Backpack Journalism at Creighton University is a collaboration between the Theology Department and the Journalism, Media, & Computing Department. It came about because of a theologian interested in social justice and filmmaking and a journalist and an artist interested in filmmaking and social justice.
Each summer, a small group of students travels to a community in search of a story. Led by professors Dr. John O’Keefe, Tim Guthrie, and Carol Zuegner, the students immerse themselves in the communities, interviewing, filming, recording, and writing. When they return to Creighton, they take the stories they have collected and develop them into a short documentary film. The Backpack Journalism documentaries have been accepted at several film festivals, including the Omaha Film Festival. The class has traveled to such far-flung places as the Dominican Republic and Uganda, Bethel Alaska and Nogales Arizona/Sonora. The next project is tentatively planned for Northern Uganda in 2018.
The Farm View Country Resort was the place we stayed throughout the duration of our trip in Uganda. Nicknamed the “Haven Away From Home,” it was located in the outskirts of Lira, one of the most populous cities in Northern Uganda.
To get to the resort, however, was more like an adventure than heavenly. Located about 2 kilometers away from the street, we had to take a winding dirt road all the way to the hotel. On the way, traditional viliages could be seen, as well as all the children waving and chasing the bus to the beginning of the hotel’s drive way.
Compared to many of the other hotels in Uganda, Farm View really stood up to its reputation. The hotel had great water pressure for showers, spacious rooms with cable television hooked up, and a beautiful acre of grounds to which the building resides on. Personally, one problem I had was with the beds. I found myself waking up in the morning with such a stiff back that I couldn’t walk upright in the morning, But, considering that bed in Uganda are thin compared to that in the States, it was not that big of a concern.
One thing that Farm View is excellent at is customer service. The owners, Florence and John, have a full staff of employees to take care of their guests concerns. Whether that be personally doing laundry, ordering food and beverages, or asking for extra pillows, they are happy to oblige.
Besides this, some of the best food in all of Lira is at the Resort. Whether it be spiced chicken and rice, curried beef with noodles, or fried fish with African Cole slaw and mangos, all of the meals are excellently prepared by Farm Views very own chefs.
Overall, this resort was truly a “Haven Away From Home” to a bunch of Americans trying to shoot a documentary.
Before this trip, I never knew how to ride a bike. Embarassing, yes, but since my uncle got hit by a car when he was learning as a child, my mom never bothered to teach me.
Yet, riding bicycles is a way of life in Uganda. Because transportation is so expensive for Ugandans because of fuel prices, people usually always walk or ride their bicycle to wherever they need to go.
It was a completely different change stepping into a culture that relies on walking and bicycles rather than using cars. Back home, if someone were to ride their bike along West Dodge Road they would be considered a crazy person.
But not in Uganda. Besides walking, people bike miles to get to the place they need to. Also, bicycles can be used as a great way to transport many things that would be rather difficult transporting by walking. Ugandans find ways that seem impossible to stack items on their bicycles that in the end are taller than the person riding the bike!
Many of those popular items mentioned above include bananas, wood, furniture, and clothing, and chickens.
.For example , as we were driving along side of the road, there was a man that had strapped to his bike 8 chicken cages stuffed with the birds. Unfortunately, I was not able to grab a photo of it, but sights like that are truly a common way of the streets.
Coming from a person that just learned how to ride a bike, these people are pros, and there’s not a doubt in my mind that this is just one thing that Americans cannot execute as gracefully nor as efficiently as Ugandans.
To be completely honest, I really wasn’t that religious before I went on this trip. I don’t go to mass, don’t read scripture, and lost track of the daily habits of the religion I am supposed to belong to. I guess after going to a Catholic grade school, Jesuit high school, and now Jesuit university, the whole religion thing kind of lacks interest to me now.
Something that I am incredibly appreciative of since returning from Africa is the definition of community. In a theological sense, a community is a church, seeing that they celebrate the mass together, mourn the loss of someone together, and celebrate the birth of something new. I didn’t expect the communities in Africa to be so sincere. Everyone is constantly depending on everyone else just to get by, and it made me really appreciate everyone that is in my community back home.
Communities are different all around the world, and experiencing one like the one in Uganda was truly a pleasure. However, in how many ways I enjoyed seeing the Ugandan people, I was (and still am) confronted with seeing just as many difficult and trying times that the people there have to go through. It was my first time ever going to a third world country, so there were many things that were difficult to see and others to understand. There was even a point in the trip that I wanted to go home because I was so overwhelmed with what was happening around me…
I’m glad I sticked it out, because in the end, this trip made me a better person. I learned never to take anything for granted and to always count your blessing. More importantly, I learned that giving back is one of the best things you can ever do in life.
For now, that’s how I feel when working on this film, giving back. Myself and everyone else that has spent the weeks and months working on this get to show a message of what is going on in a completely different part of the world currently. We are getting people to give a damn about someone rather than themselves, and in the end, I’m happy.
I knew going into this trip the journalism part of this trip would be a learning experience. Before this, I didn’t know how to work a camera to same my life.
But now, I come back with a better understanding and appreciation for workers and students in communication arts. Shooting film, uploading it, and editing it sounds easy, but its tedious and time consuming. I love learning how to do something completely new and learning it cold turkey like we did before going on this class.
It’s ultimately how you learn. Or at least how I do.
There are so many moments that happened in Uganda that I will cherish for the rest of my life. There are so many things that I will miss about Uganda. Honestly, I’m grateful. I’m grateful for this trip because I found out so many things about myself that I didn’t even knew. I owe the people of Uganda everything.
I will be back. I don’t know when, but I will be back. I want to see Africa grow as much as I did for when I return.
Being a typical American, I’ve found myself watching a lot of T.V. Whether I be watching shows to pass the time or watching something that generally interests me, the only thing that is guaranteed is that I will be at least interrupted from my viewing pleasure by a few commercial breaks.
They are the definition of annoying.
Yet, since being back in the United States for about 2 weeks now, I can say that the overall concept of commercials is interesting to me now. Besides the fact that commercials are meant to break up a program and try to sell you something, I’ve noticed a difference in commercials here in the states compared to commercials back in Africa.
Here, commercials are lending themselves to more humorous types of ways to make you buy things, like having a baby try to sell you stocks on Etrade.
I love that baby. He’s hilarious.
However, in Africa, more modest, inspirational commercials are being played, videos that tell the people of Africa this company is working with you to make the community better, rather than just wanting you to buy their product.
Take a look of this example of a commercial played by Coke:
This commercial was easily played every 30 minutes. Yes. Coke has a large presence in Africa, and most certainly a larger presence than Pepsi does (does anyone even drink Pepsi anymore?), but I don’t think that is the reason why this commercial was played so much. No matter what, people are going to buy Coca-Cola, so it isn’t really an issue to play so much advertisements for the soft drink.
I think this commercial was played so much because of the message it has. From watching this commercial, I get a sense of belonging and entitlement. It tells me that everything in your life is going to be okay as long as you just believe in your community.
We don’t have these commercials here for the most part, which is disheartening seeing that our country is so big and calls itself home to people from all over the world.
I’m writing this in a Crepe shop in the middle of Amsterdam. The buildings here embellished with classic dutch lines and clean architecture. There are white people everywhere. Muzungu’s everywhere.
I constantly am thinking about where I was just a few hours ago. It seems surreal that I was in the middle of Africa, where I was obviously the minority. Yet, despite the fact that I was constantly called “Muzungu,” or a word for “white person” it Uganda’s native language, I really didn’t mind that much being a country where people wave to you from the street and randomly start talking to you about your life when shopping for trinkets to bring home.
I, on the other hand, was not used to seeing so many Caucasian people honking their horns, hastily walking to their next location, and the overall careless attitude that everyone possessed. In a way, I was expecting it, but it seems that expectations never quite meet realities.
That’s what I learned from traveling to Uganda.
I thought that my culture shock was bad when I arrived into Africa, but I think after adjusting yourself into a completely different culture for 2 weeks and then jumping into yet another culture that is also completely different than your own, I was shocked.
I was culture shocked out of my mind.
For the whole time while I was in the Netherlands, I did the touristy things: I saw the landmarks, went the museums, and ate the food. But, in the back of my mind, I constantly was brought back to the children who played soccer with us right outside of our hotel in lira. They lived in small villages interconnected by many dirt pathways. They wore the same thing every day, and some kids looked so thin like that hadn’t eaten in days.
They were some of the nicest kids I ever met.
It makes me wonder how many people in Europe would think about them, those children or the people in Africa for that matter. What would they think about? Would they even care? Could they care about people instead of what kind of jacket they wear to go clubbing in?
Sometimes Muzungus confuse me, sometimes Muzungus anger me, but overall, sometimes Muzungus scare me.
Packing can be difficult for a trip. You basically have to condense your wardrobe into those few articles that are a necessity to you, packing clothes and supplies depending on the type of environment you plan on visiting. However, people (like myself) don’t really realize initially what the messages on your clothing say to other people.
I learned that though while in Uganda.
Back at Creighton, I am a member of a professional Greek fraternity, named Alpha Kappa Psi. Founded on the principles of any other fraternity, there comes with a sort of pride wearing your letters and representing your fraternity where ever you are in the world.
Within the fraternity, our motto is that we create the 1%, a group that exceeds making more income and enjoying more wealth than the remaining 99% of the world.
Uganda was the first 3rd world country that I had been to, and for me personally it was difficult to see so many people have so little but still joyful to say that they were happy. Though people there live in poverty, they have a light inside of them that can put them in a mansion.
I wore my AKPsi letters on the trip, not really paying much attention to the “1%” message that was logo-ed on my back. And after realize that this message made some people uncomfortable, I started to look to see what in fact was the root of the problem.
Within our country, Americans are under the impression that if you make a lot of money you live a luxurious life, a life full of big houses, fast cars, and expensive clothes. These items lend themselves to making believe that person who have money are selfish. In many eyes, the 1% of the world are selfish.
Although I understand people’s outlook on the matter and agree to a certain extent, I think of the 1% another way: a way that I would like to be viewed once I graduate, find a job, and start making money. It is our duty as people who make a decent living to give back to those who are less fortunate than ourselves. It is our job to care for the poor, even when no one else does. People of the 1% are not separated by wealth from the rest of the population, they stand with the remainder in the efforts to continuously making the change of creating better lives for people that they do not even know their names.
Overall, we are the 1%: We stand with the 99%.
I am proud to be apart of an organization that endorses unity and liberty for all. I am proud to be a part of a group that gives back instead of living under the stereotype of asking for more.
For Heidi Hoffman, participating in Creighton’s backpack journalism class allowed her to work on a project that fell right in line with what she wants to do professionally while growing as a person when she faced extreme poverty and new situations.
Heidi, a journalism major, was one of the 9 students that traveled almost 10,000 miles to shoot a short length documentary about the people and happenings in Uganda, a country nestled in the heart of Africa. She took part in the program while taking 6 credits (3 credits of Theology with Dr. John O’Keefe and 3 credits of Journalism with Dr. Carol Zuegner) through Creighton University’s College of Arts and Sciences, while searching to answer the question of how music effected the Ugandan people after the civil war.
Although she was excited about going to Uganda, she wasn’t dead set on studying abroad in Africa.
“It’s difficult for a journalism major to study abroad while actually studying journalism close up like we did,” she said. “I would have gone anywhere.”
Even since Hoffman was in junior high, she had dreamed of traveling to Spain to study Spanish. She had planned for this trip for years, but what she didn’t plan on was substituting a trip to Spain for Uganda.
“It was a rare opportunity, something unique and I’m just going to go with it,” she said about the decision.
Besides the fact that she had left the country when she was younger, Hoffman had absolutely no clue what kinds of experiences she would have when she was in a country nicknamed “The Pearl of Africa.”
“I really had no expectations,” she said, “which was a little stressful because you don’t know what you’re getting yourself into.”
But after going through the stress and unrest of a 30 hour mostly sleepless plane ride filled with crying babies and questionable airline food, those expectations soon enough became reality.
“I think the thing that stuck out to me most was the smell. I would describe it as a mix of campfires, New Orleans, exhaust and dirt,” she said. “Since we arrived at night, we couldn’t see anything so our noses figured out a lot for us.”
She and the rest of the group immersed themselves in Ugandan culture for the next 14 days, meeting Ugandans and attempting to find how traditional Ugandan music is changing through the generations. But when in a country the size of Oregon filled with 34 million people living life all at once, Hoffman was interested in constantly looking out instead of in.
“There are so many more people outside than I expected,” she said. “They are constantly walking on the streets and highways. That was definitely a big difference between there and Omaha seeing Americans drive everywhere.”
Hoffman went along for the ride, though, traveling six hours by bus to Lira, a town in Northern Uganda that was traumatized by the effects of the war and Joseph Kony’s LRA army. Though the story they sought included singing and dancing, here was where Heidi and the others truly experienced the pain and heartache of Uganda.
“I remember when we were in Abia , a village affected by the war,” she says, “There was a teacher we interviewed that lost her whole family – all 17 of them – to the LRA. She told us that she saw it all and narrowly escaped herself. Her eyes showed she was recollecting that event for us. It all became so real.”
Coming back from the trip, Hoffman says it was an experience she wouldn’t have traded for the world.
“I saw elephants and giraffes, waterfalls within waterfalls in Murchison Falls, and I stood on the source of the Nile,” she said. “But more importantly, I experienced the people of Uganda, and that’s the best experience I could ever have.”
Hoffman said that the poverty she saw and experienced exceeded anything she could have ever imagined, and it has changed her outlook on life since returning to the U.S. She said she has realized how blessed she really is and, in a way, left angered from what she saw.
“Obviously, there are things in life that I cannot change,” she said. “But these people lose many of their children to war and disease. These people lose their children before even having the chance to know them. It angers me to think that there are parents back home, who have the world at their fingertips compared to Ugandans, that decide to ignore their children, to not help them succeed.”
Despite the hardships she experienced, Hoffman is glad that she went.
“Back home, my grandmother says to me, ‘How does a farmgirl from Winter, South Dakota get to do so many amazing things?’,” she said. “And I tell her it’s because I’m blessed.”
Time is a funny thing. You can be in one place one moment, living a spectacular experience, and then you can be back into the same scenarios that you live every day.
Those unique experiences become memories, memories that are kept alive through photos, sounds, and daydreams that occur throughout class.
It feels hard for me to believe that I did the things I did in Africa just less than a week ago. It feels hard for me to believe that I played soccer with kids from a village, worshipped the gift of new oxen and plows with a whole town, and that I stood on top of Murchison Falls in the middle of East Africa.
But besides the fact that I witnessed all those amazing things, there is one moment that happened that I can’t get out of my head since I’ve departed away from the country nicknamed “The Pearl of Africa.”
On one of the final days of our trip, a child came up to the opened window of the bus I was sitting in. She was wearing a tattered purple shirt and a skirt as brown as the dirt she was standing in. She came up to the bus and asked me for money.
And I didn’t give any to her.
It bothers me to think of my actions in that moment, and sometimes I try to validate why I did such a thing. But I can’t.
There are no words. It’s hard to put into words that to help her, I couldn’t give her any money. I think in order to understand, you would have to experience Africa yourself.
In fact, there are no words to so many things that I saw while I was in Uganda. Although there was so much beauty that the country holds, there is also so much poverty.So many things are given to these people from back home, and the references are everywhere. i
You want to help these people, you hate to see them suffer the way that they do, but in order to actually help them out of the struggles they live every day, you need to but in the time and talent to actually give them things that can be a lasting monetary value instead of a paper bill.
Giving money then not caring anymore isn’t always the right answer, but giving a damn at the end of the day is, even if you don’t have anything to give.
I will never forget the girl outside of the bus. I will never forget her eyes. I will be sure never to forget the millions of other people like her. I promise that I will give a damn, for the sake of you living the life that you wish to live.
(Written June 19) Today we are leaving Lira to take some needed relaxation within the boundaries of Murchison National Game Park, the largest national park in Uganda. From where we were in Lira, this massive landscape of a reserve is about a 4 hours drive.
So for four hours I sat on the bumpy thrill ride called the bus staring out into the window trying to take everything in, and I couldn’t help but notice how drastically the landscape changes from when we were still in Lira to where the Game park is located.
Lira is called home by some of the most poor, but yet most generous, people of Uganda. Families live in huts made of mud and straw, children play with toys we consider trash, and the city landscape is made up of deteriorating metal. Although Lira is not textbook beautiful, it’s beauty lies within its people.
Seeing that the game park has no human inhabitants, however, it’s beauty lies within the bush. As we were driving, I could see lush plains filled with bright green trees and plants that are indigenous to only Africa itself.
Something else that is indigenous to the continent are the animals that we saw. Before we were able to actually enter the park itself, we were stopped at a security checkpoint. Most of us were half asleep, seeing that we had been stopped many times before by Ugandan police to have our bus checked for bombs ( fortunately for the police we left them all at home). Yet, this checkpoint was different. The bus started rolling again…
and BAM! There were at least 10 giraffes to the right of our bus. We had all expected to see animals but not that soon. A few kilometers went by and then we saw at least 4 giant elephants just hanging out about 40 yards away from the road. A few of them had those Zazu-looking birds on them just like out of Lion King. It was so cool.
At the beginning of my Sophomore year, my Stats professor Dr. Ravi Nath showed us his pictures from when he brought his family and himself on a safari in the tip of Africa. He told us everyone should go. I never really thought that I would be folllowing his command so soon, to be honest.
But the funny thing is, I wasn’t even on the safari yet. That would officially happen 2 days from now.
Water is a necessity for life. We need it to survive. the people of Uganda need water to survive. But, getting water that is clean to drink here is much more difficult than going to our faucets, refrigerators, or hoses and grabbing a slurp. People here walk miles everyday to search for uncontaminated water to fill their yellow 5 gallon containers.
But it must be clear that the Ugandan people’s definition of uncontaminated couldn’t be any further than the American definition of clean water.
Water is fluid, just how life is fluid. Every year we celebrate another year of our lives going past, remembering a day in which we are supposed to grow older, never younger. We are constantly moving in one direction and there is no stopping it.
The years go by like stones on rushing water. We only know, we only know when it’s gone. – Needtobreathe
When we look at a lake, a river, an ocean, there are always stones underneath it, rocks that help support the pathways of the waters. They are never viewed as the primary sight of splendor, but in some instances, there is that one rock that we just can not stop starring at in beauty.
We have rocks in our lives. As we go on our journeys within our lives, there are rocks that are always there that help to guide is in our actions, point out our mistakes, and teach us something new. Despite how far our journeys may be that take us away from those rocks in our lives, they will always constantly be there, waiting for us until we come back. They wait until the currents of blue come back to keep company with them once again.
This trip, being here in Uganda, has really made me appreciate the rocks in my life. Despite how long I am away from them, if I am in a dispute with them, or just downright angry at them, they are always there, patiently waiting for me to come back to where we were before the currents took hold. Before these two weeks, I never told my rocks how much I appreciate them, how much I love them, how much I want to be around them even when I act like I don’t.
Life is unpredictable, and I don’t want the years to go by like stones on rushing water without telling them I love them every single day.
how long we have them for, so cherish every single moment.