Greetings from Gulu!

Hello! I’m Amy and I’m spending this summer in Gulu, Uganda. I’m interning with an organization that currently focuses their education development work on accelerated primary education for out of school children in several districts in Northern Uganda. I have never worked or traveled at all in Uganda or East Africa, so I have a lot to learn!

As of today I’ve been in Gulu for one week of work and one weekend and have been so welcomed by my amazing colleagues and supervisors (and everyone I’ve met really), learned a lot about Gulu and how things work (basic things- I have a lot left to learn), and even visited some schools and classrooms to see the program. I want to tell you a little from what I’ve learned about Gulu and Uganda, how I’m settling in here, and some of the projects I’m starting and plan to work on this summer. (Pictured above – guest house cat friend enjoying the comfy outdoor seating.)

What is Gulu like?

If you’re like me and new to Uganda and East Africa, you may not know much about Gulu (I certainly didn’t!). Gulu is the largest town in Northern Uganda and if you do any research, one of the first things you’ll see is that Gulu was greatly affected by more than 20 years of conflict between the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel group and the Ugandan military. This conflict ended in 2006, but the effects of the conflict on families and communities have lasted until today and come up a lot in conversations.

One of the most immediate things you notice about Gulu today is the road construction; Gulu is on track to be designated a city in the near future, so there are many infrastructure projects going on. There are many newly paved roads and road and sidewalk construction in the center of town appears to be in full swing (which means when it rains the traffic and mud is a lot!). The president of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, was here this past week announcing new road construction projects actually, and much of the construction seems to be organized by Japanese companies.

One of the newly paved roads here in Gulu town. You can also see how green and beautiful it is here!

Many international NGOs have regional offices in Gulu, and there are also many Ugandan NGOs working in the region that are based in Gulu. (From what I’ve heard, the number of NGOs has decreased significantly from the time period right after the conflict ended in 2006 when humanitarian aid poured into the region. I’m interested to learn more about this relief-development transition and NGO landscape.)

Also, there are many churches and faith-based NGOs here; according to 2014 census data, about 72% of the population in Uganda is Christian (40% Catholic and 32% Anglican), and 14% are Muslim. Uganda has a community of Indian immigrants, some of whom are Hindu, and also is home to one of the 7 Baha’i temples worldwide. There are many different churches and mosques and affiliated NGOs here in Gulu. When I went to mass with one of my supervisors in Kampala, the Catholic church was full at 8am on a rainy Sunday, and the service we attended was only one of 5 different masses offered that morning in both English and Luganda. These are just a couple of the things I’ve noticed about Gulu and Uganda during my first week here, and I can’t wait to learn more!

How have I settled in to life in Gulu this first week?

One of my fantastic supervisors picked me up at the airport in Entebbe (the city where Kampala’s airport is located, about 30km from Kampala on Lake Victoria), and we spent the night at a guesthouse in Entebbe before starting the drive to Gulu. (For more blog posts from Uganda, check out Risa’s posts– she’s another IEDPer based in Kampala. Hopefully we can get together soon!). It is about a 5 hour drive from Kampala to Gulu, and I arrived on a Saturday, so on Sunday, my supervisor took me with her to mass at a Catholic church in Kampala, which was wonderful, before setting out for Gulu.

A picture of Lake Victoria from a guest house in Entebbe on my first day in Uganda.

Tomorrow, Monday June 3rd, is a public holiday here- Martyr’s Day; it honors 45 Ugandans who were Catholic and Anglican converts executed by in the late 1880s by the kabaka, or the traditional leader of the kingdom of Buganda. As we were driving last week from Kampala to Gulu we saw many groups of pilgrims from all over Uganda who were walking from their homes to the Martyrs’ Shrine in Kampala to honor the martyrs (a multi-day journey on foot of over 350 kilometers for many of the pilgrims!).

Also on the drive, we saw the Nile River and many baboons sitting alongside the bridge, and we stopped for snacks. I tried a hot, roasted plantain which was delicious, and samosas with veggies or meat are another popular snack. I arrived in Gulu on a Sunday afternoon, and started at the office on Monday morning.

So far, I’ve been getting my bearings and exploring Gulu. I’m staying at a guest house recommended to me by last year’s summer intern, (check out her blog posts here to learn about her experience in Gulu in summer 2018) and it has been a lovely spot to stay so far. The rooms are designed to look like traditional Acholi (one of the main tribes and language groups in Northern Uganda) homes. It is the rainy season here, so there are short thunderstorms almost every day. As the guest house is run by an Italian NGO, their restaurant has great (and very reasonably priced) pizza and pasta alongside Ugandan dishes, and the owner has recommended good boda-boda drivers to me. Motorcycle taxis are the main form of transport here and I took my first ride yesterday (and didn’t fall off!).

The traditional Acholi homes look like this, and you’ll see these in Gulu and in nearby communities. (Photo credit: The Ugandan Tourism Center)

Gulu has a main market that I have yet to explore fully, and many cafes and restaurants (we’ve been going out for lunch at work and I’ve been trying some of the Ugandan dishes like posho (also known as ugali- made of maize flour), matoke (steamed and mashed banana- not as sweet as you might think, it uses a different type of banana compared to American bananas), tilapia with gnuts (groundnuts = peanuts), okra, and African tea. The office has a yard where mango and lemon trees grow, so we’ve also had mangos from the office yard while sitting outside for meetings. I’m looking forward to exploring Gulu more- I hope to go to a yoga class tomorrow. And I need to learn more Acholi; so far I’ve learned ‘thank you’ (‘Apwoyo’ pronounced ah-foy-oh), ‘how are you?’ (‘Kopango?’ pronounced co-peyn-go), and ‘I’m well’ (‘Kope’ pronounced co-pay).

What’s my IEDP internship like so far?

The organization I’m with has a small office here, with a team of about 7 program and support staff, who have been so welcoming (Thank you so much to them! Apwoyo matek!). I’m excited to be part of a small team and learn from and support their important work this summer.

The main projects and tasks I’ve started with at my internship and that are planned for this summer include:

1) Supporting the team in having a delegation of high level officials from the Ministry of Education visit classes to see the program. In order to make the program sustainable in the long-term, the organization is working towards government buy-in and adoption of the program, and this visit is an important early step, so for the next couple of weeks, I’m supporting with whatever is needed for the visit and I’m already learning a lot from preparatory classroom visits.

One of the schools we visited last week had this great and useful graphic on the side of the building that summed up some of the education reforms in Uganda that I need to learn more about, including universal primary education, the use of local languages, PIASCY (Presidential Initiative on AIDS Strategy to Youth), thematic curriculum, guidance and counseling, and a couple of different school grant programs.

2) Supporting the adaptation of the current accelerated education program model to meet the needs of street and working children in Kampala. The organization has mostly worked with out of school children in Northern Uganda (who are often out of school due to dropping out or domestic/agricultural work at home). Through stakeholder mapping and doing a needs and resources assessment in Kampala (thank you Dr. Thapa and Dr. GK!! – planning on using things learned in your classes here!), I hope to contribute research to a proposal for how the current program could be adapted to meet the needs of a different population of out of school children and youth.

3) Supporting teacher professional development and curricular components of the program. One of the core components to the program is a focus on interdisciplinary, activity-based, project-based, and real-world teaching and learning. Currently, teachers facilitate ‘expert lessons’, where students learn from experts in their communities about their professions and then teachers use these experiences and build on them across content areas in the classroom (e.g. visiting a potter and learning about working with clay, but also using this experience for teaching across literacy (English and Acholi), math, science, and other learning objectives). I hope to support the organization in developing a training module, documenting case study lessons, and supporting the training and development of this instructional strategy.

Additionally, the program’s classes are housed within government primary schools, and I hope to support the team by doing some research and identifying strategies that could be used to facilitate the sharing of pedagogical practices between program teachers and government primary teachers. From talking to a few teachers this past week, this seems to be already happening more informally in some schools, but the organization wants to write a report about how teachers are collaborating now, and come up with some strategies to support teacher knowledge sharing.

Well, that’s all for now! I have had a great week full of learning about Gulu and the organization where I’m interning and can’t wait to be back in the office this week working on these exciting projects. Happy weekend all!

One thought on “Greetings from Gulu!

  1. So excited to read your post, Amy. (Cheryl passed it on to us). It sounds like a great opportunity for you and for the community you are working with. We will look forward to learning more about Uganda and specifically what you are doing.
    Enjoy your adventure and the new people you meet.


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