What now?

It’s been a little over two and a half weeks since my feet have last touched Ugandan soil and since that time I have been readjusting to life back in the States. When people ask me how it has been so far in the transition back home, I typically respond that it has been easier than expected. In some ways I feel guilty for so seamlessly assimilating back into the American culture as if that somehow invalidates my four months of learning and living in Uganda. Yet, I know that my time in Uganda this semester was invaluable and I pray that the lessons I learned continue to permeate my “new normal” – whatever that may entail.

Some of the lessons that I hope to hold to include professional, personal, and spiritual learning. I’ve gathered innumerable transferable skills from my social work internship such as practicing and gaining confidence in my engagement and assessment skills with clients, even despite language and cultural barriers. I’ve learned how to adapt and be flexible when working with limited resources and fluid schedules. I had a chance to practice using my professional voice while also maintaining cultural humility.

Personally, I have learned how important and freeing it is to admit to the struggles and challenges that I am facing. I’ve been able to name my strengths and identify where I still have room for growth. I’ve been showered with hospitality and love and challenged to reflect the same lifestyle.

Through it all, I have been continually reminded and comforted by the kind presence of my omnipresent God. I’ve struggled with the reality of injustice and pain and yet the possibility to still hope. I have been challenged to not be so concerned with what I want to be, but who I want to be and how God wants me to reflect his love.

As I have left one home and return to another, I continue the search of a new place where I hope to begin my career as a social worker. Yet, no matter where I may end up or what job title I may hold, my prayer (borrowed from St. Francis) remains the same:

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is sadness, joy;

Where there is darkness, light.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;

Not so much to be understood as to understand;

Not so much to be loved, as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive,

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

// webele nyo, Uganda

Advertisements

The Start of Goodbyes

Ready or not, here it is! Tonight I will spend my last night in Mukono on the UCU campus and I’m not quite sure how that is possible. The past month has again flown by full of continually learning in the classroom and at my internship.

Even when I thought it was impossible, I was able to complete all of my required hours to fulfill my senior social work practicum requirement. I am so thankful of all of the invaluable lessons that I was able to learn while interning at Refugee Law Project (RLP). I was able to engage in several new activities that led to social work and personal learning. Some of the valuable lessons I learned while completing the various tasks at RLP included a better understanding of the importance of referral as well as the value of the client-counselor relationship. I have learned the importance of continually presenting oneself as a learner in a country and culture vastly different than my own, which will continue as I return to my home country. I was also able to practice the difficult task of learning to terminate with clients that I had worked without regularly over the past few months.

In addition to the usual emotional difficulties in departing from clients, I was also struck by the tension of saying goodbye to clients as I return home as they are refugees who do not have a home that they can readily return to. I was reminded of the privilege and blessing of the security of returning to my homeland while also being able to establish new homes abroad.

Another hard goodbye included bidding farewell to my host family and roommate. Both have been unbelievably welcoming and intentional about creating a place of home and security here for me in Uganda. No amount of thanks can express how grateful I am for this unbelievable hospitality from my host family picking me up each day from my internship, to my roommate welcoming me into her home to celebrate Easter with her family.

Heading out also includes some fun activities such as the Honors College Global 5k as well as the partnering to lead community worship. Last night we also celebrated the completion of our program with speeches and great food.

While I am leaving Mukono, the journey still continues for a bit. Tomorrow morning, our group heads out to Rwanda for a week to continue the learning journey in experiencing first-hand the country’s history and reconciliation process. Many feelings accompany the end of experiences such as this, all of which are hard to put into words. For now, I’ll leave you with a few glimpses of my final days here and look forward to sharing more once I return back to the States.

 

Rural, safari, and internship – oh my!

Another month has passed and so much has happened! It can be hard to recount everything that has occurred during that time so I’ll try and give a short summary (along with some visuals!) of what life has been looking like for me lately.

I have officially reached the halfway point of this experience which is again a mind-boggling fact…and halfway means midterms! School work picked up a bit, but once these assignments were completed we entered into a time of retreat in Serere, Uganda for rural homestays!

1 cows

Grazing cows in the sweet potato field

2ma ang

Such a hard working lady – my host mama!

During our week in rural Uganda, each student was placed in the home of a family to live and learn beside them. It was a week full of new experiences and learning and growing…and growing older! My 21st birthday will definitely be an unforgettable experience as I shared it with a family that I had just met the day before and in a context so different from what I am used to. Yet even so far from home, I felt the love of family and friends as I was surprised by the visit of the USP staff and warming birthday wishes from loved ones from back home!

5 n

Birthday surprise!

I learned to do a lot during my time in Serere including pumping water, learning to carry water or vegetables on my head, milking a cow by hand, peeling cassava, shelling g-nuts, and grinding flour. Rural life is hard work! Yet I was also able to enjoy the work as tasks were shared with the fellowship of my host family and the surrounding neighbors.

While I valued the time spent in Serere, I was excited to greet my USP friends as we headed for a time of debrief from the week to enjoy the beauty of Sipi falls. This time was helpful to process what I had learned from rural homestays about what poverty is and is not and to consider the complicated interconnectedness of education, migration to the city, job availability, and cultural expectations. Following this time of refreshment, we traveled back to Mukono to return to our studies.

Another week flew by, and in no time I headed out for another action packed weekend at Murchison Falls National Park to appreciate the beautiful landscape and wildlife there! The journey to and fro our safari was quite an adventure, but the thrilling experience was so worth it. It was such a surreal moment to sit on top of a van riding into the African sunset as I’m looking into the face of giraffes, lions, and elephants. God’s handiwork is amazing!

Among all of this fun and busyness, most of my time during the week is spent at my internship at Refugee Law Project where I am practicing and developing my social work skills. Even when many of the clients do not speak the same language as me and require an interpreter, I have learned how to rely more on nonverbal skills. With time, I have become more and more comfortable interacting with the clients with such different life experiences from myself while continually learning from their stories. I have learned how to take initiative and use my voice which gives me confidence for my future work as a social worker. I have also truly recognized the value of being a well-informed social worker that is knowledgeable about resources and current events to be able to holistically and effectively engage with clients.

As usual, time is flying, but I look forward to all of the learning that is still ahead here in Uganda. Some days, however, I really just wish for a quick chat with a friend from home or a hug from my Mom, but I have been blessed by wonderful new friends that I love and that care for me so well. Each day, I pray for an attitude of presence, patience, and a willingness to learn. As life here becomes the new normal, sometimes I need to take a step back and recognize how amazing this experience is and how wild it is that have this great opportunity for learning! I am so thankful.

Compassion

One month.

That’s just so crazy to me! One month since this journey began. It feels longer than that and shorter than that. It seems so much has happened and I am learning exponentially.

Because of the distance in travel time that my internship is from the campus at UCU, I have the privilege to live with a welcoming Ugandan host family part of my week! While there are some logistical challenges with traveling back and forth and being away from campus for most of the weekdays, I am so thankful for a gracious and loving family that creates a little bit of home for me in Kampala, and I look forward to continually getting to know them better.

I am getting into the (fluid) routine of activities at my internship at Refugee Law Project (RLP). So far, I have observed/helped in the registration process for persons with disabilities at the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) refugee registration event in Kampala, accompanied and advocated for a client to receive medical assistance at a local hospital, and observed and documented client counseling sessions while simultaneously learning more about RLP’s and Uganda’s policies and services for refugees. All while engaging in these activities, I am witnessing raw and real stories of suffering and pain which produces questions of why I am allotted the privileges and resources which I hold.

In our Faith and Action class on campus, we have been reading a book called Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life which has been pushing me to contemplate my reactions to all that I am seeing and learning. Compassion is so much more than just feeling sorry for another person but instead it should be a reflection of the love of Immanuel – God with us, which calls for crazy love which might put us in some uncomfortable situations. In compassion, there is no “us” and “them” in the distinction of who is blessing who but instead an acknowledgement of mutual brokenness. In this way,“Radical servanthood challenges us, while attempting persistently to overcome poverty, hunger, illness, and any other forms of human misery, to real the gentle presence of our compassionate God in the midst of our broken world.” God is the only one who can bring healing and change and I am a mere and small vessel; but I am praying for his divine gift of compassion that will bring me to love more and love truly.

 

Alongside learning some of these tough lessons, God has been blessing me with gifts that remind me of his love and his presence such as attending an international church service singing worship songs I love, a visit from a friend from my home university, enjoying fellowship with friends and ice cream, and just witnessing creation’s beauty!

 

Your love so deep is washing over me

Your face is all I seek; You are my everything //

All fear removed, I breath You in

I lean into Your love. Oh, Your love

 

These powerful and true words that mean so much to me in this season and I pray they ring too for you too!

 

The learning begins

Officially one week in!

It’s hard to believe that it has only been one week. It has been a long week but it has been good. The week began with orientation for the semester and the beginning of classes.

I am already getting settled into my home for the next few months at Uganda Christian University in Mukono. The campus is gorgeous and our group has been graciously and warmly welcomed (by the students, staff, and the weather). I will be taking two classes at the university to accompany the rest of my time at my senior social work practicum (which I am so excited about!).

I will be interning at an organization called the Refugee Law Project (RLP) based in Uganda’s capital city of Kampala. RLP is an organization that began in 1999 in a response to the high number of refugees that Uganda has welcomed into its borders. RLP provides legal, mental, and psychosocial assistance with the purpose to “empower asylum seekers, refugees, deportees, IDPs, and host communities to enjoy their human rights and lead dignified lives”. (Learn more about their great work at refugeelawproject.org )!! Here I will be working mainly in the Mental Health and Psychosocial Wellbeing department of the organization assisting in various activities. I’ve only had one day at my internship so far, but I look forward to all that I will learn there and for the professional growth that will accompany the experience.

 

I am already learning some great lessons within my first week here in Uganda. I’ve learned how to properly hand wash my clothes, where to find some great places to eat in town, and I have been challenged to think about my purpose and learning experience for the semester. I have been challenged to push into the tension and discomfort and know that I will grow from it. And I pray that through everything, it may be “all for the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10: 31).

Just one of the many beautiful sunsets!

Heading Out

I’m going! I can’t believe that the time is finally here and I am heading to Uganda for a semester abroad.

Back to Uganda. It was three and a half years ago that I left Ugandan soil after a life-changing and eye-opening mission trip experience. I fell in love with the land and the people and since that time have longed to return to Uganda. And it is finally happening!

There is some comfort to return to a country that I have been to before when facing all of the other uncertainties of a study abroad experience. Yet even with that comfort, everything is different than before. I will be in a new location and here for a redefined purpose. I am entering this experience as a social work student. I will be learning from the people of the land and learning through action. Still, I believe that God has allowed me to embark on this journey to love others and to learn more about him.

As I enter into this new season and this new experience, I pray for a continual renewing of humility, grace, and love. I pray that I will be able to remember why I am embarking on this journey – I am going to learn and I am going to love. I pray that I will be able to grow professionally as a social worker, grow socially, and grow spiritually.

There are so many unknowns ahead. But I have peace and hope. For my God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and he is with me always. I joyfully look forward to this experience and would be honored if you join this journey with me!