All posts by Patrick Keaveny

It’s Goin, Goin, Goins!

Sitting down for an interview in Abia, one of the more impoverished visits during the 2012 Faculty-Led Program Abroad to Uganda, one could always count on Jason Goins to ask the most important and most interesting questions. A man of height, military build, and reddish-brown hair, Jason evokes an image of a true Colorado native. He’s athletic, loves all things outdoors, is incredibly well-spoken, and has a proprietary strand of humbled intelligence that in this day and age is something one can only see in one who has a strong set of values.

A Chemistry major who finds meaning in helping others, Jason hopes to focus his career around others, as well as answering questions he has about the world.  Through his time at Creighton, Jason has learned the value of making a difference, challenging oneself intellectually, and seeing the struggles of people in other parts of the world.

Jason playing soccer with local kids.

A man of many goals, which include teaching Math abroad, Jason describes his overall goal (after fulfilling his commitment to the Air Force) as involving a research and development company that “focuses on the 90%.” According to Jason, the majority of the money in the world goes to only 10% of the people.

“This is really just a case of bad money,” Jason said, “I hope to have an impact on the people who need that money more.”

He describes this goal as coming about as the result of, in his words, “beeps” he noticed throughout the latter part of high school and early college.

“I saw what was happening in other parts of the world, what other people were doing to help others,” Jason said, “and it made a much larger sound to me.”

He also said that studying Theology made him question the beliefs he had grown up believing, and that his Jesuit education made a difference to the focus he wanted his life to take.

“I realized that this life is really more about helping others than it is about the life that comes after,” Jason said, “I find meaning in helping others.”

Jason, the tallest member of the group, with other members of the group.

That led him to the backpack journalism trip because he said he wanted a different study abroad experience than normal. Jason said he was also focusing his experience on whether or not the group did anything to help the people they met along the way.

“That was the biggest thing on my mind,” Jason said, “I think it’s important to show ourselves as human, for them to see us as we are rather than just stories they heard, I think it was good for them to see us, other people on the other side of the world who do care about them. I think it was immediately good for them that we went down there for that reason.”

Jason said he also was able to see people in a very different situation from his own, and learned a lot about what life is like for said people.

“I think what I learned most about traveling to the developing world is the reality,” Jason said, “especially at Abia, seeing people exhausted. I realized that things don’t stop for these people.”

Jason in Abia

Jason is currently getting ready for his senior year of College, fulfilling a commitment to the Air Force Academy once he graduates. After his commitments are up, Jason hopes to devote his time to doing what he can to fill the needs of others, something he feels is more important than anything else.

“This trip really taught me the value helping others,” Jason said, “it’s my hope that I can continue helping others in whatever way I can.”

Trees

Whenever I think about myself in terms of what I know (or at least, what I assume I know), I always think of trees.

My Tree in Uganda

Trees are fascinating structures to me. Most trees have more than one branch, and from these branches there can sprout more branches, each as unique and complex as the last, and having its own ability to sprout mor branches. As these branches develop, they make the tree larger and more complex, continually growing upward with the sky as the limit.

One of my favorite topics in Computer Science had to deal with Binary Trees, and how we make use of systems in traversing trees. Since then, I have become fascinated with the conceptual understandings of trees, particularly in terms of knowledge.

When I think about knowledge, I imagine my mind as a series of branches each representing a topic or skill. Some are larger and more complex than others, some have other branches sprouting off from it, yet each branch and sub-tree contributes to the overall structure of my mind and how my mind processes all the complexities I view with my senses.

With the Backpack Journalism trip, I like to think I have grown a few branches while growing out branches I already had.

I learned about goodness.

Theology Branch: this was a branch that was already extremely well-developed having gone to Catholic school for most of my life, and from studying philosophical theologians such as Aquinas in various classes. This branch became stronger however, as I learned many things about good and evil while in Uganda. Throughout my time there, I was incredibly disturbed by the fact that there is so much evil in the world, that there is bloodshed, violence, starving children, torn families, and people struggling to survive. I was also incredibly excited by the good we saw there, by individuals like Father Franzelli, Mama Angelina, those involved with Radio Wa, and by the many stories of the people we met. Through our travels, I feel my theological branch is stronger because I understand things like God not in terms of armchair studying and boring discussion, but through the people at work in the world.

I learned about myself.

Journalism Branch: when I was in Uganda, I had a period where I seriously doubted myself as a journalist. I love journalism and the opportunity to hear and write the stories of extraordinary people. I doubted however, my ability as a journalist, and whether I was indeed a good writer, a good reporter, or even cut out for the cutthroat and relentless world of journalism. Through this self-doubt however, I found that it didn’t matter how good of a journalist I am at present, what matters is that I absolutely love the world of journalism. With that, I know that whatever gaps in knowledge I have at present can be filled because that love, that passion, fuels my desire to become a better journalist.

And I learned a couple other things too.

Technical Branch: this is a branch that actually sprouted a new branch, to push that tree metaphor as far as humanly possible. Specifically, I learned tons of new things about cameras, photography, video, and video production. These are skills that I enjoyed learning about, and I now think these will have to be a part of my future career in some way.

Mostly, I learned about life.

Life Branch: This is my fourth class where I’ve had to keep up a blog, and any of my teachers know that my last blog tends to be pretty flowery. So here goes: the life branch, which I imagine as the branch in one’s head that is an amalgam of one’s character, beliefs,  and personality characteristics, is the one that gives foundation to the entire tree. Without it, the branches cease to grow and the tree can not grow tall. The life branch is one that is the unshakeable will that is in every one of us, and the stronger the life branch is, the stronger one’s ability to grow tall. My own life branch grew in many ways during this course. I found myself challenged intellectually, personally, and in many other ways. There were moments where I saw things that were way outside of my understanding, things that I couldn’t even begin to describe now. These are things like personal strength, the ability to see past what is on the surface (like what I saw in Abia), the ability to recognize moments of pure goodness (like Radio Wa), the ability to understand the stories of others (like in Ave Maria).

In short, I have learned many things during these last five weeks. Some are things I did not want to learn, others are things I learned easily. Overall, I have gained an experience that I will never forget, never take for granted, an experience that has given my life shape and myself understanding. In my first blog I talked about how I see the world as one giant system made up of all the people, cultures, and ideas living within it. I think this experience has helped shaped my understanding of that colossal system, and how I plan to be a part of it.

Abia, the Reality.

One of the most challenging experiences I had in Uganda happened in Abia.

Abia is a former Internally-Displaced Persons Camp in Northern Uganda. During the war, many villages and its inhabitants were displaced and forced to live in these camps. With the end of the war, these people struggle to find integration back into the rest of Uganda, suffering from unemployment, starvation, and over-population.

Abia

Traveling to Abia was initially a joyous experience. We were greeted in the same vein as we were at Ave Maria a day before (see here for my experience there) with singing, dancing and many people saying, “you are most welcome!” Unlike Ave Maria however, this smokescreen wore thinner and thinner the longer we spent there.

Alison Prater with some Abia kids

At some point, another student and I broke off from the rest of the group to go get B-roll (extra footage). This is when I started to see the reality of this place. I saw classrooms with five times as many kids as a classroom could fit crammed into it, buildings with giant holes that look like a bomb went off for doors, and most striking of all, children with distended bellies.

I learned a long time ago when I saw a presentation of children in impoverished countries that distended bellies was a sign of extreme starvation. The way it was described to me at the time was this: when the body is unable to get nourishment, it turns on itself and begins to devour itself from within.

I wrote something in my journal the day after we went to Abia, which simply read, “I wonder why it is we live in a devour to survive society?” Yet it wasn’t until I came back home, posted my pictures of Uganda to facebook, and read a comment my aunt made on the above photo that said, “do you know why the shirtless boy has a distended belly?” that I really started to consider the reality of Abia. It was then that I really came to understand the reality of this place, the reality of things I had only heard about before.

Abia, for all the dances and performances we shot for our video, for all the efforts to erect a smokescreen of well-being and survival, was the biggest smack of reality I had seen on the whole trip. There were people there, people who are STILL there, who struggle to survive, and most (including said shirtless boy), who aren’t succeeding at it. The reality is, not everyone survives, not everyone is in a position to survive, some will die. The shirtless boy may be dead already, and that’s the reality of these kinds of places.

Abia was the reality.

Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo?

One thing that I noticed more than anything else on the safari we took were the Water Buffalo herds.

What struck me about these herds wasn’t necessarily the buffalo, but the fact that each individual buffalo had two birds near it, who followed the buffalo around as it grazed.

I thought this was pretty interesting, that two animals of entirely different species, lifestyles, and eating habits, could be so tolerant of one another. I did some research and I learned that buffalo and birds have a symbiotic relationship: the buffalo has bugs on its body that the birds feed off of. The birds get food while the buffalo gets a bug cleaning.

I think it’s interesting how these two animals work together for the benefit of one another, something I think humans (aka “silly monkies”) can learn from.

Also, did you know that Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo?

Privilege

There seems to be a lot of criticism when it comes to people like me and my “privileged” life. I know that some critics have accused college-aged kids who travel to the developing world of doing it solely so they can justify their privileged lives. The consensus seems to be that since I am a middle-class, well-educated white American, clearly traveling to the developing world is some need I have to validate myself and satisfy my “emotional needs.”

Which, in a sense, is actually quite true. At least in some cases. I know I’ve definitely seen certain people who live lavish and self-indulgent lifestyles and then somehow justify it because they’ve been to the developing world. Which is complete bullshit to me.

On the other hand, there are individuals who just so happen to have talents and abilities that they have chosen to use for the benefit of others. People who devote their life and a half to making the world a better place and fighting evil. These people just so happen to be “privileged” however, and can therefore not understand the people they choose to help, at least according to certain, to quote Kristof, “armchair cynics.”

Thing is, I don’t think privilege is something to be ashamed about. Sure I was born into a family that was able to provide me with the opportunity for three meals a day, a roof over my head, and good education. But there are many, many other types of privileges out there, and I think focus on simple monetary privileges is both narrow-minded and intellectually conceited.

Some other privileges include intellectual privilege, where one seems to be born with inherent problem-solving and reasoning skills (I know of several individuals close to me who have said privilege, and who I am usually jealous of), or athletic privilege, which gives us athletes like Michael Phelps and Lance Armstrong. I can also say that what I saw in Uganda was a different kind of privilege, one of community. I remember seeing these people who were born with an inherent sense of community, where cripples and HIV-infected children would enjoy the same respect as the village elder. I remember that me and my outsider ways was even a little jealous of that kind of privilege, the kind of privilege I’ve never had in my life.

But here’s the thing about privilege: IT. IS. NOTHING. TO. BE. ASHAMED. OF. If one is told to be ashamed of the fact that they have the opportunity for health-care and education, that’s the same as telling a Ugandan from Abia that he/she should be ashamed of the opportunity they have to take part in and work for the betterment of the community. Should someone be ashamed that they have certain “privileges” that others don’t have? Should I be ashamed that I have access to running water and electricity, the kind that others wish they had? Should those who have privileges different than mine be ashamed of it?

My father and I discussed privilege once. And for him, he thought that “privilege” was reserved for social and economic status akin to families like the Kennedy’s. For us, he said our family wasn’t “privileged,” but instead, “fortunate.” He described our family as being fortunate of the fact that our ancestors decided to leave Ireland for better opportunities. He said that I was fortunate that I had education, health-care, a unique perspective due to being an outsider, and many other things, and that that was different than being “privileged.”

Which is an idea I can get on board with. I don’t consider myself privileged. I consider myself fortunate. I think others are more fortunate than I, and I think others are less fortunate than I. I think that being fortunate is not something I should be ashamed of, but something I should be proud of. Proud of in the sense that someone is proud of their son or daughter. Proud of in the sense of being proud that you have the work-ethic to accomplish your goals, or are able to problem-solve better than others, or that you have a community that you can always fall back on.

The truth is, everyone is fortunate in some way. Some are fortunate with families or community, while others are fortunate with intellect and reason. Fortune comes in many different forms, and there is no reason why we should be jealous of nor covet our own fortune. Instead, we should work to bring that fortune to others. We should work, in our lives, to serve each other, because we all have different kinds of fortune to offer. We all have fortune that we have gained in our own lives, and fortune is meant to be shared. Through sharing fortune with each other, we are able to work for the betterment of each other, not in a condescending, superior vs inferior kind of way, but in a way that makes us more human.

I think part of being human is being able to work to serve others, and I can’t think of a better privilege than the opportunity to serve humanity.

TL;DR: Privilege, or fortune, is nothing to be ashamed of. 

 

Coming “home”

I’m not exactly sure what to make of this feeling I’ve had today. It’s 3am in the morning, I can’t sleep due to my internal clock thinking it’s around 11am, and I’ve been feeling this way ever since I landed in Eppley around nine hours ago.

My room in Uganda

 

My room at "home"

Adjustment is a pretty close friend of mine. Having moved 13 times in my life, I became pretty good at being able to adjust to new situations and lifestyle changes. On top of that, between my parents being ultimate tourists and my proprietary strain of travel itch, I’ve taken lots of trips to different places, and have gotten used to the feeling of coming back from that kind of trip. Usually, I take a shower, eat a meal I missed, then within a few hours it’s back to how things were before, and besides knowing a little bit more about some place I just came back from, things are pretty much the same as before.

This feels different though. It doesn’t feel the same as it usually does when I come back from a trip. I can’t really pinpoint when it happened, but I feel different. I feel something changed in me back in Uganda, something that has changed the way I look at things around me. I was pretty unhappy before I went to Uganda, and I couldn’t really figure out why. The strange thing is, all the things I was dreading about being back are still here, yet it doesn’t make me feel the way it did before. Now, I feel a kind of inner strength that allows me to see past all the little things that used to worry me to death. I feel like my eyes see a little bit clearer, or that I somehow just know something that I didn’t know before.

Maybe it was the fact that we saw poverty everywhere, or the fact that we met people whose lives are vastly different from our own, or the fact that I know that those kids I played with who were wearing tattered shirts and looked like they were barely surviving are still there right now. All I know is, I was brushing my teeth and was annoyed that the water was too hot, and realized that I wouldn’t be able to look at things the same way again.

 

 

The Boogeymen are coming.

One of the things I remember from my childhood, as I’m sure most people probably do, is fear of the Boogeyman.

Even as I think about it now, I’m not entirely sure where the story comes from. All I know is that when I would go to bed at night, I was always scared that some man I couldn’t see would snatch me from my bed and take me away. Maybe I was scared he would kill me or eat me, but what I remember scaring me most about the Boogeyman was the idea that I would never see my mother again.

It was times like that when I would either crawl into my parent’s bed or beg my mother to stay until I fell asleep. That way I could fall asleep knowing my mother was with me, and that I would see her again.

This is probably a pretty common story for most people, fear of an unknown man snatching you from your bed. In some ways, it’s a rite of passage. At some point, you come to terms with the fact that your mom won’t always be there, that you have to be brave and sleep through the night.

But what I’m realizing now is that here in Uganda, the “Boogeyman” isn’t just a story, an irrational fear of a man snatching you from your bed. In this country, children HAVE gotten snatched from their beds, carried into the Bush, and never see their mothers again, Here, the Boogeyman is real.

I was always afraid of that happening when I was a kid, but I can’t imagine what it’s like for the kids here, who don’t have that security of knowing that they will wake up in the same bed in the morning. Here, kids fear turning 13 because that’s the prime age for child soldiers in this part of the world.

I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like for the boys who have been taken, find themselves somewhere out in the jungle, wondering where their mom is. Who are then pushed around, have a gun shoved in their hands, and told to kill someone.

TL;DR: Here in Uganda, the Boogeyman is real.

Pink.

One of the things that’s been on my mind lately is a kid I met back at Ave Maria. We met when Heidi and I were given two of their boat-shaped string instruments and attempted to learn how to play.

This kid, I noticed was wearing a pink shirt, the kind of shirt that looked like the kind of shirt you’d find in a pile of donated clothes. This made him easy to spot among the sea of faces we saw at Ave Maria. Throughout the rest of the day, I caught glimpses of him. One of the things I noticed was his expression. He never smiled any time I saw him. Other kids looked bored, but this kid NEVER smiled.

I never got his name, nor found out more about him, but he asked to take a picture with Heidi and I before we left. I don’t know why, but that kid’s face stuck with me. I just can’t seem to forget how sad he looked among all the laughing and smiling kids we saw that day.

Now, I don’t know anything about him or the circumstances surrounding his life, but I wish I had found out more about him. I wish I could figure out why he never smiled or was adamant to get to know/take a picture with Heidi and I. At the time I was pretty nervous and awkward in the new situation, but I think the fact that I missed out on someone’s story is going to bug me for awhile.

Can I get a Hand?

Today I decided to try something a little different. I’m not really a fan of the whole blogging thing (which I probably should start being given the depressing future of journalism in that medium), so I’m trying to find ways to spice the experience up, both for me and for whomever takes the time to sit down with a cup of coffee (or other poison) and define their entire existence on every word I say (at least, I’m assuming that’s the case).

Which is why today, I wrote all of the important things I learned today on the most obvious place. Ladies and gentleman, I give you: my hand.

For some reason, I found myself in the embarrassing position of really needing to remember something someone said, being without any kind of paper, and coming to the dark realization that the reason I did so badly my first year in high school was precisely because of my horrendous memory. So, I did the only sensible thing one could do in a crowded room, I wrote on my hand. Which made me think of an interesting way I could present the things I learn on this trip. I figure, our hands do so much for us, why not abuse them a little more by covering them with ink?

Today, I learned several things, I’ll go by limb.

Palm: “We do what we can, it will not solve all the problems, but it will help others, and in turn make us more human.” – This was said by the Bishop of Uganda, Father Franzelli. I think this is the nature of “doing good.” In a lot of ways, one person can’t really do a whole lot to change the world. That ability is in the hands of either the many of the very especial few (Mother Theresa, for example). In a lot of ways, I find that there is absolutely no point to doing any kind of good. We may feed a child for a day, but that child may still die tomorrow. We may help a person from jumping off a building, that doesn’t mean we won’t find that same person up there again. We may tell ourselves that clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, and raising awareness is making a difference, but in the grand scheme of things, we have accomplished nothing. Yet something like this makes me realize that no, in most situations we can’t do a lot, but we can do a little. In that little, we still take the time to help someone, and in turn we help ourselves fulfill our human nature. I like to think of the story of the man who walked along the beach throwing starfish that had washed ashore into the sea. Someone said, “why do you do that? You can’t make a difference.” To which he responded by picking up another starfish, throwing it into the sea, and saying, “well I made a difference to that one.”

Pointer: What do they need? This is something I thought about as we visited a camp inhabited by displaced persons. I realized, at some point, that that’s the question that needs answering. What do these people need? Food? Water? Education? Health care?

Middle: How many have died? This was something that came to me when one of the speakers today talked about how they had been terrorized by the rebels (people led by Joseph Kony), and how in the past year, things have been better. But I thought to myself, how many died during that year? What aren’t they telling us?

Index: “We have come to realize the significance of women in development.” This is something that may not be very relative to what’s going on here, but it is something that I think needs saying. This may be sexist of me to say, but I think there are a lot of women who understand things like nurturing and care more than men. Not to say that men can’t, but it seems to be a very engrained thing to the female mind. As such, I think that in a lot of ways, specific women have done more to make our world a better place than anyone else. Off the top of my head, I can think of Mother Theresa, Simone Weil, and of course, Mary the Mother of God. While I think everyone has an obligation to make the world a better place, I think we can learn from these special women about how to do so.

Also, my thoughts and prayers go out to the Dorsey family during this difficult time. May God bless them.

Shattering

I don’t think you can understand good and evil exclusively. I think also that in some cases, you can see moments of pure goodness in the middle of the worst kind of evil.

Look at a man like Joseph Kony for instance. We learned in Abia, which is an Internally Displaced Person camp, that one of the ways Kony would “train” the children he kidnapped was by gathering all of the kids from the same town, choosing one of them, and ordering the others to kill him. This would ensure that these children’s connection to their home would be shattered, the emotional links to their parents would be shattered, and that they would never be able to return home.

This is one of those times where I can’t believe the absolutely insane amount of evil in the world. This man took these children, his own people, and turned them into complete monsters. In the wake of something like that, I start to believe that there is nothing, no amount of good that can combat that kind of evil.

At Radio Wa though, I think I found it.

Radio Wa is a radio station that is affiliated with the Catholic Church. During our visit to this station, we learned that Wa had a channel that broadcasted details about the war and those in “the bush” (people who had been taken by Kony).

In particular, one of these broadcasts was designed so that the families of the children that had been taken could communicate a message to those in “the bush” in the hopes that their children would hear it:

“We still love you. Come home.”

I think that that level of unwavering, unconditional love is something that no amount of evil or men like Kony have any hope of destroying. That kind of love is the kind that never weakens, even as one’s child has been transformed into a complete monster. That kind of love is the kind of love I think we can learn from, the kind that never dies or is even shaken. I find that that love, in this nation where I see fights in the street, poor people with no way out, and people whose lives have been shattered by war and poverty, is one of the purest forms of good I have ever seen.

Alberto, the man who runs Radio Wa, told us that there were many kids who made it out of the bush, and they said the reason they came back is because somewhere out in the wilderness, they heard these broadcasts. It’s no surprise then that during the peace talks, one of the conditions of peace was that that specific broadcast be shut down.

TL;DR: No evil is strong enough to shatter real love.