Monthly Archives: June 2012


“I have often said that man’s unhappiness springs from one thing alone, his incapacity to stay quietly in one room. Imprisonment is such a horrific punishment. That is why the pleasure of being alone is incomprehensible.”- Blaise Pascal

Like clockwork, I woke up at 6:30 this morning. I will be the only one awake (with the exception of Charles, the faithful gate keeper) for the next two hours. I don’t mind this quiet time to myself as the sun comes up. It gives me time to read, write, and pray. It is also the only time I will have to myself for the rest of the day. At home I don’t get up in the morning and have two hours of complete aloneness and silence.  So, I’ve been learning a lot during the past seven weeks of this. Things like…

  1. I have been addicted to distraction. When you live in the constant presence of cell phone, Internet, iPod, and a myriad of other electrical hummings that make up every day life, the absence of visual and auditory noise is startling. I began to think if there was ever a time back home when I intentionally avoided distractions and the only thing I could think of was when I’m painting. Occasionally I’ll have music going, but it’s time for me to strictly create, not consume. I’ve realized a world of externals has distracted me from the emptiness of my inner life. I ward off boredom at all costs. But not here. Here, I’ve had to confront boredom. I’ve had to think. A lot. I’ve had time to ask big questions. I’ve had time to get to know myself. I’ve had to focus on relationships. Life here is all about presence. At home it’s more about presentation. I’d like to change that upon my return.
  2. Embrace silence and solitude. Withdrawing from the world for personal fulfillment or feelings of well-being are all fine and dandy, but I don’t think that is the only, or most important outcome. Detaching ourselves from the systems and structures that shape our daily lives is good so that we can begin or reenter a day and really participate in community out of the transformative love of God and power of silence/solitude.
  3. It’s not that easy. Like I said, I enjoy the 6:30 quietness to myself, but this morning I felt a kind of loneliness that makes you feel like a grade-school kid homesick and stuck at camp. I tried to pray but mostly was just getting snot everywhere. And I felt like I heard God say, “I’m here too,” but it sounded mostly like my own voice somewhere in my heart, only more kind and wise. And that’s all right. I didn’t seek a distraction. I didn’t try to fill the emptiness with something. I just sat there and felt it for what it’s worth.

“This was my moment to look for the kind of healing and peace that can only come from solitude.” Eat, Pray, Love


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Oh, Happy Day

Today Megan and I sat in Simprosa’s tiny sewing workshop and started an art therapy session with her and three women she employs. I played some music off my iPhone and they went to town creating their “life lines”. This is a great first day exercise because it allows Megan and I to see what seasons or events each girl considers important in her own life, where her life has been, and where she sees it going.

I like going out to the schools and working with kids, but there’s something really nice about sitting face to face, undistracted, with a few women. I found myself savoring it. Soaking in every word off their lips and emotion to come across their faces. Observing the scars on their bodies. A bullet wound on Christine’s leg, the knife cut across Judith’s eyebrow, the burns on Jackie’s arms. There was something really special about this day for me. It was the first day I felt like I was doing what my heart really longed to do. 

We each took a turn sharing, which if you grow up a middle-class American, is like preparing yourself for a big slap across the face. When you ramble off a few white girl issues and then hear four stories of incomprehensible pain and suffering (although there was one short, isolated line in Christine’s drawing that represented a brief period of happiness in her life) you wish that you had just bit your tongue.

Christine was abducted by the LRA when she was 8 years old. She lived in the bush most of her life and gave birth to two children there. She was shot in the leg during her first pregnancy. She has no parents. She has no husband. She and her children live in town with some friends but she said she feels stranded in Gulu. She works at Simprosa’s trying to make enough money to pay for her children’s school fees and she feels strange and insecure sending her children to school when she has never been educated herself.

Jackie and her father (who died) were abducted when she was 12 years old. She was given to a soldier to be his wife. She gave birth to a child in the bush. She drew a picture of herself climbing up mountains with a baby on her back. She and her husband escaped and lived together for a while but he left her and the baby, so now she lives with her mother. She leaves her mother’s house at 6 in the morning and bikes to work, which is a 3-4 hour commute each way!

Judith was abducted when she was 14 years old. She was in the bush for 5 years before she and three other girls escaped. Her commanding officer would pray with them and told them that if they ever wanted to escape they would have to surrender everything to God. When she decided to escape she was in Sudan and walked for two weeks to reach Uganda. Life was extremely difficult when she returned for she was now 19 with little education and no family to return to. She was feeling suicidal and received counseling from an NGO in Gulu, which helped her find hope and a purpose. She wants to help counsel other people. For a season life got better, she married and had babies. She found herself being taken care of, but then her husband was arrested and now life is a struggle again. But Judith said she continues to surrender everything to God and seeks His provision each day.

I brought into discussion how God never promises to save us from suffering, but He does save us through suffering. He refines us, making us new, if we let Him. They aren’t alone in the things they’ve experienced and God will use them to help other people who are enduring the same thing. It’s not easy to reflect on lives that have been full of pain. God never intended or wanted them to face abduction, rape, death, or poverty but there is a lot of evil in the world and horrible things happen to good people. I encouraged them to continue surrendering their daily struggles to God because He says that his plans for us are good ones: plans of prosperity, hope, and restoration. But, these are the ladies I’ll be hanging with every Monday morning. If you pray, you can pray that Megan and I lead them well and that God speaks through us. You can pray that the activities we do will be beneficial in their healing processes and that they just feel free to let go and have fun (which is extremely important and is best for the soul, in my opinion). 

*Deep sigh*

I have a million thoughts and feelings. My head and heart are so full they might explode. Life is so hot and cold here. I’m either running around like crazy or embracing silence and solitude. I’m either on top of the world from an awesome day of work or I’m having a mental breakdown. I’m either I’m stuffing my face with fried French toast or eating one scoop of rice and making friends with the growly creature in my stomach. I’m either feeling in love with this place (particularly during boda rides out to the village) or counting down the days until I’m home.

BUT I wouldn’t change it for the world! I’m learning and growing more than I thought possible. I can’t wait to see how life continues to change and be effected by the things I’ve seen and people I’ve met here in Uganda when I’m back in Des Moines, Iowa, USA. God is so good. All the glory and power to Him forever and ever.




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Keep On Keepin’ On

Ladies and gentlemen, I am officially half way through this journey. It’s hard to believe six weeks have gone by. A previous Child Voice intern told me that the middle part is the hardest, and I’d have to agree. The project proposal I started out with is unfortunately, completely out of reach, and the ending feeling of accomplishment seems laughable. This morning I was thinking about my friend Emily (who is currently biking across America to fundraise for water wells in Africa) and wondering if this is what she must be feeling. The excitement of the trail is over and the end seems too many blistering miles to push pedal after pedal. Is it worth it? Why the hell did I want to bike 3,000 miles for in the first place when it’s really hard?! But she’s a champ so she’s probably not feeling those things 😉

The beautiful and wonderful CV office secretary, Hope, took Matt and I to a yoga class this week (it was awesome!!) and I met many wonderful people who are working here in Gulu for various reasons. One is starting a recycling program, one is running this yoga studio, one is teaching out in the villages, and another working in an orphanage. As we went around, sharing about ourselves and how we felt that day, I listened to many of them share their daily struggles of, “Is this what I’m going to do with the rest of my life?” I’ll never underestimate what missionaries (and/or devoted humanitarians) give up for a calling. It sounds idyllic and all on paper and in Facebook photos, but it takes a lot to miss all those birthdays, weddings, summer vacations with the family, weekend trips with friends, not to mention a real income.

Some days I get to do what I (sort of) set out to do and it’s great. Other days, I end up swearing under my breath and kicking the dirt. C’est la vie, right? It’s funny because it feels oddly similar to the last time I was in Africa when what was planned didn’t happen and I thought the lack of direction would kill me. But I’ve learned in these desert experiences to make like an Israelite and wander. Walk around. Meet people. Hear stories. Make connections. Ask how you can help.

In my wandering this week I met a wonderful lady who trains formerly abducted/HIV positive girls in sewing and runs a small shop with only four sewing machines. She actually left a large church where she was training 100+ women to train the few who weren’t getting reached. Her story is incredible and her task is a heavy one as she doesn’t have the space or supplies to grow and she hasn’t found anywhere to display what they make. She’s letting me come and do art therapy with them next week! Along with that, the yoga studio I mentioned earlier works with a group of HIV positive kids and is training some new instructors next week, so I will possibly be joining in to incorporate some Mandala-making with those classes. And to top it all off, I thought, why not just do art therapy with “our girls” (Concy, Grace, and Vivian) here at the house? Duh.

So, I guess you could say this week I learned, “Not all who wander are lost.”- J.R.R Tolkien.

Art therapy this week went really well when it didn’t get rained out and consisted of face painting with the bead women (see Facebook for those pictures) and drawing “A Day I’ll Never Forget” with the school kids. Here are some of kids’ work:




“I remember the day my father died. I remember when I went to buy school clothes but I didn’t have any money. I remember when Manchester United beat Arsenal 7-2.”


This is a drawing the day an LRA soldier killed her aunt in front of her.


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Microfinance Part 1

Microfinance! Microloans! Microenterprise OH MY! The panacea to cure all poverty!   A few years back I heard about the phenomenon that was sweeping the development world, and even crossing over to the celebrity advocacy world.  Bono was calling for it, politicians on both ends of the ideological spectrum were touting it, even the gorgeous sweetheart, Natalie Portman, is a ambassador and spokeswoman for a microfinance organization. The idea is simple.  Give a small loan to the poorest of poor that fall through the financial cracks of commercial banks.  Some people are so poor that they are incapable of manifesting adequate collateral, and are thus deemed too risky and too much hassle to be the recipient of a loan.  Long story short, along came the Bangladeshi economics professor, Muhammad Yunis. He created an experiment and used his own cash to issue loans to women entrepreneurs on a tiny scale. Yunis found it was a huge success, and started the Grameen Bank. He would prove to be the pioneer and trailblazer that would kick-start an explosion that would result in millions and millions of loans being issued in slums and villages on every continent.

There are many different variations to administer microloans, but most lenders follow a few tenants. Loans are typically given to groups.  Groups can range from as small as 5 people to as large as 30.  The group all pays at the same time, and if the group defaults on the loan, then they will not be issued any further loans. If one person is unable to repay her share then others will pay for her. This creates a group liability because nobody wants to pay another persons’ burden, the group will create a peer pressure effect where they will do their darndest to make sure every member holds on to their end of the bargain.  The group will also support and encourage each other by giving advice, bouncing ideas off each other, and cultivating friendships and community.  Lending organizations love giving to groups because it shifts the burden of administration largely to the groups.  It is so much easier for a loan officer to visit a group of 15 people once a month, than to make 15 individual trips to 15 people.  It is also necessary to lower administrative costs because often times loan officers have to spent a lot of time and resources to travel to remote villages to collect loans.  Also, with giving to the poor, they are often instructing undereducated and at times illiterate people, so the loan officers have to spent costly time to educate them on business and budgeting concepts.  As previously mentioned, poorer people also have more risk, and lending organizations turn to group liability to help absorb the costs of missed payments.

It is also estimated that some %90 of all loan recipients are women.  Women are the backbone of the developing world’s culture (just like my mom and wife have been the solid bedrocks to my life. Amazing women, straight up).  They work the fields, earn the wages, and take care of the family.  They are also typically the most fiscally responsible of the two genders.  Unfortunately they are not who hold the power in relationships.  Men so often hoard money for their own pleasures, and if the woman objects, they run the risk of being abused verbally, physically, and even sexually.  Many microlenders give to women with the social goal to empower them, but also because they many times have the best rate of repayment.

It’s easy to see why microfinance became all the craze.  Repayment rates for many organizations were better than some commercial banks, so it appears to be self-sustaining. Conservatives love it because it’s a “hand up, rather than a hand out”.  People are able to lift themselves up by their own bootstraps.  Liberals also love it because it has huge potential to be socially empowering to woman, and many social programs can be enacted concurrently to disbursing loans.  Stories after stories of success were highlighted where women were able to lift themselves up out of poverty.  Woman would buy a sowing machine with their first microloan, and then in subsequent loans would build a business and employ multiple other woman.  People gobbled it up. Huge aid organizations and tiny NGOs alike designed and implemented programs.  Governments, philanthropists, venture capitalists all threw huge amounts of money at this miracle cure to poverty.  The end to material suffering was over!

Wait a second. Time out.

Solving the world’s greatest problem couldn’t be that easy, could it?

Let’s look at it this way. Are you an entrepreneur? Do you even aspire to own your own business? Would you be willing to take out a loan to do this?  Some of you would obviously answer yes to this, but I personally have no desire whatsoever to do what it takes to launch my own business.  I definitely don’t have the know-how to manage people, suppliers, budgeting, marketing, and all the other myriads of aspects of running a business. Even if I were to have all that knowledge and drive to succeed, there’s still the chance that the business simply won’t work.  The fact is, not every person is meant to be an entrepreneur.  All these microfinance organizations put out these heartwarming success stories. That’s awesome. There are truly remarkable stories coming out of microenterprise and I want to celebrate that.  The problem arose though because the movement in large part grew on anecdotal evidence rather than hard quantitative, randomized study that shows causation.

The pristine and promising name of microfinance eventually started to take some hit in the last few years for a number of reasons.  Just as there were heart-warming stories of success of the loans, eventually the gut-wrenching stories of failure emerged.  It’s hard enough hearing stories of people stuck in poverty, but when they are pitched deeper into poverty through the debt they take on, it can be truly demoralizing.  It cannot be understated that taking on debt is a huge risk.  This is especially true for the poor, who have many less buffers from shock than we do.  When school fees take up well over %50 of you income, when war, famine, or natural disaster strike, when easily treatable diseases become life threatening, or when an irresponsible husband siphons money for alcohol, even the most prudent and savvy business person cannot cope with such a razor thin line of disaster.  The microfinance name also took a huge hit when stories came out of India that the pressure of debt became so great on some that there became repeated instances of suicide.

In addition to the horror stories mentioned above, peoples’ attitudes began to cool toward microfinance when for-profit lenders saw the economic bubble growing in the microfinance industry. Instead of benevolent organizations such as Muhammad Yunis’s Grameen Bank, some predators came looking to make profit.  I am not saying that all for-profit microlenders are swindlers and cheats, because they are not, but it muddied the waters. In fact some large nonprofits opened themselves up to public investments and gained for-profit status.   In some countries, just like with our current financial crisis, there was an oversaturization of lenders that were pushing bad loans on people, many people became multiple borrowers, and many people defaulted on their loans and the bubble burst.  All of these issues converged and critics started to paint microfinance to be glorified payday loan sharks; usury at it’s finest.

So hold on.  At first it was a cure, now it’s a curse?

In reality, microfinance is neither.  Under the right circumstances loans can be a great and empowering thing, but under the wrong circumstances they can have disastrous consequences.  Diligent researchers are exploring when it is successful and when it is not.  It is important to have a balanced view of the subject, and to maintain an open, yet critical framework.  Child Voice has tried microfinance with some of their former graduates with mixed results.  Brad, another intern and I, have the pleasure of exploring what worked, what didn’t, and how we can improve upon the program.  This blog is too long, so I will post another blog soon and I will let you know what we have been up to!  I will just say, it has been truly inspiring to learn of the stories the girls have gone through and are continually facing. STAY TUNED!!

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Art Therapy Session: Fear Balloon

As many of you have probably seen in pictures and video, this week for Art Therapy we blew up balloons and had the kids identify one or several things they are scared of to draw on the balloon. I love the extent to which they get immersed in their drawings. There are some really incredible artists!

We explained to the kids that this would be an exercise to help them understand we have some control over what we fear. Then they got to run around and stomp on the balloon, destroying their fear. They loved this. We loved it. We went over 2 Timothy 1:7, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of instruction” and prayed together asking God to give us peace and comfort when we are confronted with things that scare us.

If any of you are wondering what the kids drew, I’ll indulge you. There were pictures of snakes, elephants, lions, dogs, ghosts, witch doctors, soldiers, guns, fighting, and even a few cars. Oh, and I can’t forget that there was one Godzilla.

It was a great week and things definitely went more smoothly than last week, but I thought I would share a few things I’ve learned as an Art Therapy intern.

Things get lost in translation: At one of the schools we are provided with a translator and at the other we’re totally on our own. Last week at the school with a translator the boys and girls were in separate groups, but both were given the instruction to create a timeline of important events in their life. The boys did this. But for whatever reason all the girls drew pictures of churches and/or their mothers. We have no idea what happened. At the school without a translator we did our best to slowly and simply explain that they were to draw their fears or things they were scared of on balloons. A few minutes into the activity we noticed they were drawing things like chickens, flowers, food, etc. I managed try and redirect them by acting out/using the example of a snake and then I think they understood but…

Don’t use examples: Then there were snakes on every balloon. Not that snakes aren’t scary, or common here, but it doesn’t give us much to work with when it comes to sharing time.

Get used to being a spectacle: I don’t know what I was expecting. A classroom? An office space? A cleared spot of land? Well, we take to art therapy sessions in a grass field or spare hut/gazebo thing where LITERALLY hundreds of children who were not selected to be a part of the art therapy group (Oh how I wish we had the manpower and supplies to work with all the students, but there are 800 of them) crowd around and watch. It’s only a little bit distracting…

Don’t ask for privacy: We told our translator to kindly ask the onlookers to leave so the kids could have some privacy during the session. The translator said something in Luo to the masses and then we observed some older kids out of nowhere pick up sticks and begin whipping people with it as everyone ran away. Oops. Didn’t mean to inflict violence on anyone (not that anyone appeared hurt)! But I didn’t see anyone draw a person with a stick on their balloon, so it must be a cultural thing.

I would write about what Clayton is doing, but he would do a much better job of explaining it, so once he’s recovered from his sinus cold (not fun or expected, but he’ll take it over malaria) I’ll bug him to write a blog.

We LOVE our team, continue to believe in the incredible vision and work of Child Voice, and are committed to finding more ways to serve the community here and immerse ourselves in the culture during the day. We love and miss Gateway, all our friends, family, and co-workers back home! We’re thinking and praying for you.


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Mama Cecelia

Cecelia was born in 1966, making her the same age as my own parents. She was married and pregnant with TRIPLETS when the LRA attacked her village and captured her husband. Four months after delivering triplet boys (oy!) she heard news of her husband’s death. As a single twenty-year-old mother of three boys, the hospital director where she delivered sort of took Cecelia under her wing, but sadly passed away from Ebola years later. Cecelia worked as a teacher and choir director most of her life and eventually remarried and had a daughter, Mercy, with her second husband. Her second husband died of Malaria. Widowed twice, with four mouths to feed, Cecelia eventually found work as a matron and nurse at Child Voice. Today she oversees “our girls” (Concy, Grace, and Vivian) who help cook, clean, and look after us. Her daughter is still in high school and her triplet boys are all finished and hoping to get sponsored for a college education (which I calculated to be just over $300 each per semester. I didn’t bother mentioning it costs us about $15,000 per semester at home).


Cecelia loves to sing and dance for us and tell us stories. On scorching hot afternoons, I love nothing more than to sit and listen. Here is one of my personal favorites: One time Cecelia had just bought millet flour and was carrying it on her head as she walked back home. A military man began to chase her so she turned around and threw the millet flour at him (which could very well have been 50 lbs). When he came after her again he tackled her to the ground. At this point she was not far from her village and screaming for help. Wrestling with the man, she “bit his finger properly!” and when villagers came to assist her the man ran away. Needless to say I am in awe of this woman’s strength. She’s become Saint Cecelia to us. Really, all “our girls” are saints and we’ve been incredibly blessed to have them around every day to laugh and share life with.


Yesterday the girls showed Megan and I how to do laundry like real Acholi women. Which apparently means you put so much detergent in the water that your clothes make a crunching noise when they’ve finished drying. As long as our next lesson isn’t how to butcher and cook a goat, I think I’ll be okay.

On the agenda for this week: Art therapy continues and we’re excited about this week’s activity (one, because it’s cool and two, because we wrote out instructions/lessons plans for the translators so hopefully that saves us some precious time). Clayton and Brad will be testing the sanitation of water wells and continuing their microfinance research and work.

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The 411

This was one of those weeks where lots of things went wrong. A truck tire came off its axel. A boda tire went flat. Twice. Boda drivers were 30 minutes late and we missed our art therapy session. One of the schools forgot about our therapy session and didn’t have anything ready for us. A driver got in an accident twice this week and was fired (everyone was okay). One driver accidentally walked through a window and got all cut up. People were getting sick left and right. And so it goes.

But as the Lukodi Primary School headteacher told us, “It is all to be expected.”

There’s part of me that’s like, “No. It is not expected. Where I live people are on time or they get fired. If you say you’re going to do something for someone, you do it. If something goes wrong, you work as hard and fast as you can to fix it and move on. If you can’t make it, you call.”

You would think after all of my experiences in third-world countries the time- managed, fast-paced, and task-driven American in me would have diminished. But the residue is there.

For those of you that want to know what we’ve been up to lately: On Tuesdays and Thursdays myself and two other interns (Matt and Megan) go to the Lukodi Primary School and on Wednesdays and Fridays we are at St. Martin’s Catholic School. Over the course of those four days we meet with 48 students ranging in age from 10 to 17. The schools have identified these students as the most severely traumatized or war-affected. For most of them, we’re discovering this means they’ve lost one or both parents along with a host of other issues like abuse from extended family, demonic episodes, and depression. We meet for one hour, which is barely enough time to even begin processing their work, but it’s all we get. So, while this frustrates me, all I can do is hope that the creating process itself is therapeutic and aiding them in healing or just simply distraction.

Clayton and another intern (Brad) have been helping map out and get measurements of the layout for the new center. But mostly they’ve been focused on researching microfinance and drawing up a plan for implementing a microsavings program for Child Voice. This week they met with an already established microfinance program to talk about potential partnership for the entrepreneurial girls who graduate from the Child Voice and would like to, or qualify to, take out a loan.  Next week they hope to interview former Child Voice graduates who received loans in order to find ways to enhance and implement a new microfinance program.

Overall we are adjusting very well. Personally, I hardly notice when there are 50 flies on me at once. I can ride a boda sidesaddle like a real Acholi woman. I take cold showers like a champ. I can eat mystery chicken parts without caring. I love the people we’re becoming friends with. I love coming home with red dirt caked all over my face and hair. I love watching these amazing kids create art and pray it’s helping them in places I can’t see. I love watching the village people garden, build and prosper. I love going to church under palm leaves. I love ending every day by reading what Jesus has to say and talking about it with people of all different backgrounds and opinions. I’ve done this stuff enough to realize I’m in a honeymoon phase and in a couple more weeks you’ll probably read the hurts and struggles instead of the romanticized ramblings. But I love where God has us. With all its challenges and conflict and joy and potential. Thank you to everyone who has supported us in getting here. We are unbelievably appreciative. 

Some of the art therapy drawings, “Life Lines”:






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