Tag Archives: CUbackpack

Moving Forward

The experience as a whole, ever since we met the first time even during the school year right up to the last time we met on Thursday at John’s house, has been an experience I’ll certainly never forget. There have been an innumerable amount of moments during this journey that will likely have a lasting impact on me and the way I carry myself in my everyday life. This experience was one that gave me a sense of fulfillment.

For starters, I had absolutely zero experience or confidence in myself dealing with camera settings or video editing. After this project, I’ve armed myself with at least some knowledge of how to go about not only filming things in the first place, but also organizing the video afterward, which has also shown me that I really enjoy it. Running the interview questions were also a task I really enjoyed doing.

Being able to see all the different aspects of Uganda that we did was also something that I’m grateful for. From the city conditions to churches to the schools and the extensive open space, the experience of truly surveying what this country was like and how it was different from what I know helped me form a better perspective of the world. Like I mentioned before, I had never been outside the country farther than Canada or Mexico. This trip did a lot for me in terms of both affirming my thoughts and also changing some of my views on what a region like Uganda would truly be like. Visiting many different areas of the country and being able to see it was special.

While I had so many experiences and was armed with a lot of knowledge during our trip, it can be hard to figure out how to do something with what I saw and heard. After much thought, I believe the best thing I can do back at home is involve myself with refugee situations, and come ready to discuss the topic backed with facts. Refugees are often a hot topic in the United States for obvious reasons. Getting to not only see but talk with just a few of them in Uganda gave me a first-hand look at where they’re coming from, what their goals are, and what their lives are really like. I owe it all to this trip. I’ll never forget it.

Empathetic for Life

6/28/18

This is it, my very last blog post. These blog posts have been a way for me to force myself to reflect and share some of the things I have learned through this experience. An important aspect of the last five weeks is that it does not end here. It does not end when our film is ready to be shared. This experience has ignited in me a newfound passion and anger for the violation of human rights that I witnessed. It is very easy to feel helpless in a monumental situation such as a refugee crisis. What can I really do? I can donate money, I can lobby, I can spread the word. But there is something infuriating that there is little I can do for the people that I met, shook hands with and listened to. When I think about this, I try to be optimistic. I try and remind myself that there are things I learned that I will take with me the rest of my life. That is something I can do. Take this experience with me wherever I go, and make sure to share it.

My biggest takeaway from this experience is the difference between sympathy and empathy. Before leaving for Uganda, I thought that I knew the difference. Definition wise, I did. Feeling wise, I did not. It is easy for Americans to view conflict crises and issues of poverty and hunger in less-developed countries as “too bad”, a statistic or even “just the way it is”. It feels so far away and if it is not directly affecting someone then it is not a priority. However, someone may feel heartbroken watching a documentary or hearing statistics of deaths in a year. This is what we know as sympathy. Feeling bad for someone. Having a common feeling but still feeling pity for someone. I won’t lie, I had sympathy for South Sudanese refugees before I left for Uganda. Once I got there I realized that I did not have to put up a barrier of “me” and “them” and feel bad for them. Yes, these humans have gone through hardships that I could never even imagine. But once I broke down this barrier and opened up my heart to them, that was when the point of this project made the most sense. I was allowing myself to be empathetic and really put myself in the shoes of these men, women and children. I was able to learn historical context about the different conflicts and I was able to ask questions about it. I was able to hear firsthand accounts of humans who were forced to become refugees. I was able to see the lifestyles for these refugees. I was able to see the amount of people in Uganda who fight and advocate for humans, in general. I was able to see the importance of family for Ugandans and South Sudanese, alike. I was able to see the importance of the different meanings of “church” for the refugees. All of these things, I am able to put myself in the shoes of. It is not a foreign land over in Uganda. These are men, women and children, just like me. And when there is empathy between the two sides, I believe this is a closer step to peace. It may take a while, and it won’t be easy, but there needs to stop being a “me” and a “them”. I will advocate for this as long as I have a voice.

I am excited that we will have a tangible account of our experience. I am nervously awaiting to share our film and everything we saw. I know the story will do the communities that we visited in Uganda justice. I will share, share and overshare. I have been “ruined” for life and who knows the difference that could make.  Overall, I am thankful that I have seen what I have. I can better articulate some of the biggest institutional and tribal struggles that have hit Eastern Africa. That is something I never thought I would be able to say. Thank you, webale nyo, to everyone that made this possible. Endless love to each of you.

The last sunset I saw in Uganda

 

Back “home”

6/20/18

It has been two days since returning from Uganda. I have gone through just about every stage of delirium that you could think of. From our journey home to feeling submerged back into American life, it has been hard being back. One of the ways that I have helped with this has been looking back at the pictures I took while being away. Here are some of my favorites that I would like to share.

Some of the students we met at St. Mary’s Adjumani Girls Secondary School
Andrew and the sewing instructor at Jesuit Refugee Service in Kampala (a couple of us got custom-made shirts and dresses from the students!)
From our safari in Murchison Falls National Park
Some reflection during one of our many ferry rides across the Nile
My nightly view in Uganda
Liz with her handmade kite at our farewell BBQ at John’s house

I thought that I would feel a lot different coming back to America. I knew I would be sad to leave Uganda but thought I would be excited to feel at home and have security. But ironically, leaving Uganda has felt like leaving home and security. It has been frustrating to remember my American lifestyle. I lived a simpler and more full life in Uganda it seemed. I have been trying to figure out how I am going to make my life in America feel that way. I know it will be a process and that the fellow participants will help me through the transition.

I would have never imagined that going to places like the bank, the grocery store and, even out to, restaurants would be so hard. Those places seem like such basic necessities in my life, and for so many, they are impossibilities. And after seeing the importance of family and community in the refugee’s lives, all I want to do is to see my family. It is a hard pill to swallow. I never thought I would feel so connected and empathetic towards people and places that are seemingly so different than the bubble I live in. My bubble has been shattered and I think that is the best thing that has happened to me.

Friends

There are nine Creighton students in this trip’s program – enough for a baseball team. I think we’ve ended up somewhat like the bunch from “The Sandlot.” I can’t assign a character from the film to each program participant. But, we’ve spent our summer (at least part of it) in the dirt (of Uganda) spending each day out in the field (but not baseball field). We’ve formed a team (but not a baseball team) out of a ragtag bunch of individuals who would otherwise pass each other on the mall without any clue of our compatibility. And, just as a guy in the Sandlot was never replaced when he moved away, each member of this group is irreplaceable. 

 

My blogs have largely focused on my encounter with native Ugandans and South Sudanese refugees. But, this program and my experience would be incomplete without the Creighton students with whom I traveled across the world (and Nile). In the process, I’d say we’ve become pretty close. They are each wonderfully and beautifully quirky. And I want to share some of that quirk, so what follows is just a glimpse into their awesomeness: 

 

Ben plays Just Dance with his two younger brothers; their favorite song to dance to is some German song (I forgot the name). He is also prone to wandering in airports, especially if tempted with an ice cream shop (such as Coldstone) or a store with touristy apparel. 

 

Andrew prefers gummy bears to gummy worms. When he was younger, he put gummy bears in his ice cream so that they would harden and played with them as one would play with toys. He also loves crepes and can quote PBS Kid’s “Arthur.”

 

Jacob bottle feeds lambs and knows all the words to Childish Gambino’s “Sweatpants” (and a lot of other songs). He imitates the flight of a butterfly with surprising grace and fluidity. 

 

Zach carries around a Mexican flag in his backpack no matter where he goes. He is more observant of signs and billboards than any other person I have ever met. 

 

Matthew ruined a field trip to the zoo for his classmates when he told them that the elephant was circling with its head tilted due to mental instability caused by its captivity. He also plays Call of Duty with Denver Nuggets players. 

 

Izzy is a FANTASTIC writer and, as a kid, checked out 10 books (the maximum number you can check out) each week from her local library. She has a dark sense of humor revealed in her rizzles. 

 

Nat might be growing a parasitic worm in her stomach right now but loves that worm with all her heart (as with all things) despite the intestinal issues it causes. She can fall asleep ANYWHERE. 

 

Brick can make a tastier apple pie than me and is great at Go Fish and two-person solitaire. And although not great at soccer, the fact that he even tried makes him braver than I will ever be. 

 

Here’s to my new friends! 

 

Friends, if you’re reading this, THANK YOU and know that “I’ll be there for you (When the rain starts to pour)” (the Friends’ theme song) even if it pours as hard as it did in the middle of Sharon’s first interview. 

Editing Endeavor

Much like I was skeptical for how the story would seemingly self-form when we first got to Uganda, I was just as worried about how difficult it would be to sift through our b-roll footage and interviews to find a real structure to what we were chasing.

Yet, in a similar fashion, it didn’t take long for one to arise, and everyone felt good about what we were trying to target.

Transcribing was a pretty big pain. It was fun for about ten minutes, and then that feeling went right out the window. The constant pausing to write everything I could remember to realize I only advanced three seconds in the video honestly became disheartening after a while. Regardless, we eventually sludged through that process after about a day and a half of work, and I was able to move onto b-roll footage, which was much more enjoyable.

There was so much good footage that was available, and after cutting out only the unusable stuff, I ended up with a pretty extensive timeline. However, Tim told us we should have all sections down to 2.5 minutes or less, which is where things got a lot more difficult.

I really enjoyed just being able to go through my own shots as well, as we got no chance to while we were in Uganda. This trip was a great opportunity to be able to use a camera, and it’s hard for me to overstate how much I really enjoyed it. Being able to look back on how my work really turned out on a big screen was a great feeling.

People make experiences

6/18/18

These blog posts have been a really amazing way for all of us to reflect on our experiences. And even though this blog is against one of Carol’s “blog rules”, I feel as though it is a giant part of my Backpack Journalism experience. So here it is. My perspective on the 11 other people I have gotten to know the past 4 weeks.

Our family from left to right.
Top: Brick, Matthew, John, Andrew, Tim, Zach, Jacob
Bottom: Liz, Carol, Izzy, Me, Ben

This is our group. Although not my favorite picture, I think it shows the anxiousness and awkwardness of our mini-family (before we became one).

Brick has taught me a lot about very useful life hacks, like how to use a pocket knife and about the textures of just about every food. He is also the most compassionate father and partner and every parent should talk about their kids the way he does.

Matthew is the most determined, focused and reliable person I think I’ve met at Creighton. During the first week of learning the cameras, he made it his mission to master the technique for the project (but unfortunately he has not mastered the game of “Mafia” yet). You will see some beautifully shot B-Roll from him in the final cut of the film.

John and I have found out that we are more similar than our demographics would predict. John’s intelligence and consistency has kept us focused and motivated during our travels. We would not be here without John (and his bandana), and his care for this program shows through everything (especially every meditation he leads us through).

Andrew is going to be everyone’s favorite doctor. I have enjoyed hearing Andrew’s chuckle throughout the program and his compassion for people has inspired me during our travels.

Tim is the coolest person for any inspiring artist to look up to. Tim has shown a vulnerability and bravery to us that I will take with me forever. He is the life of the party and some of my favorite memories of the trip include nights when he was the narrator for the game “Mafia”.

Zach could possibly be stuck in the body of an opinionated 50-year old, but he also has the most attentive and absorbent brain I have ever witnessed. Think of the most random fact that you know, and I would bet money that Zach already knew it.

Jacob’s quick wit and dry humor has been very appreciated. He is very thoughtful, reflective and pensive and is able to take any of the jokes anyone throws at him about being from Northern Iowa. I also noticed him reading “The Myth of Sisyphus”, for fun. So, enough said.

Liz is Creighton’s absolute gem. I am not the only one who thinks this. Everyone that knows Liz, knows how compassionate, enthusiastic and down-to-Earth she is. I have really appreciated her making me play hacky sack, watching the smile she puts on little kid’s faces and the random questions she asks (that she genuinely wants to know the answer to).

Carol, by default, has turned into the “mom” on the trip. But she is the coolest “mom” I have ever met. Carol makes everyone she talks to feel like the most important person in the world and she has the most admirable way with people. I’m grateful for our bus chats and for her bubbly “Good morning!” every day.

Izzy is an absolute rock star. She makes me proud to be an empowered woman. She is a story-teller, a writer, an advocate, a horrible riddle teller, a wise soul, and above all, an amazing friend. She is going to be doing huge things for the women walking this planet, and I couldn’t be prouder.

Ben is the most present and focused person I have met. We had a few close calls with losing him in Kampala but he connected with every single person we met. He is relatable, open with everyone, has the most contagious laugh and I’m so happy that he is my friend.

Well, if you haven’t eaten any cheese today, there’s your fix. I am a firm believer that people make experiences. I am grateful that this experience included these people.

Hope reverses trauma

6/16/18

“Hope reverses trauma”

This is a quote I heard in an interview with a man named Stanley, the Head of the UNHCR Sub Office Arua in Uganda. UNHCR is the UN Refugee Agency “dedicated to saving lives, protecting rights and building a better future for refugees, forcibly displaced communities and stateless people”. It was an honor and a valuable experience to visit the Arua Sub Office and meet the officials there. To learn more about the UNHCR in Uganda, click here.

While interviewing Stanley, I had mixed emotions about the refugee crisis that we were able to see first-hand. It was a roller coaster of emotions hearing him talk about everything the UNHCR is doing, but then also seeing, first-hand, the devastation and hunger that lives in the refugee settlements. We were informed that Uganda has the most progressive refugee program globally, which is hopeful to hear. While I was reflecting on all of this, I found myself thinking about the juxtaposition of hope and trauma. When one is traumatized, the hope in the perpetrator is lost. I can’t imagine the loss of hope that the refugees feel towards their homes in South Sudan. I always feel frustrated with government officials and policies in my home nation of the United States. But to live in a nation where you are being removed from your home, that is a whole new level of trauma. The needs of the refugees that are seen as the most pertinent and vital are shelter, food, water and medical assistance. These are basic necessities, and very important, but there is not enough of a conversation on the mental support needed for these men, women and children.

Stanley saying wise words in his interview

Then Stanley hit us with the titular quote and I started to feel my heart wake up from its aching. He talked to us about how hope, and often times, faith are the best bets for reversing the trauma for the refugees. No one knows what the future holds, especially for South Sudan, but that hope needs to be instilled in these men, women and children. All of the South Sudanese refugees that we have talked to have big and rich dreams. I hope for each and every one of them that these dreams are reached. I have never seen the amount of ambition and courage as I have in these people. They deserve to be angry. There is no explanation for why this happens to people, or why they were put in the position. They also deserve to be hopeful. Hope will bring them home. They deserve the world.

Carol, our project’s journalism connoisseur, gave us some trauma journalism reading material before we left. There is one quote from one of the readings that has stuck with me through our travels.

“Unlike traditional journalism, your story will never satisfactorily answer the question, “Why did this happen?”. For individuals or communities who have survived something horrible, you can never explain why it happened to them. This is an existential question they will be asking for the rest of their lives”

I cannot stop thinking about this. Why does anything happen to any of us? Some people may answer God, luck or fate. I’m not sure about my answer yet. I think it will take me a lifelong to feel right in my answer. But for now, seeing these faces and communities in Uganda, I can say that there is no reason that they are experiencing these traumas. And there is no reason that they cannot find happiness and security like everyone else. And that is one of the main perspectives I wish I could yell in a bullhorn to most Americans.

Webale nyo, Uganda

6/17/18

In honor of Father’s Day, and that we are starting our journey home, I thought this blog would be fitting.

For as long as I can remember, my dad has instilled in me something that I will never forget. He has always told me to give thanks to those in my life, three different times. “You always thank someone in the beginning, in the middle, and at the end”. He really drove this home. Whether it was a friend who brought me to the movies, or a mentor who impacted me throughout high school, you always thank them a minimum of three times and you always spread it out. This is one of the things I admire most about my dad, although there are many, is his ability to give thanks. He is gracious in the delivery, and genuine in the thanks that he gives. I will always take this from him and strive to do the same.

My dad, Joe, and I circa 2001

If I am going to follow through with it, it would only be appropriate to thank Uganda, the right way.

Dear Uganda,

In the beginning, thank you for being a foreign and seemingly out-of-reach project. Thank you for taking me out of my comfort zone and pushing me to join a journalism project, having never been exposed to journalism. Thank you for introducing me to humans at Creighton that I would not have crossed paths with otherwise (especially since they are some of the best walking planet Earth). Thank you for pushing me out of the summer status-quo and saving me from having to get a boring desk job for the entirety of the summer. Thank you for making me feel anxious before our departure. It reminded me of the rawness of life I would have the opportunity to experience.

In the middle, thank you for the beautiful people of your country for touching my heart. Thank you for welcoming us with open arms. Thank you for not being too mad when we’ve shoved cameras in your face. Thank you for creating some of the most beautiful landscapes and animals I have ever seen in my life. Thank you for supporting these refugees. Thank you for making me feel empathetic in any way I can. Thank you for instilling gratitude, hunger for change and compassion in me. Thank you for bringing us Herbert (our amazing Ugandan guide). Thank you for making me feel safe.

As we come to a close, thank you for making me cry in the Entebbe airport. Thank you for ruining me for life. Thank you for making me want to go back to Uganda, already. Thank you for sharing your richness with us. Thank you for letting us tell a fraction of your people’s stories. Thank you for making me feel closest to a human being as I ever have.

Webale nyo*, Uganda.

And happy Father’s Day, dad. Thank YOU for always encouraging me to walk as many parts of the world as I can. I miss you.

Some of the beautiful giraffes we can thank Uganda for at Murchison Falls National Park

*“Thank you very much” in Luganda

What You Already Know

As we were coming back to Omaha (what felt like very slowly, I might add), I was filled with mixed emotions. I mean, it was impossible to get past the basic desire of wanting to be back in my bed, both for the longer length and lack of mosquito net. In the same vein, I had to come to miss some of the food I regularly eat that wasn’t available in Uganda. I even came to miss water being contained in the space where I’m taking a shower.

However, it was just as hard to ignore the nagging feeling I had of how I was going to really miss what I had come to know over the past two and a half weeks. While what we saw and heard most days was sad, the experiences I had and things I learned most days as a result of going wherever we were was something I had already learned to highly value. I think some of it came out of a fear of how I go back to the same sheltered experiences at home. After learning so much about these people and how they live, it was time to trek to the airport to completely detach myself from what had happened. I didn’t necessarily feel guilty- I clearly needed to go home- it just seemed odd. I think it’s great that we’re making a documentary about what we’ve seen, directly using their words to relay their situation to others. It’s really helped ease that feeling, perhaps more so than if we just would’ve shown up, done some service, and gone home.

Plus… I am gonna sort of miss the food we got.

A Frisbee’s Throw Away

When we stopped for a day in the border town of Moyo, the plan was to get an understanding of, as well as footage for a receiving and distribution center, and those going through the process. As I was on b-roll team, we were done earlier than the other group, who was following a specific family through the steps. To pass the time, some of us pulled out a frisbee we had and started tossing it around in the middle of the compound. We attracted a lot of attention quickly from the children around us, and in just minutes, we had several join us in a circle to toss it around. Despite them having likey never seen the object before in their life, and only our example to follow on, some of them picked up on it extremely quickly. No matter how often a throw was accurate or a catch was made, they had smiles all the way around.

While this experience was certainly a memorable one for the kids, I think it will resonate with me just as much. Being able to make an impact on them that’s noticeable in their expressions, and providing a few laughs between what they’ve recently gone through? It’s surreal. The bridge connecting South Sudan and Uganda loomed just a few kilometers away. What they came to know, the life they left behind, they were truthfully hardly removed from. Being able to interact with people who have gone through what they did, all the while close to the country that drove them out, was a staggering experience I never thought I’d have.