The country head of Geneva Global – Uganda (GG-U), where I am interning for the next two months, likes to tell her new team-members to hit the ground running like “a paratrooper dropped from a parachute into enemy territory, ready to take and return fire even before (s)he lands”. What she doesn’t say (maybe because she thinks it is a given) is that the organization is always there to provide cover and support.
This is the best description I could think of for my first week here in Gulu, Uganda. From my first hour in the country, I have been given every possible support and scaffolding – the country director picked me up at the airport, helped organize a place to stay, got me my first meal in the country, introduced me to Lake Victoria and even helped me get affordable fruits and snacks! (if you know me, you know access to food is really important in my life).
Since my first hour in office, I have also been given a very clear scope of work and resources, and the autonomy to make it happen (more about this later!). In one week, I have been a part of official onboarding meetings, a work retreat, informal lunches, bananas from a tree in a colleague’s backyard, insider jokes and oh such blue skies, green trees and pleasant weather (Uganda is such a beautiful country – my pictures really don’t do it justice). I am also pleased to report that my marital status and plans to have babies have also been discussed and I expect will come up again (it’s like people here have been talking to my mother and share her concerns).
It is my first time in an African country, and yet, it really doesn’t feel that far away from home (Incidentally, the Indian Prime Minister is also here this week – he is visiting with a delegation of a hundred Indian businessmen and a gift of a hundred Indian cows – a very optimum businessman to cow ratio – more here and here).
Ah, this is going to be a fun internship! So much has happened in my first week – here are the top highlights:
Delights of Acholi as a language: The most common language in Gulu is Acholi (one of the Luo languages). The equivalent of ‘good morning’ in Acholi is “Ibutu maber?”, which literally translates to “Did you spend the night well?”; and people actually expect you to answer! So every morning, I have had conversations with people about how well they slept at night. I always thought a language says so much about its people, and Ibutu maber is, in two words, what I have really enjoyed about Gulu and the Acholi people (yes, I am a nerd).
Food, nightlife and life (aka no country for vegetarians): I have eaten all the food I have come across – makoto (plantain), posho (an ugali-like dish made from millets), curries, grills, cassava, and peanut paste (like peanut butter but more, well, paste-y); and I ate it all too fast for any pictures to be taken. I will try to be better about it, but I did take (bad) pictures of the club I went to and (bad) pictures of where I live. People here like to have fun – it’s making me have fun!
Where I am interning and living – North Uganda – had been affected by the LRA insurgency till 2008ish– in the last 10 years, the insurgency has died down, the Government is now pushing for Gulu to be declared a ‘city’ and it has become a major hub in North Uganda. Life in Gulu is influenced by all of these things – I am living in a community which is a mix of local Acholi people and people from other parts of Uganda and other countries, in a property being managed by an Italian NGO as an income-generation activity for their local work, in an almost-city where roads are being built at a rapid pace by Chinese construction firms. I am told that a side effect of `development’ has been a decline in trees, swamps, and environmental quality which is being replaced by brick buildings and agriculture (are you reading this, my environment sector friends?). All of this also influences work too, of course – but more on it later.
Onboarding, site visits and work: I, fortuitously, joined my internship around the same time as two new team members and had the opportunity to attend their onboarding sessions. In a week, I learned a lot about the organization, its history, and its work. I also got to attend the office offsite – basically, had a lot of fun with great people (yup, climbed a tree).
I also visited the two main programs being run by GG-U in and around Gulu – first, the speed schools program (Geneva Global’s non-formal, accelerated learning program run in coordination with government primary schools); and second, the community schools program (which support local communities in running their own schools in absence of nearby government primary schools). I will be supporting the GG-U team in monitoring and evaluation of both these programs – Pictures below, and details soon. Stay tuned!