Monday, August 29, 2011

Post Peace Camp Peace

This is an email that I sent to everyone who worked at Peace Camp detailing our rather challenging and hysterical ride back to Oyam and the impact that the kids are already making in the community.

Hello Peace People,

I hope everyone is
recovering well after our exhausting and amazing week in Gulu. While I know that I'm going to be seeing the majority of you tomorrow I wanted to share some of my post Peace Camp Peace Camper experiences with you.

Our ride back to Oyam from Gulu required a fair amount of teamwork from everyone to keep ourselves in our tiny open backed truck. We were all piled on top of one another but no one complained and everyone looked out for one another. The kids sang songs and deci
ded that rather than chanting the names of their counselor groups, which were obviously all different, they should find a more unifying title. They started yelling that they were The Peacemakers with pride. It was only a matter of time before we were pulled over by the police. He was obviously looking for a bribe and as Walter, one of our Ugandan co counselors, got out of the truck to try to negotiate all of the kids started calling to the officer, ‘We are the peacemakers!!! If you don’t let us go who will help you keep the peace!!!’ It was pretty hysterical, I was proud. (Yes, we did still have to pay the bribe but at least they tried.)

I when we reached I invited anyone who wanted to meet up to come to Ngai Sub-County this afternoon (Monday). Eight campers came and lot of these kids live REALLY far from here. Some of them probably walked about 2 hours each way to be able to meet up.

We started with some small activities and played a few games but it was clear that they were looking for something of more substance. We had a discussion about the importance of trust in the peace building process and then we did trust falls. I explained that they could teach people in their school or communities about trust using the same methods. Naturally they all said that they would have absolutely no problems with teaching this new trust lesson on their own and didn’t want to practice. I decided to put them to the test.

I managed to round up about 15 local kid to be the first students of our students. At first our kids were a little shy but after a few minutes they worked it out and jumped right into their roles as community peer peace educators. Each one of them played a part in the lesson. Some talked about the importance of trust, some demonstrated the trust fall for the group, others helped teach the safety tactics and gave encouragement to the kids. After successfully getting every single one of their participants to do the trust fall they gathered the group into a circle and lead a reflection. They then taught the kids a few of the games that they learned at camp. When they finally announced that their lesson was over the local kids protested saying that they were having too much fun and wanted our kids to teach them something else.

I can’t express how proud I was of all of them today. I didn’t even start the meeting off with the intention of having them teach a lesson so they literally had no idea that it was coming. They stepped up to the challenge and at the end all of the local kids had a lot of fun and said that they learned something new. Their lesson was relatively seamless as they communicated with one another calmly and allowing everyone to take the lead on at least one piece of things. Three of our out of school youth, Jimmy, David, and Leo, who were all a bit more reserved during camp, stepped up and lead some of the more challenging reflective parts of the presentation. It was awesome.

I recognize that this email is a little bit fluffy and rambly but I know how much time, work, and heart you all put into helping to empower the campers this past week. I wanted to let you know that it worked.


Saturday, August 27, 2011

Peace Camp

For one week 80 youth from 4 different tribes of Northern Uganda joined us for our first ever Peace Camp. The youth were both boys and girls ranging from 15-19 and had all been heavily affected by the conflict with the Lord’s Resistance Army. Some of the kids had been abducted and forced to fight with the rebels, others spent their childhoods in IDP camps, many saw their parents, siblings, and friends murdered and some were even forced to assist with the killings, many of the girls had been raped and some had children. All grew up in harsh conditions where it was unclear whether or not they’d survive until the next day.

Peace Camp was designed to allow the youth to address some of the lingering issues and trauma resulting from their experiences during the war. The hope was that they would be able to release some of the burdens they had been carrying and start the process of bringing peace to themselves, their families, and their communities. The main topics addressed during camp were forgiveness, reconciliation, positive communication, trust, peaceful living, and looking towards the future.

I was lucky enough to have been selected to be a counselor for the camp which meant that my Ugandan co-counselor and I was responsible for bringing 10 campers through the days activities and helping them process all of the new information they were getting as well as their feelings.

They training was extremely dynamic with interactive lessons prepared by PCVs, experts brought in to address certain topics, a man who had also been abducted who now runs an extremely successful company, an opportunity to showcase their traditional tribal dances to the kids from other regions, and even a trip to a phenomenal ropes course to put lessons on teamwork, communication, and self-esteem into action.

It’s difficult for me to write about Peace Camp because it was such an amazing experience both for me and my campers. It feels too big to put into words. What I can tell you is that I saw kids who’s lives had been dark smile, laugh, and play. I saw kids mourn the loss of parents who one day just disappeared. I saw friendships made between children of different tribes that had historically blamed one another for the violence. I saw kids whose bright futures had been stolen from them see that the world can still hold opportunities for them if they are willing to take control of their lives again. I feel so lucky to have been a part of this experience.