Spending Time with Immaculate in Soroti

One of the things I look forward to most whenever I visit Uganda is eating chapati. Before I returned to the US after a six-month stay in Uganda back in 2006, I attempted to learn firsthand how to create this flatbread from Immaculate, TCON’s infamous cook. Considering the only two ingredients in this flatbread are water and flour, one might presume that it is a relatively easy recipe to create. I had to sit through a handful of demonstrations by Immaculate, however, because without specific measurements I struggled to accomplish the right proportions of each of the ingredients. Now, over 5 years since I departed Uganda, I am still unable to master the art of chapati-making. In fact, I have given up trying and opt instead to get my chapati fix each time I visit Uganda.

I learned on this trip that Immaculate’s chapati is perhaps the best chapati in all of Soroti (the district where our Uganda office resides). So of course hers is likely to put my best effort to shame! In fact, Immaculate’s cooking in general is known to be exceptional. In a conversation with Immaculate on this recent trip I learned about how she began her own catering business on the side to fill her time and increase her income generation when she’s not working at the TCON house. (more…)

My mind is having trouble conceiving that Christmas Eve has already arrived this year. As I child, the holiday season felt as though it took forever, creeping at a slow enough pace to intensify my desire for that much anticipated morning event where I would race down the stairs to see what Santa had set aside just for me. Waiting was difficult as a child, especially waiting for something as wonderful as Christmas morning. Perhaps that is when I first learned that to be hopeful, or to live with longing, could be painful at times. (more…)

There is no escaping the reminders of the quickly approaching holiday celebrations. From the five emails I awake to every morning debriefing me on the number of hours remaining to get that perfect deal at the clothing store I most often frequent, to the Christmas jingles playing in every restaurant and the Facebook indicators that 39 people have posted something about Christmas each day — the season is clearly upon us. (more…)

Identifying that women and girls are frequently objectified is not a new discovery. From the MILLIONS of girls forced into prostitution each year to the over-sexualization and objectification of women and girls in the media, the perception and portrayal of women as objects to be acted upon or used for the pleasure of another is a rampant cross-cultural norm. This tragic perspective, which is often at the root of gender oppression, permeates Ugandan culture as well. (more…)

Its been nearly a month now since I’ve returned from my first trip to Uganda.  It takes some time to process what you see when you visit any foreign country, and this country particularly highlighted that rule.  No doubt, there are practical questions we were asking as an organization: What is the status of our projects on the ground?  How are the widows that we support progressing?  What things will we do differently to improve our impact?  But when you dig deeper into the challenges facing a particular context, there often emerges one resonating theme that still rings in your heart long after you leave.  For me, that feature was simple:  To be a woman in Uganda is to lead a life that will face constant inequity, challenges, and lack of opportunity, simply because of your gender. (more…)

(Continued from Northern Expansion Part I)

My limited time in Uganda prevented me from traveling north to Acholiland where TCON has recently expanded it’s efforts. Instead, the Gulu leaders came to Craig and I to discuss future plans. The lunch meeting lasted less than a few hours, yet the conversations from this particular meeting have echoed in my mind and heart repeatedly since that afternoon.

In psychology there is a term called countertransference that refers to the emotional experience of a therapist in connection to the patient. In certain psychological theories, countertransference is deemed an enemy to the therapeutic process. In other relationally-oriented theories, countertransference is simply viewed as another tool for understanding your patient and all that they are bringing to the relationship. You can likely guess which camp I fall into. The therapist in me showed up for that particular meeting (I find it difficult to ever really set it aside). As I sat and took in stories of traumatized children – children who were abducted, forced to murder their own family members for survival, children who were tortured and raped – it was only natural to focus intently on the impact of trauma written on the faces of the women sharing these stories. (more…)

Leaving Mbale, the Road to Soroti

In Uganda, the people are intimately connected to the land. This was one realization I had last week as I braved the “highway” east from Kampala, across the Nile in Jinja to Mbale, and eventually back north to Soroti. The soil glows a rich, reddish-orange color underneath the bright green variations of trees, grasses, and various crops. It seems possible that almost anything would grow and yield fruit in Uganda! And the people are not ignorant to this fact. The setting I’ve described along the road is never lacking people who work the land. Gardens and farms are like grains of sand: innumerable. (more…)

Since TCON’s birth in 2005 our primary focus has been upon the widows of the TESO sub-region of Uganda. This eastern sub-region is home to an estimated 2.5 million people and it encompasses 8 out 111 different districts throughout all of Uganda. When Dave first connected with Beatrice (our TESO Widow’s Advocate), she had founded a Widows Development Initiative (TEWIDI) with a total of a few hundred women. TCON agreed to come alongside TEWIDI to offer agricultural business initiatives and further development support. Over the past six years the organization has expanded its membership to tens of thousands, with recently-widowed women joining the organization everyday.

A couple of years ago, as relative peace in the northern Acholi sub-region became a reality once the LRA was finally driven out of Uganda, a widow from Gulu heard about what was taking place in TESO. Upon learning of an upcoming conference sponsored by TCON in Soroti, she was determined to attend so that she could see with her own eyes the power of a vulnerable people banded together. What she witnessed challenged her to begin a widows development initiative in the Acholi sub-region. Since she attended that conference two years ago her initiative has grown to 7,000 women and TCON has been actively assisting this organization with similar agricultural projects. (more…)

Mallory McPherson is a TCON volunteer on the 2011 team of supporters. Her first visit was back in 2006 when TCON was still young and developing. This time around, Mallory volunteered to contribute journalistic pieces for TCON’s blog. She currently lives in Colorado and is a student at Denver University.

It is easy to come to Uganda and be unsure of how to feel. I first came to visit my uncle, Dave McPherson (TCON’s Founding Director) and see what he was doing out here five years ago in 2006. A total of 24 hours of flying and 8 hours of driving (involving five foot potholes and an overturned double-decker) led us to a conference center with shrieking women packed like sardines in a can. As we entered the room, they immediately began praising my uncle, and in turn my whole family. I was aware that Dave moved here to “help” the widows, but I was unaware of how many were a part of the organization, how exactly he was helping, and why I was receiving this praise.

I did not understand at the age of 12, who these women were. I knew they had been discarded by society, but to me, they were receivers of my dad’s money and my uncle’s hard work. This mindset made me feel guilt for the life I had, the problems I didn’t have. 

As we traveled through Soroti’s town center, we came across a white preacher promising hundreds a cure from HIV/AIDS if they gave their souls to Jesus. This made my soul cry. It is not hard to see the corruption in Uganda. This is something I still notice here, but now I am more aware to the cultural sexism which many of the widows’ problems stem from. (more…)

Plight of the Widows 70

After a frantic morning of ensuring that I had packed everything I needed for a week-long stint in Uganda and arriving at the airport 35 minutes later than I had originally anticipated, I was finally able to take a deep breath, sit back and pray for an enjoyable flight experience. With each passing hour traveling from Denver to Detroit, from Detroit to Amsterdam, from Amsterdam to Kigali and finally onto Entebbe, I attempted to mentally prepare myself for reentering a country that I briefly called home nearly five years ago.

When I first traveled to Uganda in the spring of 2006, my task was to learn about the life of a widow so that I could collaborate with Beatrice, our widow’s advocate and the leader of the Teso Widows Development Initiative (TEWIDI), on the production of an empowerment-based and encouragement-focused curriculum for a radio program that TCON was preparing to sponsor. My trip lasted less than two weeks, but my research went on for months. Little did I know when I first travelled halfway around the world that my involvement in this particular project would ultimately result in moving my entire family to Kampala, Uganda for the remainder of that year.

I had hoped that life would eventually lead me back to Uganda – to the friends I had made, to the women my heart perpetually ached for, to a country wrought with suffering and a long history of war and violence. I have often wondered about my desire to stay connected to this region of the world. Why would I want to be intimately exposed to such great suffering and hardship? I am sure my mind could grant adequate answers to that particular question – existential answers, theological answers, even psychological answers. But the answer my heart offers is simple – It is because I am a woman and these are my sisters, my mothers, my daughters.