All posts by Natalie Lynam

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.

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

Bullets

(I am posting two blogs at once because I have been a bit behind on blogging. Sorry mom, dad and Kaeli … there is A LOT to take in here!)

(6/13/18)

John discouraged me from posting a blog post with bullet points because “it makes you seem illiterate”. I do not know whether or not that is true, but, here I go anyways. It’s Africa, man.

Things I have done in Uganda that I have not done before:

  • Eaten a fish eye
  • Traveled to a developing country
  • Enjoyed (many) Nile Specials (Uganda’s best beer)
  • Met UNHCR officials
  • Slept under a mosquito net
  • Seen the Milky Way and Southern Cross in the night sky, perfectly
  • Ride a ferry on the Nile
  • Eaten A LOT of chapati
  • Driven on dirt roads that should have destroyed our 20-passenger bus (thanks to Sam-Wheel-Drive)
  • Felt accustomed to “Africa time”
  • Brushed my teeth with water solely from water bottles

Things I have done in Uganda that I have done before:

  • Reflected on long, beautiful, bus rides
  • Immersed myself in a new culture
  • Felt uncomfortable and questioned my motivations
  • Cried
  • Felt hopeless
  • Felt hopeful
  • Felt guilty about my privilege
  • Missed my family
  • Traveled with people I, initially, did not know very well (and haven’t regretted it once)

Things I hope to do during my remaining time in Uganda:

  • Shake more hands
  • Make more eye contact
  • Play the game “Mafia”
  • Listen to more stories
  • Tell more stories
  • Cry
  • Feel hopeful
Our beautiful, kind of scary, ferry ride on the Nile!

Peace n’ blessings!

Empowered women…

… Empower women. (6/9/18)

This has been a mantra for me since high school. I have found it to be true in so many capacities. The way that I was raised by strong, fearless women, has shaped me into the woman I am today. My mom, my sister, my grandma, my aunts, my cousins, my friends, my teachers and my mentors are all to thank for that.

Today, we visited St. Mary’s Adjumani Girls Secondary School. It is a high school-aged boarding school for young women in the Adjumani District in Northern Uganda. Most of the students are refugees from South Sudan, but we met some Ugandan students as well. I had the chance to work the cameras on five interviews with five young women who attend school there. We were expecting that they would be shy or have brief answers… that could not be farther from the truth. Each of them spoke with passion, resilience and courage. They were each more eloquent than I have ever been in my entire life. They spoke about how they felt safe and secure at St. Mary’s and how they were passionate about music, science and sports.

We asked each of them what they hope for and they all decided to answer that question with their occupational dreams. All five of the young women told us that they want to become doctors, lawyers and ministers. Doctors to help cure diseases. Lawyers to fight for women’s rights. Ministers to change the way that the South Sudanese view educating women. I was in awe of their aspirations, and I know each of them have the determination to reach them.

Throughout our time in Uganda, we have learned a lot about the horrors of child marriages. Child marriages occur when a woman under 18 years is sent away to get married. Some of the staff at St. Mary’s told us the youngest child marriages that occur are as young as 12 years old. It is part of South Sudanese culture that young girls are seen as a commodity. Once they get married, they bring wealth to their parents and families. This is why the younger they get married, the better. We have learned that a lot of parents in South Sudan do not see any worth in sending their daughters to school. Their culture believes that daughters will bring more wealth by being a child bride than by receiving an education. We learned that the definition of “drop outs” at St. Mary’s is if a student does not return to school from a holiday break because their parents have sold them away to be a child bride. If your jaw has dropped, well, same.

“When you educate girls, you educate the nation”. A quote from one of the young women that we interviewed. I have never seen young women so grateful and dedicated to receiving an education. And now I know why. The odds, and even in most cases, the support of their families is against them. Their dreams of becoming doctors, lawyers and ministers are completely theirs. They are receiving an education for them. It is heartbreaking to know that there are thousands of girls and young women who feel this way. But they are not a vulnerable population. You can see it in their eyes that they are not going to stop until they prove their families, and their culture, wrong. I wish I could’ve told them how much of an impact they had on me. But for now, I will be rooting for them and thinking of them as they work hard to achieve their goals.

One of our strong interviewees at St. Mary’s AKA my biggest hero

I was excited when I learned we were going to an all-girl’s school. I did not know what to expect but I was prepared to tell them, “you got this” and “keep going!”. To my surprise, they know exactly who they are. They know they can do this. They know the potential they have. They are empowered. Against all odds, they are empowered. They have empowered me, and I am honored to have learned from them what it means to be an empowered woman.

Peace n’ blessings!

Their dreams need to be shared.

(6/5/18)

Two full days of shooting done and I feel like I have learned more from these two days than I have in a year at university. (Not necessarily a year I have experienced at Creighton, but more a year of schooling in the United States). The ways that I expected to be uncomfortable have turned out to be the highlights of our time in Uganda so far. After setting up cameras and audio for interviews and having some creative freedom with shooting B-roll, the filming aspects have helped me cope with the hard things we have learned while in Kampala, Uganda. One instance stands out to me, that my uncomfortableness has turned into an instance for reflection and a perspective change. 

We have spent the past two days at Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in Kampala. In a short 72 hours, I have already felt Ugandan hospitality while being at JRS. We have met a wide array of people who have proven to come from all walks of life. A simple question shot me straight into a feeling of uneasiness. 

All 12 of us were standing in front of one of the of the English classes, being introduced, at JRS. This classroom had about 30 young adult refugees who are learning English in order to be able to communicate and work in Kampala. The teacher prompted the class by asking, “They are visiting us from America, does anyone have any questions about America?”. One Congolese man stood and asked, “What does Trump say about African refugees?”. I think we all froze a bit, I certainly did. Not that we didn’t know the answer but because we could sense that there was a sense of optimism in the room. His question insinuated that there is somewhat of a desire for some of these refugees to start a new life in America. I have been able to have more conversations, and dive deeper, about how America is perceived by refugees at JRS. The main dream for these people is to be able to go home. Something that simple can be a dream for millions of people. For some, going home is incredibly impossible at the moment. However, the thought crosses some of their minds that America is another option for a dream. America is painted as a place of opportunity and new beginnings. Even if we had a good president right now, this is still not a rational reality for all (or any) of these refugees. That in itself made me question what we are doing in Uganda and how I can cope with the privileges that I have. However, it reminded me that we have a platform. Maybe our documentary will be seen by all of America, maybe it won’t. Who knows. But I do know that stories about people who persevere while suffering spreads fast. And that is important in itself. I can’t think of another time in my life that I have been able to have as much of a first-hand experience as I am right now. That is important and what I am seeing and feeling needs to be shared.  

The question from the young man made me feel evasive in their space at first. What were we really going to be able to do for these people? We can’t instill optimism, or promises, by  being Americans bringing in our cameras and tripods. And that in itself is a hard, heartbreaking pill to swallow. But I realized that we need to tell everyone we know, about what is going on. And with that, what is really going on. 

Their dreams need to be shared. In two days, I already stand in solidarity with their dreams. They deserve to go home. 

A giant avocado found at JRS (note to self: start taking more pictures).

Peace n’ blessings!

Above the Clouds

Disclaimer: this post is a little late and outdated. Due to spotty WiFi and the fact that I wrote most of this on a Delta napkin, I am publishing now. 

(06/01/18)

A picture above the clouds from Omaha to Detroit.

After about a 26 hour travel journey, we have finally arrived in Entebbe, Uganda. There were definitely a wide range of stages of emotion during this 26 hours: exhaustion, delusion, fear, nervousness, excitement, optimism, and relief. While flying somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, I started thinking about my own conception of time.

These 26 hours felt like the longest amount of time that I’ve engaged in one “activity”. I watched movie after movie, read page after page in my book and the time still passed painfully slow. Then I thought about how differently a 26 hour time period feels during the school year when I’m a student at Creighton. A 26 hour time period goes abnormally fast and usually I can’t fit in as much as I would like in a time frame that small. Life feels like it moves fast in some ways and then slow in others. Then once I whip out my handy phone calculator, I can average that my 20 years of life have accumulated to be around 175,200 hours. That’s a lot of hours but so many of them hold the greatest moments of myself, my experiences and my connections to others.

As this trip to Uganda adds about 432 hours to my life, the fraction seems small in comparison to the 175,200 I have already lived. However, I hope that these 432 hours prove to be eye-opening. I hope that they are challenging. I hope that I am ready for them. Time is something that we all have, but not something that we all use to the best of our ability. I have tried to use a chunk of the time I’ve had on this earth to challenge myself. 

The week before we left for Uganda, we engaged in “video boot camp” at Creighton where we were given a crash course to gain a base knowledge for what we need to know about being videographers. At first I felt overwhelmed and, at times, like I was too far out of my comfort zone. But during our travel time, I realized that does not exist. Making this movie is something that I will be able to accomplish, and I will be able to do it with the best team around (26 hours of travel can really help with group bonding!). For the first time in my life that I will take on the role as a journalist, I hope that the narrative we are telling does justice to the truth. 

Game time is now. I’m ready to have, what I hope will be, a rich 432 hours.

Peace n’ blessings!

Our story begins…

(5/29/18)

“Who we are, and who we are capable of becoming, depends very much on the stories we tell, the stories we listen to, and the stories we live” – Emmanuel Katongole

Well hello all! The time has finally come for Creighton’s Backpack Journalism program of 2018 to begin, and I could not be more excited. My name is Natalie Lynam and I am a rising senior in the Heider College of Business at Creighton. I am a Seattle, WA native and have dreamed of going back to Africa ever since I visited Marrakech while studying abroad during the fall of 2017. This time, this study abroad experience to Uganda, is telling a way different story.

I am looking forward to the growth and new perspectives I know this experience will give me. What drew me to this program included the ability to tell a story that is so different than the one I live out every day. I look forward to the people that I will meet and I already commend their vulnerability and courage for telling their story. I know they will help shape mine.

My roommate, Hanna, and I in Marrakech last November

This experience, this growth, this story, starts now. I hope you all follow along, it’s going to be a wild ride!

Peace n’ blessings!