More thoughts on Joseph Kony

More people have been asking me about perceptions of the Kony 2012 video in Uganda and rather than answer your questions individually, I thought I would post some more observations/thoughts. I still have not seen the video or formulated a clear opinion on it. I am merely asking questions of people here and trying to understand how the movie is perceived in the country where the LRA originated. I already briefly mentioned the movie in a previous post but just some important facts (also garnered from my discussions with people here):

-The LRA is no longer active in Uganda. A combination of government and civilian forces pushed them out in 2006. Even though the LRA is no longer in Uganda, there are still refugee camps, and much rehabilitation work to be done in Uganda.

I am now shadowing projects in Lira, Uganda, where the Kony 2012 video was recently shown. I have asked the SP staff if they saw the film (so far no one has) and what their thoughts are on it. Here are some notes from a recent discussion (these are one man’s thoughts, not necessarily facts or my opinions):

-The LRA was formed shortly after Museveni assumed power. It was a response to northern tribes feeling marginalized by the new governement (Idi Amin was from the north and the north is primarily Muslim in the midst of a predominantly Christian country).

-It is unclear what Joseph Kony’s motives are. While in Uganda he always ravaged villages and never targeted government forces, indicating that he wasn’t attempting to overthrow the government.

-One big reason why most people in the west no very little about the LRA (until this video) is because of the Ugandan government’s attempts to prevent international media coverage of the group. Museveni supposedly felt this would make the new Ugandan government look weak, and he also did not want outside forces coming in to help deal with the problem.

-The criticisms of Kony 2012 in Lira were:

  • The film watered down the violence and devastation. The film only showed a glimpse of the awful things that the LRA did in Uganda.
  • The footage is primarily in Uganda, where the LRA is no longer active; therefore possibly hinting to a foreign viewer that the LRA is still in Uganda.
  • People were frustrated about the lack of education on the LRA prior to the film (but perhaps this is partially Uganda’s fault?)

Just some thoughts from a Ugandan. Continue to read and educate yourselves people!

A “Different” Kind of Love

One of the most beautiful aspects of traveling and living abroad is noticing differences: differences in geography, climate, food, people, culture, music… Unfortunately, it is also these differences that cause misunderstandings, war, segregation, prejudice, and simply the everyday challenges of living abroad. I firmly believe that embracing and relishing in the uniqueness of our world is the first step in creating a harmonious and peaceful world. I know it’s idealistic to imagine a world where we all truly love each other, but it is this thought that gives me tingles of excitement and hope for the future. If you look up the word difference in a thesaurus among words such as “changes”, and “dissimilarities” is the word “arguments”, and differences are often the root of arguments worldwide.

In Uganda one of the many differences I noticed is simply dress and how church services are approached. My German roots and my below average sense of rhythm and coordination, make my presence in an African church service a spectacle (or so I feel as I’m standing stiffly in the front as the rest of the church is bouncing and rocking). Africans have an incredible sense of beat and rhythm. They don’t need an organ or a band with fancy instruments, just their bodies, perhaps a drum, and their hands and voices to create beautiful music. An African church service from start to finish is almost like a dance. The way that the congregation moves and bounces and creates their own beat and music and literally pours their whole body into worshiping God, to the way the service fluidly moves from worship to offering to a sermon where the audience participates and speaks out rhythmically in agreement. To the westerner, African services are painfully long and completely devoid of structure, but at the same time there is something beautiful about how the whole event drags on. I am amazed at how young children can focus as the pastor jumps from one verse to the next in a manner that to me lacks cohesion and focus. I can sit back and be critical of the service and its lack of structure or I can enjoy how different people choose to glorify and worship God. One of my main frustrations with the early Christian movement in Africa was the idea that Europeans had to not only convert all Africans but convert them to western ways. Why? God made us all unique and if we demolish that uniqueness to spread one “right” culture what kind of world would we live in? While, I can’t say that I enjoy a traditional African service, it does provide insight into how different our world is.

I think it’s human nature to get stuck with the idea that our way is right and everyone should adopt this right thinking, particularly for Americans. Growing up in the US, I was ingrained with ideas of how to dress. What is appropriate for certain settings, what is considered modest, etc. But moving to South Korea completely ripped those ideas apart. Wearing a sleeveless shirt in summer, never made me feel self-conscious and the thought that I was dressed “too sexy” never occurred to me. However, I soon discovered that in much of Korea showing shoulders or even your collarbone is too “shexy”. On the other hand, wearing a mini skirt to work wouldn’t faze anyone. In my western mind set, I was frustrated, especially during the humid summer months. But who decides what is appropriate or inappropriate? It all depends on the culture you’re in. In Uganda, I am experiencing the opposite extreme. In most settings, showing leg above the knee and often even wearing pants as a woman is very inappropriate. Yet, breast feeding VERY openly in church, and forgetting to put everything back in your shirt when finished, or wearing a plunging neckline doesn’t cause anyone to blink an eye. I laughed in church as the pastor discussed “not being a stumbling block by our dress” (a matter that I don’t entirely agree with) as a women was calmly breastfeeding her child in the front row. He was definitely not addressing her, but to the average western observer (and definitely a Korean observer), they would have been horrified. If the same pastor were to enter an American church and witness all the women wearing pants or skirts/dresses above the knee, he would either think all American Christians heathens, or his perceptions of modesty would be challenged.

Slowly, I’m learning to find these differences humorous and insightful. Even in light of the atrocities committed by the LRA or the Idi Amin reign in Uganda and how Ugandans have responded, we need to take into account cultural differences. Response to conflict and reconciling conflict is different in every country. In Uganda they have attempted to “forget and forgive” rather than hold people accountable for their actions. Many westerners are critical of this reconciliation method. Shouldn’t we openly expose the atrocities and hold people accountable so that we don’t repeat history? This is a dialogue I have gotten into with Ugandans as I learn about Uganda’s history and politics. There is never one simple worldwide solution and it’s important to remember that what works in one country doesn’t necessarily work in another. While, accountability and remembrance may have been successful in post Nazi Germany, in a country like Uganda that is made up of so many different tribes and tribalism dictates so much of politics, to hold people accountable may have only increased rifts between different groups and sparked more war.

My deepest prayer for the world is that someday we would learn to embrace and learn from our differences and take joy in noting how diverse, beautiful, and wondrously made each part of the world and each human being is. Rather than simply “spreading democracy” everywhere because that is supposedly the government system that works worldwide, or giving technology to people because it works somewhere else in the world, or expecting people to worship or dress a certain way; I envision a world where we are building relationships not walls, fighting injustice not wars, and spreading love not democracy.

Luke 10:25-37

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

 25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

   26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

 27 He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’[a]; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b]

   28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

 29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

 30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii[c] and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

   36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

   Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Playing with Mud and Chickens

I never thought that I could add vaccinating chickens and deworming cows to my resume, but these are just two of the new skills I acquired after shadowing SP’s livestock projects in Kamwenge. While I don’t foresee a future in rural vetarinary medicine, it was extremely exciting to witness how empowered the people of the communities in western Uganda have become as a result of SP’s livestock project. SP educates communities about livestock production then selects vulnerable individuals to receive donations of either fish, chickens, goats, pigs, or cows, based on a long list of criteria. The project is the most sustainable I’ve witnessed so far because the beneficiaries are required to payback the cattle they receive after they start producing. The payback cattle are then donated to new beneficiaries. In addition to improved livelihood and income security that the cattle provide, the communities organized their own micro finance agriculture groups where each individual pays a membership fee and they meet regularly for educational sessions. If a member is in need of a loan to cover an emergency expense they can take out money at a very low interest rate from the group. The people are so mobilized to improve their livelihoods and save money without the help of Samaritan’s Purse. It was beautiful to see the passion and motivation the communities.

A few highlights from the week:

-Attempting to break gender roles. Getting into discussions about marriage and family and the roles for women with the Ugandan SP staff. Perceived gender roles in developing (and many developed countries) have always been a big frustration for me. But it’s also opened my eyes to how blessed I’ve been to grow up in country where women can do most anything (even though we still have a ways to go when it comes to women’s rights I believe).

-Vaccinating eighty chickens.

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-Building a chicken coop from reeds, wood, and mud (once again breaking gender roles). Getting to play in the mud for an afternoon? Yes please!

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-Riding on the back of a motorbike through hilly, rural western Uganda on rough dirt roads=stunning+ being a tourist attraction because of my white skin.

-Getting into a long discussion/brainstorming session with the chairman of a village about rural electrification. For the first time since graduating I wished I had a multimeter to test his solar panel. It was also an opportunity to brainstorm grad school research ideas and I left the discussion thrilled at the prospect of returning to Uganda with new research ideas.

-Seeing Paul Kagame’s (the president of Rwanda) primary school.Image

-Coming back to Kampala and enjoying meals that do not consist of beans and CARBS.

As a final note, I’m sure all of you have seen the Kony 2012 video floating around the internet world. I have actually not watched it yet because of my sketchy internet, but I do have a few thoughts/questions for you. How many of you knew about the LRA before watching the video? This is something that bothers me about all the media attention. Many Ugandans are upset about the video because most of the footage was from Uganda, when the LRA has not been active in Uganda since 2006. Also, the Kony 2012 paraphernalia (T-shirts) to Ugandans is offensive, considering that many Ugandans have not watched the video and do not know that the Kony t-shirts are meant to raise awareness rather than “promote” Joseph Kony. They compared it to people wearing Bin Laden t-shirts to raise awareness. This might come across as offensive to many Americans if they were unaware of the motives behind the shirts. Here is an interesting article about the film. Aljeezera has several interesting (and in my opinion balanced analysis of the film’s effects) articles about the campaign. The film was shown on a big screen in Lira, Uganda (first time ever that there has been a widespread youtube video showing in Uganda) where many of the refugee camps in the LRA were/are. Lira is actually my next destination for my internship rotation so it will be interesting to collect people’s thoughts on the Kony video and the LRA. Above all, I encourage all of you to do more research on the history of the LRA and how countries have been affected by it and the needs of those hurt and displaced by the violence instead of simply clicking “share” on facebook. The situation is not as simple as just capturing one man, but also involves the healing and restoration of all the people and communities damaged by the violence. I think what we need to remember about awareness campaigns is asking ourselves the question: are we really helping by intervening? This is question that development organizations have to constantly ask themselves and something I’ve been asking myself as I shadow SP’s projects throughout Uganda. Often the solution is merely empowering people to become the change in their country.

Why are you running?

Water is a necessity, and it was the life-giving resource of water that first sparked my interest in international development. This past week I shadowed Samaritan’s Purse’s household water project in western Uganda, a region where the main water source is surface water drawn from pools, ponds, and dams. An open water source opens doors for the water to be shared with cattle, and humans bathing and washing clothes. SP employs the brilliant but simple technology of bio-sand filters (BSF). Essentially, water is filtered through layers of sand, course sand, and gravel to filter out impurities. It is effective for areas where the primary water source is surface water and the impurities are mainly biological, not chemical. Water that is dirty and yellow comes out clear!

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One of the most challenging aspects of engineering projects in the developing world is ensuring that the beneficiaries develop a sense of ownership of the project and technology. My past Engineers without Borders projects fell a bit short of this task I believe, while SP succeeded. Although community members are given the filters, they are required to be involved in the filter process from start to finish. They attend public health training, mix concrete and fill the filter molds, wash sand, transport the filter to their homes (no easy task!), assist in installation, and finally must maintain the filter. Unlike some of the other humanitarian projects I’ve worked on, the community seemed extremely positive and accepting of the technology, and threw themselves wholeheartedly into the filter assembly process. It was exciting to be part of a project that is providing people with their most basic and essential need.

Beyond the technical aspects of this project, this past week has brought me back to the roots of my “Africa experience”: living in rural Africa. One of my biggest concerns about living in a developing country for an extended period was simply the adjustment of moving from the extremely urban setting of Korea to a rural one. This adjustment has been on my mind as I consider where in Uganda I want to do my final placement. Using pit latrines, taking bucket showers and having limited power were relatively easy adjustments for me this week, but the lack of access to a semblance of a social life, a creative outlet, and the simple fact of being the ONLY foreigner in a small town could make for a potentially difficult transition. Living in Korea, made standing out and feeling out of place a commonality, but constantly being scrutinized still gets old. Running in rural Uganda brought yells of “muzungu, muzungu!”, children running after me, and people staring wide-eyed in wonder at the white girl running. I feel like I’ve become a wimp since my two weeks in Kenya where nothing fazed me and I could easily imagine myself living in my grass hut in the desert staring up at the clear, starry sky every night.

Regardless of my final decision, I did enjoy getting to know the national staff on the project while learning more about Uganda and its politics and history. But I am still attempting to adjust to the constant carbo loading at every meal here (my I’ll eat anything attitude is being challenged) and I am still figuring out a good answer to “Muzungu, muzungu! Why are you running?”

The less traveled road

New blog for a new adventure! From end of February to end of July I will be a general intern with Samaritan’s Purse in Uganda. Currently, I am shadowing SP’s project’s throughout Uganda with the end goal of selecting one project to work on for the remainder of my internship.

I am excited to witness SP’s work in Uganda and strengthen my knowledge of relief and development work, while seeking to be the hands and feet of Christ. As I pray for God’s hand in my life, I’m literally “moving my feet” (constantly it seems). East Africa has always been on my heart, so I feel blessed to have the opportunity to share, learn, and grow with the beautiful people of Uganda.

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–I took the one less traveled by.  And that has made all the difference.”
– Robert Frost