I guess we should start with the basics in case people haven't been following me on Facebook. I'm in semi-urban Mukono, Uganda. My organization is called artivists 4 life and they do activism through art. That means anything from billboards and murals to skits on social issues performed in the community. They are very grass roots, but the goal is to get them registered as a CBO (Community Based Organization). So we've been going through that arduous process of applying for that. The fun part is working with these 12 or so, 20 something year old artivists with whom I have already developed life long friendships. My organization came to Mukono about a year and a half ago and recruited these idle, out of school youths who were interested in becoming artivists. They have been training them and building their capacity to make change in their community. Part of my job (at least as I've defined it) is to build up their leadership skills and any other technical skills they may need (ie. computer training, lessons on basic economics, critical thinking activities, resume development, etc). I've seen a lot progress in the few short months I've been here and I have a lot of optimism about their futures.
We operate out of a Youth Center:
There's a goat in this picture because I have found them to be the most photogenic barnyard animal, but the building in the background is the youth center.
The Mukono District Youth Center is part of the Walter Reed Project out of Makerery University in Kampala. They are PEPFAR funded and have a long history with Peace Corps Volunteers (PCV's). Alana Sutter is my awesome friend whose is the PCV who has been pretty much put in charge of running the youth center. Alana lives about a half hour walk from me, but the youth center is the middle point between our houses. I feel very lucky because we have become good friends and we get to work closely together on whatever projects we can dream up! This experience would be much harder without her and I'm sure our friendship will live on long after our Peace Corps service.
Her organization, MUWRP, is artivists 4 life's only partner, so most of what we do is in collaboration with them. We managed to get 2 of my artivists (Maurice and Kisitu) hired as volunteers there which is an awesome opportunity because they get really good training in HIV testing and counseling (which is the primary function of the youth center). The really cool thing is that this youth center is brand new and we have been given a lot of creative freedom to come up with projects that align both our organizations goals. We've been putting the artivists in a kind of promotional role. It works out well because the age group of people int their 20s can be hard to reach out to and they are really receptive to activism through art (artivism) done by people their age.
I'll give you a typical day/week in my life out here. I wake up early most of the time and check my emails. I do a huge percentage of my work through email. Being as we don't really have an office, I can get a lot of work done from my couch:
That's what my living room looks like right now (...after I moved some beer bottles out of the shot)
With the new activities Alana and I are putting in place, I will have a lot more, but right now I normally have 2 workshops each week. Those normally take place at the youth center and I always really enjoy them. So breakfast is usually a rolex (it's kind of like a breakfast burrito and I eat waaaaayyy too many of them). I'm pretty much in a small city and right down the street is my main rolex homie, Bengy. I practice a little Luganda (the local language) with him and either head to the youth center for a workshop or back home to work on my computer. The nice thing is that no day is the same here. We have a laptop, kindly sent from my Canadian supervisor Leslie, that I've been teaching basic computer skills to my artivists on. They sign up for times, so I have them randomly throughout the week. I also give guitar lessons to another main homie, Kenneth who is picking it up really fast. I think we might start a band sometime soon with Maurice's booming church voice and his brother Paul on the drums. I hang out with those 3 guys the most.
I found myself kind of guarded about befriending Ugandans at first. I needed them to figure out how to do a lot of stuff in this country, so I think that helped break the ice. But then about 3 months in, I realized what I was doing and now I've started to develop a social life here which I am enjoying very much. I'm thinking more and more about getting this band started. Maybe have songs with positive life lessons and HIV education... who knows!?
I was really worried at first being placed in a city. Where was I going to get into nature!? Fortunately, the Catholic Church bought up this big hill right by my house and has made it Prayer Mountain (though, I call it Spirit Mountain). It has a small amount of forest where I often see monkeys which is a treat! It's great because it's a big hill to climb (as I learned to love in Ellensburg), it's got forest and I can take foot paths down the other side and then take the road back to make a nice hour long hike. So I usually hit that at least 3 or 4 times a week.
Everywhere I go, all hours of the day, children are yelling MUZUNGU!!!! BYE MAZUNGU!!! Muzungu means white person which can actually be asians as well. It's a strange thing that I didn't really know how to react to at first. It comes from every single child in my city of 60,000. I quickly realized that if I decided to be annoyed by it, I would loose my mind in this place. So now I just think of them as little cheer leaders rooting me on in whatever my current task may be. I've got the ones on my street calling me Katumba now at least (my Muganda name). My 4 year old neighbor is the coolest. His name is Van and he has excellent English. He's definitely a part of my emotional and mental support network (along with Alana).
This is him and the way my kitchen used to be set up. It has since been moved inside because I never used it out there.
My days usually end with some kind of media viewing on laptop as I make a to do list. I could not survive without lists, they are all over my apartment chaotically organized in like 7 notebooks. The most important things I have here are my laptop (I could not function without this thing), my guitar, my ipod, my backpack and my speakers. Losing any one of these things may send me into an existential tailspin.
So, this is turning out to be a long blog, but there is one more topic to cover. My side project is with an organization called AHUDA (African Humanitarians for Development Alliance) who have built a school for orphans who have lost their parents to HIV way deep in the village of Mayangayanga. Maurice is their co-founder and coordinator and the one who introduced me to the project. I'm getting some teaching materials from my awesome friend Jan Gaffe which I'm going to train their teachers on (for an economic development volunteer, I do a lot of teaching which I'm finding I love). I am also applying to have their school house finished by another PCVs organization, Brick by Brick, which will be awesome if we can make it happen. Then the plan is to do this kind of grant through which Peace Corps lets me fund raise from America and fill up the building with all the things a school needs (hoping ya'll can reach deep into your hearts and your wallets for this one!). It's kind of a pain in the ass to get out to the school, but I love the project and the kids and I'm really committed to helping in any way I can.
Let me say that this has been an emotional roller coaster these past 5 months. I've done so much on the job learning and I am learning so much from the people here. Some days I'm King Shit of Turd Mountain and other days I want to punt a puppy! However, I have absolutely no regrets and I'm finding out so much about my place in this world and what I have to offer. Every day, I find myself in disbelief about the awesomeness that my life has become.