I was one of the 20 million viewers of Invisible Children’s KONY 2012 film yesterday. If you follow my twitter or Facebook account you may have noticed that I was wrestling critically with certain aspects of the film as well as Invisible Children’s ideology. Aside from certain critiques or questions I have regarding our global responsibility and response to such atrocities and human rights violations as have been perpetuated by Joseph Kony and his rebel army (LRA), I am fascinated by Invisible Children’s ability to ignite a movement through social media. We live in a different era, an era where the capacity for exchanging information and opinions continues to increase day-by-day. (more…)

The Acholi people of Gulu and Northern Uganda are in the infant stages of a renewed peace and security, but the realities of the horrors they experienced remain just beneath the surface. Its true that the vicious LRA hasn’t struck with violence here in several years, but the trauma from seasons when bloodshed was a constant threat may well continue to haunt a generation of Ugandans.

Areas in Uganda Impacted by LRA

At the height of the conflict, the UN estimates that the war displaced nearly 1.8 million people. Most of them lived in IDP (Internally Displaced Person) Camps for years at a time, struggling for life on every level. A milestone of sorts was reached last month as the UN officially ended its assistance to Northern Uganda. The fact is that people have largely returned to their former homes in Gulu and across the Acholi region (the UN says 98% have returned home, and nearly 250 IDP camps are now closed). But while many emergency aid & relief organizations pack their bags to leave this area, the question remains: What happens next for these people? (more…)

The first time I met Joseph Elotu it became clear that he was going to live up to his reputation as the Ugandan gentle giant. His taller stature and calm presence were evident from the start and the fatherly tone of his voice, which closely resembles James Earl Jones’ rendition of Mufasa in The Lion King, solidified my fondness for him almost instantaneously. Each opportunity that I have been afforded to interact with this humble man has only served to deepen this feeling.

On our most recent trip, Craig and I were provided plenty of drive-time where we could investigate further how Joseph came to be who he is today – one of TCON’s greatest assets. I learned of his childhood and how he was mistreated and neglected. I discovered that at the age of fourteen, Joseph was undeniably impacted by the civil war that lasted over two decades in his country, as he was separated from his family and forced to take care of himself while he was still just a boy. I realized that Joseph’s work ethic was born long before he became TCON’s Country Director. But perhaps most poignantly, I was touched deeply by the evidence of this man’s dedication to women and children facing immense hardship within his own community. (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…)

(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…)

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.