It’s been 5 years since I left this beautiful place in which I had the opportunity to call home for a few precious months, but it feels like an eternity. To the immensely strong and beautiful Acholi people, I would like to dedicate this to you and to our angel Sheila Aol, my fellow project member and dear friend who passed too soon. We miss you so very much, sister. I would also wish to dedicate this to John Ezra Ocan, the father of our beloved friend and fellow CEED intern Bernard Lakony. May we take a moment of silence for their families and for all those we have lost.
We arrived in Entebbe on Saturday, May 16th, 2015 at 10:55 pm. The journey to Gulu was filled with curiosity, beauty and newly travelled roads. I was so very nervous, for I was entering a land with very little knowledge of the language, people and culture. If I had known that the next few months were to be filled with laughter, lessons and life-long friendships, I would’ve probably been paying more attention to the magical bumpy murram roads, or the boda bodas flying away into the starry night. I met my fellow project members a few days later: Sheila Aol, Victor Ojok and David Masumba. Ours was the first year that CEED launched the Youth Grant Project, as a means to foster community engagement through youth skills development and information sharing in order to facilitate functional and sustainable enterprises. Our team aimed to mobilize and plan the facilitation of three youth groups: the Anyaka Mak Tic Group located in Obia Parish in Unyama Sub County, the Tic Ber Youth Group located in Agwe Parish in Laroo division and the Will Layibi Vision Youth Group located in Layibi Techo in Layibi division. Every day was a new experience from planning enterprise-specific trainings such as soap making, agricultural value addition, leadership skills workshops to becoming a bridesmaid in the wedding of Anyaka Mak Tic leader Dr. Monica. That is the great thing about Gulu, it opens its heart to you when you are ready to receive it.
Mornings were my favorite part of the day. Opening our eyes to the beautiful tapestry of our picturesque hut and rising to the smell of earth, grass and sunshine surrounding the compound. These CEED grounds were the place where my hut-mates Eunice Anun and Gisele Lackeski became my sisters and friends for life. “Are you girls still sleeping? You’re going to be late for breakfast!” exclaimed Luc Pilon, urban planner, fellow CEED intern and friend. All gathered together at breakfast, friends quickly formed, and the love, laughter and exchange potentiated with every day that passed. At lunch, we would exchange lessons in Acholi and French, we all got pretty good by the end of summer. After a day’s work, we would head to Sankofa Café around the corner for some chapati chips, hot sauce and coffee. We would spend the evenings exploring and walking through town while we discussed everything from the challenges of youth in Uganda to what time we would meet for Thursday’s Quiz night at BJ’s.
We soon became inseparable. I quickly understood that my time in Gulu was limited and I needed to use it wisely and fairly. I had never seen myself as a volunteer/intern during the trip, I felt like I was merely a student and Gulu and its people were my teachers. Contrary to what many believe back home about ‘volunteering’ abroad, nobody was waiting on foreigners to come and fix their communities – especially not the Acholi people. For decades, northern Uganda experienced a terrible conflict which had devastating impacts on the population, forcing millions to be displaced. The social, emotional, bodily and economic scars continue to foster vulnerability and marginalisation in those affected by the insurgency and associated war crimes. However, the Acholi people are incredibly strong, dedicated and remain undefeated regardless of adversity. Acholiland never ceased to bless all with its breathtaking scenery, lush vegetation, rivers and falls, animals and abundant fertile lands which continue to be passed down from generation to generation.
During the course of the trip, it became instrumental for me to listen to the stories, the history, the language (Luo); to respect the land, the elderly, the youth, the communities and to be thankful for the people, the culture and the friendships. As more time passed, Gulu ignited a light of hope, love and strength in me that would never be dimmed, much like the root of the Acholi people. My most memorable moment was a few days before we were to head back home to Montreal. Saddened by the end of our trip, we sat and ate our lunch quietly– which was rare since we always had so much to share. Victor, Akena and Lakony stepped out of the common room and said they had a surprise for us. They had given Luc, Gisele and me Uganda Cranes soccer jerseys with our names printed at the back. They wanted us to bring a piece of Uganda back home. We were all overcome with emotion and that was the moment I knew that I’d always leave a piece of my heart in Gulu. Since, I have continued on into Graduate studies in the department of Health, Kinesiology and Applied Physiology at Concordia University where I study the toxic effects of cancer therapies on the heart. In 2021, I plan on getting my doctorate degree in cardio-oncology in hopes of contributing to the body of research in the field.
Although you’re nearly 7000 miles away, Gulu you have forever changed me and helped shape the person I am today. Eunice Anun and Gisele, you are the sisters I never had. Eunice, you are my light and beauty. Gisele, you are my confidence and wit. Bernard, you are my protection and rhythm. Luc, you are my laughter and rationality. Akena, you are my dedication and wisdom. Sheila, you are my hope and generosity. I am so fortunate that we still keep in touch and stay connected through both our old and new memories. Until we all meet again for our long walks through the beautiful streets of Gulu, Apwoyo Matek. Wot maber. [Thank you very much. Have a good journey.]
CEED Intern 2015 – Youth Grant Project