New Life Orphanage is a home for 18 children whose parents have died from HIV/AIDS. The children we met here will be with all of us for a very long time. Rev. Mark also showed us the location for a new orphanage which will have twice the space and be the home for nearly 45 children. Its building is off to a great start.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Villages of Pader Deep in the Bush

John Crossan, a participant on the Uganda JustJourney, shares his awe of the villages of northern Uganda and the environment that they inhabit.

The trip to Pader has been amazing. Two things I'd like to comment on are the villages we visited and the "bush." Actually, the villages are deep in the bush so they are related.

My wife and I were with the group that visited two villages — one with perhaps two young families and one built for the vulnerable or elderly. These villages seemed self-sustaining, especially with the availability of oxen and plows. A number of members of the villages told us their stories of survival during the war.

The bush is truly dense and extensive; a person who steps in the bush would disappear in a few steps, especially if he or she stays low. It is easy to see how a rebel or a villager could completely disappear in the bush, with its dense grass, bushes, and a few trees.

Humbled and Hopeful

Constance Kane, UUSC’s vice president and COO, reflects on the first leg of the Uganda JustJourney, moved and inspired by the people she has met and the stories she has heard.

We have completed the first leg of our JustJourney. It has been a profoundly moving trip, rich with testimony of deep and previous wrongs as well as rebuilding, repairing, and envisioning an empowered future.

We have learned firsthand about the atrocities committed in northern Uganda and listened to heartbreaking testimonies of abductions, years of subsistence living in the bush, and deaths of mothers, brothers, sisters, husbands, and wives. We have felt the shame of having been part of this long-forgotten conflict.

But peace in northern Uganda is now at hand. Families have returned to their villages, schools are being built, children are beginning to feel safe again, and people are starting to earn their own livelihoods again. We visited villages which are alive with the energy of optimism, moving from owning one goat to five, one ox to two oxen and a plow — all indications of growth and rebirth.

We have spoken with villagers, government representatives, and university and school teachers, and each conveys a singularly consistent message: we believe in ourselves and the future of Uganda. The times of handouts and foreign aid are winding down, and Ugandans are ready to steer their own future.

So we leave humbled and hopeful — humbled by what the people of northern Uganda have endured and hopeful because we know their future is in their very capable hands.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Jennifer's Story: Surviving the War in Northern Uganda

Today our group is still in the Pader district, after spending two days out in the country where Achioli people have returned to their villages from the internally displaced persons (IDP) camps. UUSC’s partner organization, Caritas, has worked to help people return by having social workers work with returning families to help them find resources to enable resettlement. Today one of them, Jennifer, shared her story with us:

Jennifer’s first experience with the war in northern Uganda came in 1996 when her village was attacked by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). She spent two days hiding in the bush with her young children until they were gone. A secretary by training, Jennifer left her job at the primary school when people were being displaced to camps, but she was able to get a job helping with food and supply distribution in the IDP camp for Sudanese refugees. In 2000, that camp was attacked by the LRA; she sought to make her way into the bush, but she was in trapped in the office and surrounded that night.

In the morning she watched as LRA members sorted and butchered her coworkers, some of whose body parts were boiled in a kettle. Before she was forced to eat this, however, the government army entered the camp and gave chase to the LRA soldiers. Jennifer, taking her four-year-old with her, decided to make her way on foot to her home village, which took almost three days. She arrived to learn that the LRA was hunting her, and that they had already killed two of her uncles who had denied knowing her. Her father advised her to flee, and gathered a little bit of money from relatives so she could make the trip to the town of Lira. She found lodging there, but had no more money and two children to feed. The women from whom she was renting her room helped her start selling small things in a market stall so she could support herself. After awhile, she was able to find a job as a secondary school secretary in another town. However, the town where this school was located was not in Achioli territory; she was in the Langey area, and the Ugandan Army attacked there, so again Jennifer left her job.

She then learned of some American scholars doing a study in the IDP camps on the effects of war on youth, and she was able to work with them as a field researcher. As this study was concluding, she came to the attention of Martha Thompson, UUSC’s Program Manager for Rights in Humanitarian Crisis, who had come to do an assessment with UUSC’s Program Director Atema Eclai for the UUSC to begin work in northern Uganda. UUSC decided to partner with Caritas in Pader district in northern Uganda, helping people return to their villages. When UUSC launched their program through Caritas, Martha remembered her discussions with Jennifer and negotiated with Caritas to join the team working with the displaced. Jennifer began to work on the UUSC Caritas project in 2008.

It’s easy to see why Martha was impressed by this amazing woman and wished to bring her onto the team. She has shown courage, commitment, and amazing resilience in the face of adversity. The need to support and care for her children, one of whom has been traumatized badly by his war experiences, has been a driving force for Jennifer. She supports not only her own two children, but seven of her sisters’ children as well, because her two sisters were killed — one by the Ugandan Army, one by the LRA – during the years of fighting. When Jennifer engages with her clients, they learn that she is truly standing with them, having experienced many of the same horrors and hardship they have during the long time of war.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Light of Hope in Dark Nights Past and Present

On the anniversary of Kristallnacht, Rev. John Gibbons, chair of the UUSC Board of Trustees and a participant on the Uganda JustJourney, honors the strength of the people in northern Uganda who have faced the devastation of war and are rebuilding their lives.

Tonight the electricity was out in Pader, a remote town in northern Uganda much traumatized by the long-forgotten war. As our group gathered at the end of a long day, former UUSC board member Jim Gunning lit our flaming chalice in part for its light but especially to remind us that the chalice was originally designed in the 1930s for us in Prague and elsewhere in Europe so that the Unitarian Service Committee could be identified as a safe haven to those fleeing the tightening vise of Nazism.

Now, in another country and on another continent, UUSC’s work continues as UUSC partners aid refugees who — despite horrific losses, dislocation and trauma — now attempt to return home to their villages in the aftermath of war. For many years, thousands of people were forced to live in the fear and chaos of camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs), women and girls risking rape when seeking firewood beyond the camp perimeters.

With many children abducted to serve as child soldiers and sex slaves, and many others murdered and missing, there is need today for both justice and reconciliation within families, communities, and badly brutalized hearts. In the remaining days of our JustJourney, we will continue to hear the stories of those hurt and healing.

Noticing that it is November 9, I realized that on this date in 1938 fascist mobs across Germany attacked, desecrated, and destroyed Jewish homes, synagogues and stores. Kristallnacht, the “night of the broken glass,” is recalled as a harbinger of the Holocaust. Condoned by the state and empowered by the silence of bystanders, evil enlarged overnight.

For northern Uganda, it was more than 10 years before the world much noticed the war and the suffering of thousands. “We felt abandoned,” the people say. Today, with the guns mostly put down and the camps mostly closed, many relief workers and nongovernmental organizations are leaving Uganda and returning to their homes in other countries. Meanwhile, the Ugandan people are now returning to their homes and villages, their lives devastated by war, still needful of justice and reconciliation. Sharing their lives and aspirations, UUSC remains with them.

On this anniversary of Kristallnacht, I recall those who once fled their homes in Europe and, on this dark night in Pader, I honor those who here and now are returning home. May peace prevail and may none be abandoned.