Quick Update

I’m living in a village without electricity, running water and I have really spotty internet service BUT I finally have a mailing address! Send me some love at P.O. Box 757 Fort Portal, Uganda. I’m turning 25 in a week and the only thing on my wish list is children’s books and if you do send me a book, I’ll make sure to express myundying love to you via a letter or postcard.

Right now I’m drinking wine that me and my friend had to open with a pair of first aid scissors and taking in the sight of the Rwenzori mountains in the distance. Life is hard but so good that I can’t even complain.

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Abuse

The memories came fast, unsolicited and deeply painful.

It hadn’t even been a week since I was sworn in as an official Peace Corps volunteer that I found myself at a two day workshop about child protective rights. The workshop was presented by the Bantwana Initiative of the World Education organization. I was the only Peace Corps volunteer in Uganda assigned to work with them as my secondary project.

In typical Ugandan fashion, I was given a 1 day notice and absolutely no information about the nature of the workshop. As I entered the tiny classroom where myself and 40 head teachers and deputies were assembling, my mind raced with all the things I still had to do back in my new home. I was high on the novelty of living in a place without electricity or running water and I disliked being away from the only home I’ve ever had to myself. Two days seemed like a lifetime where my to-do list was concerned. I quickly prepared myself mentally with a pep talk as I realized that the workshop was about child abuse in Uganda but as always, I could not anticipate the direction of my memories.

The presenter, clad in a kitenge blouse and matching skirt, started talking about a recent survey conducted by the organization “to assess the level of knowledge, attitude and practices regarding child protection among pupils, teachers and community case care workers.” She defined the sample size: 546 pupils from P4 and P5, 85 teachers and 20 CCCWs. Then, she gave us the numbers.

95.8% of children reported having been abused in and around the sampled schools through bullying, use of harsh words and vulgar language and “bad touches.”

I saw myself at 6 years old, being touched in places that I’ve yet to discover myself. I was scared, confused and ashamed, emotions that would characterize my entire childhood and teenage years.

62.1% of children interviewed reported that abuse had been by a teacher.

What I remembered most of the teacher was his white beard and disgusting mouth. I never looked at him when he called me into that dark room but his face remains clear in my mind. Instead I focused on the ruler on his desk that he used to hit the other students. The ruler had a girl’s name written on it and I made up stories, wondering if he touched her too, like he touched me. When he was finished, told me that I was a bad girl, echoing the words of my parents.

52% of children disagree that adults who have sex with a child should be punished.

I saw myself at age 21, sitting in an uncomfortable chair in a therapist’s office at the brink of a breakdown as more and more details flooded my memories. “You talk like you deserved the abuse. No one deserves abuse.” I succumbed to my vulnerability.

18.7% said they or their friends had had sex with an adult in the past six months.

I snapped back to the present, to the almost 25 year old me – still vulnerable but equipped with a feeling of strength that came from battling far too many demons. Although my experience never led to penetration, I could imagine all too well what these kids were going through and I was angry.

The rest of the day was spent discussing ways to bring awareness to schools about child protective rights and how to increase reporting of child abuse cases in school. We learned how to provide guidance and counseling to children and how to create an open environment for communication. I had a discussion with the country director and project coordinators and I told them my story, something I feel like I will be doing a lot of in the coming months.

Later that night, I sat in my candlelit living room sipping on a glass of red wine and reflecting on the day. Although I was emotionally exhausted, a sense of peace had settled in and the closing words of the presenter resonated in my head “If not you, then who? If not now, then when?”

People of Uganda

People of Uganda

Integration plays a huge part in doing your job effectively as a Peace Corps Volunteer. It is one of the first things we’re taught as trainees and it is stressed throughout the 10 weeks that make up Pre-Service Training. In Uganda, an important part of integration is getting to know the people in your community. I decided to take this opportunity to flex my much ignored photography muscle and take portraits of the people I meet to help me remember them better. Below are some of the pictures I’ve taken so far.

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Marian, Principal of Kyakatara Primary School

DSC_0057“I have produced 4 children and I do not plan on marrying because I do not want a man to tell me what to do.”

This woman is amazing. She is strong, intelligent and fiercely independent. Within 10 minutes of meeting me, she decided that I must call her “mom.”* During my future site visit, she drove 25 minutes every morning to come to my house and prepare breakfast for me before taking me on tours around the community. She is also my supervisor and helped prepare my home for my arrival. I get to see her again in two weeks and I will probably cry from happiness when I see her. I miss her so much!

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Irene, duka owner

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DSC_0117This beautiful girl is Irene. She works at a duka (small shop) near our language training center. She wants us to find her an American boyfriend and one of her stipulations is that he has to be tall “because I am short!” Also, she’s a model.

"For children, sickness comes fast and goes slow."
Sarah, teacher at Kyakatara Primary School
"For children, sickness comes fast and goes slow."
“For children, sickness comes fast and goes slow.”

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I feel as if I’ve talked about Sarah and Baby Gloria multiple times on this blog. The first time I met Sarah was at the hospital during my future site visit, where she was taking care of her baby who was suffering from malaria. I could tell she was tired but her optimistic demeanor never waned. She was incredibly nice and enjoyed engaging me in conversations about cultural differences between America and Uganda. They were in the hospital for 3 days before Gloria was well enough to go home. Sarah works at the school I’ll be teaching in so I’m really excited to work with her. Also, I saw her boobs.**

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*Fun fact: I’ve had designated “work mothers” in nearly every job I’ve ever held. It’s nice to know that my ability to turn my coworkers into family is the same across continents.

**I have seen more boobs in the last 2 months in Uganda than I have in my entire life. This is quite an incredible feat considering the fact that I am a proud owner of a pair myself. At one point, while joking that I was going to steal Baby Gloria, Sarah joked to me (in front of all our male coworkers) “but you don’t have the milk in the breast. How will she feed?” Everyone proceeded to stare at my chest. I was mortified but apparently in Africa, “boobs are as sexual as elbows.” This leads me to ponder why I still wear a bra every day. (In case you’re wondering what body part is the most sexualized…it’s all about the thighs).