Backpack Journalism at Creighton University is a collaboration between the Theology Department and the Journalism, Media, & Computing Department. It came about because of a theologian interested in social justice and filmmaking and a journalist and an artist interested in filmmaking and social justice.
Each summer, a small group of students travels to a community in search of a story. Led by professors Dr. John O’Keefe, Tim Guthrie, and Carol Zuegner, the students immerse themselves in the communities, interviewing, filming, recording, and writing. When they return to Creighton, they take the stories they have collected and develop them into a short documentary film. The Backpack Journalism documentaries have been accepted at several film festivals, including the Omaha Film Festival. The class has traveled to such far-flung places as the Dominican Republic and Uganda, Bethel Alaska and Nogales Arizona/Sonora. The next project is tentatively planned for Northern Uganda in 2018.
The Farm View Country Resort was the place we stayed throughout the duration of our trip in Uganda. Nicknamed the “Haven Away From Home,” it was located in the outskirts of Lira, one of the most populous cities in Northern Uganda.
To get to the resort, however, was more like an adventure than heavenly. Located about 2 kilometers away from the street, we had to take a winding dirt road all the way to the hotel. On the way, traditional viliages could be seen, as well as all the children waving and chasing the bus to the beginning of the hotel’s drive way.
Compared to many of the other hotels in Uganda, Farm View really stood up to its reputation. The hotel had great water pressure for showers, spacious rooms with cable television hooked up, and a beautiful acre of grounds to which the building resides on. Personally, one problem I had was with the beds. I found myself waking up in the morning with such a stiff back that I couldn’t walk upright in the morning, But, considering that bed in Uganda are thin compared to that in the States, it was not that big of a concern.
One thing that Farm View is excellent at is customer service. The owners, Florence and John, have a full staff of employees to take care of their guests concerns. Whether that be personally doing laundry, ordering food and beverages, or asking for extra pillows, they are happy to oblige.
Besides this, some of the best food in all of Lira is at the Resort. Whether it be spiced chicken and rice, curried beef with noodles, or fried fish with African Cole slaw and mangos, all of the meals are excellently prepared by Farm Views very own chefs.
Overall, this resort was truly a “Haven Away From Home” to a bunch of Americans trying to shoot a documentary.
Since we’ve been in Lira, we’ve been staying in a hotel called the Farm View Country Resort. Nicknamed “The Haven Away From Home,” the grounds have many traditional straw and wood huts placed around the grounds, a huge western brick-built building (where we’re all staying) that caters to some of the western privileges we take advantage of back in the states (for example, warm water that comes out of a nozzle), and chickens and other animals galore that roam the premises on their own time.
Lately, the gang and I have been noticing giant lizards scurrying around the maroon cobblestone pavement (think of the bright yellow and orange lizards from Holes.)
Overall, I was pretty skeptical about the place at first. For some reason, it reminded me of one of the home fortresses that Hitler would have done his strategic planning in during WWII. From experience, however, I can say that the Farm View Country Resort has stayed true to its name: a home away from home.
The FVCR has been our club house for the past few days. No one else in staying in the hotel currently (something tells me not a lot of international guests come to the FVCR, let alone northern Uganda.) Besides us, however, there is a little girl named Nicole who calls this place home.
The Ugandan children are the most courteous children I’ve ever met: they wave to you with no promise that they are going to get a wave back, they hold your hand and walk with you to where you are going because they just want to be around you, and they even give you the food that they are eating (see Sara’s blog).
But not Nicole.
In many respects, this two year old girl reminds me of an American child. Compared to what all other children are wearing, she is always dressed in bright colored out fits and bold printed dresses, her hair is professionally braided with pink and white beads designed into it, she constantly has a bottle filled with formula (or milk, both are equally expensive) in her hand (her family calls her chubby, not fat), and she loves to watch the Disney Channel with her grandmother.
When I first met her days ago, I asked her what her name was and how she was… and her response?
“WAAAAA!!!” (Running in the opposite direction.) And I thought I was good with kids.
In many ways, she could be considered a spoiled brat. But I don’t consider her that way.
She’s already been through so much that she can’t (and shouldn’t) understand.
Nicole’s father died in a tragic car accident years ago. Her mother has never really been in her life since she was born, and currently lives in Kampala 6 hours away. From what I understand, she doesn’t talk to Nicole. Unfortunately, stories like this aren’t that uncommon.
Regardless of her heartbreaking story, she’s still a hyper toddler that we all love (and sometimes hate).
It makes me think where Nicole would have ended up after her parents absences if it weren’t for Florence and John. They are Nicole’s grandparents (on her father’s side) and the owners of the hotel we are staying in. After her father died, Florence and John took Nicole in as their own: clothing her, feeding her, washing her, and most importantly, loving her.
I look into Florence’s eyes at night. She looks tired, worn out from all the challenges and joys of raising yet another child. Florence has to be over 50, maybe 60. For Ugandan terms, she has lived a lifetime. Maybe two. I bet she’s seen many scenes in which she wishes she hadn’t. This should her time to relax…
But instead, she’s taking care of Nicole, because she loves her.
So far, we’ve visited two schools: Ave Maria Vocational School in Lira, and Abia Primary School in Abia, a poor rural region an hour outside of Lira. In both schools, the children have welcomed us with open arms. They have sang and danced and played music for us. In some instances, they have even given us the clothes off their backs.
Also, many of these children are orphaned, sick, or starving. Herbert says that maybe a third of the children at both schools are sick with either malaria or HIV. Maybe even both.
It’s hard for me to imagine where Nicole would be if it wasn’t for her loving grandparents. Would she have landed in a school like Ave Maria? Or a slum like Abia? Or, worst yet, on the streets alone?
Thank God Nicole is at our haven away from home with us.