Tag Archives: Ave Maria


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.


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.

Our Dear Lovely Visitors

Every place we have visited so far has involved a warm and fairly extravagant welcoming. Songs, dances, handshakes, and even hugs are all given to us the second we step off the bus. If you think about it, that would be like a bus full of aliens rolling up to Creighton’s campus and our natural reaction being to chant the fight song at them or give them high fives. I never feel worthy of the extent of their greeting and can’t help wondering if we would greet them the same way if they ever came to visit our homes in the U.S. It’s so vastly different from anything we do, but it is also a much more genuine introduction to their home then a welcome mat on their front door step.

For the past few days, we have been filming different traditional songs and dances in various places and settings. It is amazing to watch even the people of Abia, who struggle to find food to eat on a daily basis, still put what little energy they have into dancing for group of complete strangers. I’ve been a dancer for most of my life, and even though I haven’t stepped in a studio or performed on stage in a few years, I still recognize the joy dancing can bring. Especially in a place like Ave Maria, where one-third of the students are HIV positive, or the small village of Abia, where hundreds of children are growing up in the poorest living conditions, I am sure the pursuit of happiness must not come easily. But watching them dance, I would catch moments where they would smile to themselves or with the people around them.

The students of Ave Maria performing traditional songs and dances in honor of our visit.

I might be making assumptions, but if they’re anything like me, I think dancing gives them a few minutes of escape from the real and often harsh world they live in; an outlet to express any and all of their emotions and a way to share a little piece of themselves with others.

Blogging is becoming more and more challenging as we continue on this journey. There’s so much to say, but sometimes the words just don’t come together in a way which accurately expresses what is actually happening. It’s also interesting to return from playing soccer with the kids in the village nearby observing all of the poverty surrounding us (as well as facing the reality that my soccer career ended after playing with the “Hot Shots” in second grade) and return to the hotel where we all gather with our electronic devices rolling our eyes or complaining about how slow the wireless connection is. We are lucky enough to be in this country, experiencing the lives of all of these people and seeing first hand a completely different part of the world, let alone having the opportunity to share it with friends and families through these blogs.

So now, it is my turn to thank the dear lovely visitors of these blogs and appreciate all of the support we receive. (Now imagine I’m stomping around with a tribal skirt and whistle and it will be slightly closer to the authentic Ugandan welcome experience).

Keep on keepin’ on and if I don’t get the chance to write tomorrow Happy Father’s Day Dad!


Happiness is a gift and the trick is not to expect it, but to delight in it when it comes.” –Charles Dickens

May children inherit the kingdom of heaven

Before I start I would like to thank everyone for their comments and support on the website. While I do not have much time now to reply and converse now, know that your writings and thoughts do not go unnoticed. They help in perspective and also kindle further thought and deeper reflection. So thank you very much. Now to my experiences from two days ago…

If Africa is hopeless, then God must be a comedian. If children are the future, then it is Africa that should have the most hope of all. If it is overcoming adversity that makes the man, then these children are more man than I.

This is not a critique of western culture, or a monologue detailing the white savior industrial complex. This is a celebration of the children that I have seen in Africa: not of their suffering but their ability to overcome it.

Yesterday I was at Ave Maria, a vocational boarding school of sorts in Lira. 1 in 3 of the over one hundred children are HIV positive. Most are orphans. Yet, this was not the topic of our visit. It was them who put on a performance for us, who greeted us, and who honored us with their warm welcome and passionate music. These children have experienced war, death, and poverty. Their boogie man at night was very real, and would abduct them while they slept if they were not careful. But it was them who invited us to dance.

There are plenty of excuses for them to hide behind, to remain silent in self pity. But instead the children at Ave Maria sing and dance for us with memories of the past, love for the present, and investment in the future.

The children who live in the village behind our living complex confidently lead us along a dirt trail network and proudly show us their homes (a small one room hut with no door) and their football pitch (an open field with rocks and wooden poles). They ask me my name and mimic my sounds and movements. I have noticed that every day I see them they are wearing the same ragged, ripped, poorly fitting clothes. Today we played with an empty plastic bottle but they did not seem to notice.

So one may mourn for the sorrows that Africa has experienced, but I mourn for those who think Africa is hopeless. Given peace, these children can grow. Given education, these children can make a living. Given opportunity, these children can change Uganda.


A tree grows at Ave Maria

I have been on this journey with the 2012 Backpack Journalism team, I feel the presence of many — last year’s wonderful group and our first team that went on this experiment to the Dominican Republic. But none so strongly as Ruth and Tim Leacock. Their 10 years of work in Africa with Computers for Africa still spreads as the leaves of the tree that Ruth planted about five years ago at the Ave Maria Vocational School in Lira.

Mr. Otim, the founder and director of the school, wanted me to take a picture of the tree that Ruth had planted. She planted more than a seedling. I can see the work of Tim and Ruth flowering at Ave Maria and know the same in true in many schools throughout Uganda and Kenya. We wouldn’t be here without that work and without the incomparable Herbert Buisku, who has been the Computers for Africa director here in Uganda and our guide. That word doesn’t seem quite enough as he guides, solves problems, always listens attentively and laughs at our often bad jokes. (Wellll, as we like to say, maybe my bad jokes.)

Ruth and Tim are such an example of the power of people to do something good in the world. It’s not easy and I don’t mean to imply that. Their tireless joy and enthusiasm and taking care of things big and small while making all around them feel the happiness and possibilities were the elements that made Computers for Africa the incredible organization it is.

I can never thank them enough for all they have done for me and the inspiration they are.

Now, I’ve planted a tree at Ave Maria. I hope and pray that I grow in hope and peace as the tree grows.


Carol and tree she planted
Carol and the tree she planted at Ave Maria Vocational School in Lira.



The last two days have been jam packed with activities ranging from watching Dr. O’Keefe  become an elder (it’s always great to see an authority figure dressed in leopard print holding a bull tail), getting a grass skirt wrapped around me and dancing with the students at Ave Maria, learning just how challenging filming can be, and visiting a fully functioning and thriving radio station in Lira, Uganda.

Today, especially the stress about every part of our video project started taking a toll. Shooting useable footage, taking valuable notes and figuring out where our story is even headed became stressful tasks in this setting. However, as I walked back from playing soccer with the children from the village nearby and the sun began to set, I directed my attention to the sky (strange that I was focused on a sunset, right?) It hit me that the magnitude of the sky is always for certain. I could be anywhere in the world, look up, and the sky will still be there. Sunset gave way to the night sky which is massive in Africa. You can’t help but awkwardly stand gawking at the stars down here. It’s definitely a reminder that the world is much larger than me, and this video project, and it’s impossible to figure it all out.

So even though I may not know the questions I’m supposed to be asking, what our schedule for the day entails, but here are something things I am certain of:

  • I planted my very own tree in Africa! It’s one thing to leave a place and feel an emotional attachment, but I have a living tree keeping part of me alive in Uganda.

    Planting my tree at Ave Maria (Photo Credit: Alison Prater)
  • Ugandans appreciate their beer just as much as Americans. Who knew? Not me, cheers.
  • I’m on this trip with amazing people and I mean that. If you haven’t read their blogs for any reason, stop reading this one and go check them out. I don’t think this trip would be quite the same without their different insights, quirks, and jokes.

    The bottom of the broadcasting tower at the Radio Wa studio
  • I had a great moment today where we visited Radio Wa and got to watch a live broadcast. As someone who always throws “Radio Host” on my list of dream jobs, I was loving it. Even if that’s the closest I get to sitting behind a microphone, I’m content knowing I got this opportunity.
  • Tomorrow is a new day.

Keep on keepin’ on,


You’re not supposed to understand everything.” –Rob Sterger

If people sat outside and looked at the stars each night, I’ll bet they’d live a lot differently.” –Bill Watterson

Ave Maria, Full of Grace.

Most days of the week, I’m not sure I really believe in God. Moments like today though, well, read on.

Today we were treated to several performances put on by the Ave Maria Vocational School here in Lire. Some were funny, most were catchy, but all were entertaining. It made me remember something I learned in the music and dance class I took in Limerick: music and dance, in almost every culture, is a method of defining a people, a way for them to be entertained amidst whatever may be going on in an individual’s life. People gather, dance, make music, laugh together. In particular, when a group of people are in conflict, this becomes absolutely necessary.


To the Irish, music and dance became especially important during the numerous British subjugations where families were forced out of their homes and thrown on the streets, left to starve. Through all this turmoil, the people needed something that allowed them to come together, laugh, and forget for a little while about the troubles facing them. It gave people a sense of community and familiarity amidst a threatening surrounding.

Today we visited a school of over 350 students. I learned that a third of them are infected with HIV, most are orphans, and who knows how many were terrorized by the war and Joseph Kony.

Yet through it all, these people find a way to make music, dance, and have the happiest looks on their faces when they do. They invite us to dance with them, hold our hands and give us hugs, ask to take pictures with us, and wave at us as we leave.

As well, today I witnessed a rare moment where it was difficult for me not to believe in something greater. It started raining, and one of the priests told us that in Uganda, rain is seen as a blessing from God. It started raining as the kids were finishing their final dance, and continued as we took pictures with them and received hugs.

Now, up until now I thought I was ready for everything. I was ready to see starving people sitting on the ground, ready to see little kids carrying even smaller kids on their backs, ready to see tragic and terrible things. But I was not ready for this. I wasn’t ready for the level of kindness I was shown after the performances were finished. I wasn’t ready for a complete stranger, a kid, take my hand, and lead me around the dance floor, give me a hug after, and ask to take a picture with me. I wasn’t ready for all of the kids, as we were leaving, to give us hugs, ask to take pictures with us, and tell us we are always welcome. Why should these people do something like that? We haven’t done anything for them. We haven’t made their lives any better. Yet for some reason, they show us a kind of kindness I haven’t seen before. The kind of kindness that I was not ready to see in this country where a third of the kids we met won’t be here in a couple years, or even months.

In a moment like that, despite everything I believe to the contrary, it’s hard to believe that there could be evil in this world. It’s difficult not to believe in something as thin as “goodness.” Which, I suppose, is kind of the point. Especially in my current journey in
trying to understand what “goodness” is.

I still haven’t come to a conclusion, but here’s what I saw today: people who live in a country where for the last few days, I’ve seen overwhelming poverty. I saw these people gather together, make music, laugh and dance and sing, and invite us to join them, give us hugs and tell us we are always welcome there. I saw a people that, from my extremely thin and shallow observation of them, are a people who have every reason to be angry, bitter, and sad, take the time to show us hospitality, and say and do some of the kindest things I’ve ever seen. Today, I saw something I was not ready for, and I’m still processing it.

TL;DR: I might have seen something good today.

Take the Time

Do we take time in our lives to realize the extent of events around us and the entirety of what is actually occurring in others lives?

In the United States we are so busy. We have every minute of every second planned out. If we aren’t doing something we are racing to accomplish something else. Very rarely do we have time for meditation or reflection. Besides that, very rarely do we actually have time to fully experience the world around us.

We live in a fast food, fast pace nation. Everything we have must be fast, our internet to making our meals. But, what do we loose in the process? We loose the ability to take note. We don’t have time to smell the flowers. Relationships with those immediately around us suffer, even in our own immediate family’s.

John O’Keefe spoke in reflection about the lack of time we as a whole are willing to give.  He said, “The one thing the poor have that we don’t is time.”

In, Africa this is becoming increasingly apparent to me. There is a difference between Ugandan time and regular time. The sense of length is just completely different. The people are more then willing to give their time to us. When we visited Ave Maria school yesterday they had taken the time to  welcome us with open arms and song. They performed for us songs and dances. In my days, while we do have activities planned out, we have the time to notice the small things about the world around us. We are able to be present with those around us. We notice the world, the kindness of the people. We notice more in depth the reality of what is happening in their lives.

I wonder how our perspectives would change if we took the time to live a little more slow paced and notice what is actually going on around us.

Hakuna Matata

Today started out with a cup of coffee and a plan and ended with a lukewarm beer and a “hakuna matata.” What was supposed to be a 30-minute introduction turned into two hours. Three musical performances turned into seven performances, a skit, a ceremony during which Dr. O’Keefe was made an elder of the tribe and each of us planting trees.


So what if we got zero of three planned interviews done for the documentary? We had an amazing day–one of the best of my life.


The people of Ave Maria (a school in Lira) have got to be some of the most welcoming people in the world. A third of the children we met at the school today are HIV positive and are war orphans. It’s easy to forget that last part.


There was a toddler today (probably about one and half) who was absolutely beautiful. She was gnawing on a piece of sugar cane the entire time we were there. She wandered over to where I was sitting and we hung out for a good half an hour during the skit, which was entirely in their tribal language and therefore incomprehensible.


While we were watching the skit, she was trying as hard as she could to break her sugar cane. Her efforts were absolutely adorable, however futile. Finally, she just bit off a chunk and spit it out into her hand. She then proceeded to hold out the bite-sized piece of sugar cane and offer it to me. To say it melted my heart is a vast understatement. This sugar cane is probably the only thing the girl had to eat today, and she wanted to share it with me.

How can a people who have so little give away what little they do have? I think it’s because they just understand what it means to be human, even from the beginning.

Even sitting in church on Sunday, the acceptance of human nature was readily apparent. Women were breastfeeding and the reader reached under his robe to adjust his junk in the middle of reading a Psalm. Why are these things not okay in America? Comfort and nourishment are basic human needs, but we’re ashamed to address them unless we’re out of the public eye.

If we could just accept that we’re all humans, maybe we could stand in a kind of solidarity and we could offer the same unwarranted kindness. Actually, why does kindness have to be warranted at all? Nobody needs to earn kindness, and I think that’s something I learned from the Ave Maria people.

There’s America time, where you’re busy doing something that seems urgent and simultaneously thinking of the next thing you’ll be doing that’s equally as urgent. America time leaves no time to appreciate the people you’re with or to accept them as human beings.

There’s Africa time, where you take time to appreciate the beauty, the silence and the company you have and where the moments stretch into days.

Today, we made the welcome, full transition from America time to Africa time. Hakuna matata.