After Uganda, I flew over to Egypt to do some touring with a friend (who was also on the Teacher Exchange and is a teacher in Kansas). As history teachers, we have always dreamed of visiting Egypt to see all the Ancient Egyptian monuments, pyramids, and temples to get a first-hand look at all of it. Furthermore, we were also curious to see how the country was post-revolution. (We were planning on going before the revolution happened) We wanted to talk to the locals and see how the people felt about the direction of the country and the recently ousted Hosni Mubarak, and not rely on solely what we hear from the media.
We spent two weeks traveling across Egypt, from Cairo to Aswan to Luxor to Sharm el-Sheikh. We visited multiple temples and sites everyday. It was an incredible experience to see all of these pyramids and artifacts that I studied for so many years. But what became the most memorable part of the trip was interacting with the locals and our guides. Because of the revolution in January, tourists are scared to visit (which is hurting the economy of Egypt greatly). Everywhere we went, we were by ourselves. Imagine walking around the pyramids of Giza (where guides tell us there are usually hundreds, if not a thousand people at all times) by yourself…that’s what we did. Because there were no tourists, our guides were very excited to have us and we got to know them more than normal tourists. We would spend all day with them, eat with them, and spend extra time with them after the tours. We got to talk about the revolution and society. It was incredible to hear so many different perspectives. Overall, people are relieved that Mubarak is gone, but say there is still a long way to go. The country is in flux, and the economy is hurting, so the people are feeling the consequences.
The Awere school dancers came to show us some traditional Acholi dancing. Because of the war, much of the Acholi culture was damaged. Most of the dancers in the group (and the generation of young children) grew up in the time of war, and as one can imagine, much of the culture was lost for these children. Now, many adults are trying to restore cultural traditions in the youth. A major after-school (and sometimes in-school) extra-curricular activity is cultural dance. Almost all students that I have met, know the traditional dances. As you can see in this video, when they start dancing, everyone joins (the adults you see jumping in at the end are partner teachers).
Since the questions have overlap in the sections, I will just respond to the sections as a whole and touch on the questions. I do not know all the answers, and a lot of this will be my opinion, but also some opinions from the Ugandans whom I have shared conversations with about the issue.
The U.S. Government’s Role & World Response
• Why hasn’t the U.S. done anything to help all these innocent children & people? Or have they?
• Why won’t the United States try to do something to help them with the war?
• Why doesn’t the the world do anything?
• Why do we and other countries help each other, but nobody helps Africa?
In the past year, the US passed the LRA Disarmament Bill which was supposed to help in finding Joseph Kony and helping the child soldiers, but so far it is only a political front that showed that we are aware of the situation, but will not divulge many resources to it. As far as I have noticed, and in talks with people here, nothing has really happened. I believe that the US does not want to get involved with the conflict because it does not want to risk the lives or use any resources for a conflict that is not necessarily threatening American lives or American business interests. This is a common theme throughout history. It is not just an American outlook; the world is also taking this stance, which is why Uganda (and the Democratic Republic of Congo) are left to deal with this war themselves. Africa always gets overlooked with help. This can be traced back to the effects and mentality of colonialism, where Africa is looked at as a backwards continent. Foreigners do offer support. But the general consensus is that most of the aid is in the form of money and is not really a sustainable model. It is the whole “you can provide a person with a fish to eat or you can teach them to fish so they will always be able to eat” mentality. We provide food and other resources, but do not teach the skills. Furthermore, many countries do not want to admit that they took advantage of Africa and admit to our historical wrongs.
L.R.A. and the War
• Why hasn’t this come to an end?
• Why is there war in Africa? What is the point of this war?
• Why is the L.R.A. killing a lot of little kids in Africa?
• Is this killing and violence still happening?
• How many villages are safe or aren’t under attack from the rebels?
• Has the war increased or decreased?
• Why are they staying quiet about the war?
This war continues because Joseph Kony does not want to give up power or surrender. He is trying to hold on to any sort of power and control. Many kids are dying because the LRA are going after them. If they refuse to join, they are killed. They are being targeted because they are a vulnerable population. Soldiers and foreign support are hesitant to attack the LRA for fear of hurting the children (who are the ones they are trying to help). The war is still going on, but it has been out of Uganda the past couple of years. The LRA has been pushed out of Uganda and are now in the D.R.Congo. They have decreased in power. One staff member with IC estimated that there are around 700 soldiers in Kony’s army, and many are defecting. Uganda is not staying quiet about this war. It is the international media that does not report what is going on. The media ignores it, which can be traced back to the mentality towards Africa in general.
• Why couldn’t the children cry when they were captured by the rebels?
• Why don’t the children cry and show more feelings?
• Why would the children smile? Even though they are strong, they shouldn’t be happy. What I saw was depressing.
The children in the film couldn’t cry because they were scared. People here talk about how fear debilitates a person and they feel no sadness because they are too scared and focused on surviving. The children could have been smiling because they were trying to mask their fear or trying to convince themselves that everything would be fine. It is interesting that the people here are so upbeat and positive despite all the adversity they face. It is just part of their culture to be optimistic, and it says something that they can be this way, even in war.
• How can I help?
• How can I talk to them? Can I send letters and have a pen pal? How can I be more involved and help it get better?
• What can we do to raise awareness in the U.S.?
• Is there another way to support them, without money?
The best way to help is to educate yourself. We all need to inform ourselves, learn, and teach others about the conflicts and issues around the world. Learn about the issues and how organizations and countries are helping. Setting up pen pals is difficult because it is very expensive to buy postage to send letters back to the US. We do not want to encourage students to spend the little money they have for food, etc. on postage. But, since schools around here are becoming more connected online, I have been working with the students that were in my classes about arranging pen pals through email, which is cheaper. In order to raise awareness, this sounds very general, but the best thing to do is educate. Educate yourself, educate others, and this can lead to writing to politicians and organizations to act.
• What was the most emotional part of the trip?
• What one thing have you found brings the kids joy?
The most emotional part of the trip was saying goodbye to the people I met here, teachers at the school, and my students. You develop such a strong relationship, and to say goodbye, not knowing that you will see someone again, is difficult. After home visits, conversations, dinners, etc. it is difficult to say goodbye. Along those lines, I have found that the kids are joyful with just my presence and friendship. Talking and sharing with them brings smiles. They want to learn about the world. I had a student talk to me for over 15 minutes with a list of questions. He wanted to confirm and learn more about things that he read in books about California and the United States. He was very excited to learn about it from someone who is from the area.
• How do the kids learn to speak English?
• What is the population of Uganda
The kids learn to speak English in primary school. By the time they reach secondary school, classes are conducted only in English. Uganda, like many countries (not necessarily the US), truly value being multilingual. The current population of Uganda is estimated to be about 32 million people.
July 20, 2011
This year, I have taught at Layibi College, which is a boarding school of 1200 boys. Layibi became the first school in Northern Uganda to be in the top 100 schools in Uganda (it is #54). The students have academically qualified to be here. The school is on the outskirts of Gulu, and takes me about 15 minutes by boda boda (motorbike) to get there from the IC house.
Because Layibi is on the fringe of town, during the war, the LRA would try to enter to recruit the boys to be soldiers. We were told stories of the LRA going into the school and students having to hide in the rafters of the rooms. Many students here have had direct damage from the war. They have family (or themselves) who were abducted or almost abducted. One of our partner teachers, JK, was chased by the LRA and shot 4 times. But even after all this, they have a welcoming and optimistic attitude. The students and teachers sacrifice a lot to attend school. Many are hungry and do not have good living quarters. The classes are large, with 80 students packed in smaller classrooms than those we have in US with only 20-30 students. It is incredibly hot and muggy in the rooms, yet everyone is attentive and engaged. When I asked my colleagues and students why they are at school instead of just working and farming to make immediate food, they respond, “education is the only path to possibly getting out of poverty.” It is truly inspiring to witness this passion for education. When I explain how many of my students at home cut class or do not pass because they choose not to work, the Ugandans look shocked and disgusted. To them, it is just as offensive to hear that as it is to see someone waste food (since they do not have much because of poverty). During the war, they risked their lives to go to school, so for them, missing is not an option.
Teachers here get paid US$4 a day, which is high for Northern Ugandan schools. They live in poverty despite being such important factors and role models in society. They truly teach for the passion of the profession. They are always optimistic and smiling. I am fortunate to have developed relationships with them.
Last night, SCP high school youth watched the Invisible Children documentary. The film was riveting and left them on the edge of their seats. SCP staff asked the youth to write questions to Pablo about the film and his experience with the Teacher Exchange program in Gulu, Uganda. Their questions demonstrate sincere interest and compassion. Compiling and posting their questions is my distinct pleasure. Please see their insightful questions, below:
The U.S. Government’s Role & World Response
- Why hasn’t the U.S. done anything to help all these innocent children & people? Or have they?
- Why won’t the United States try to do something to help them with the war?
- Why doesn’t the the world do anything?
- Why do we and other countries help each other, but nobody helps Africa?
L.R.A. and the War
- Why hasn’t this come to an end?
- Why is there war in Africa? What is the point of this war?
- Why is the L.R.A. killing a lot of little kids in Africa?
- Is this killing and violence still happening?
- How many villages are safe or aren’t under attack from the rebels?
- Has the war increased or decreased?
- Why are they staying quiet about the war?
- Why couldn’t the children cry when they were captured by the rebels?
- Why don’t the children cry and show more feelings?
- Why would the children smile? Even though they are strong, they shouldn’t be happy. What I saw was depressing.
- How can I help?
- How can I talk to them? Can I send letters and have a pen pal? How can I be more involved and help it get better?
- What can we do to raise awareness in the U.S.?
- Is there another way to support them, without money?
- What was the most emotional part of the trip?
- What one thing have you found brings the kids joy?
- How do the kids learn to speak English?
- What is the population of Uganda
Posted by Damali Robertson on behalf of the Haas Center for Public Service