Rebecca Scherpelz (Uganda)

Rebecca Scherpelz (Gulu Disabled Persons Union – GDPU): Rebecca is from Indianapolis, Indiana. She graduated in 2008 from Butler University with an undergraduate degree in International Studies and Anthropology/History. During her studies Rebecca led service trips to Uganda, where she lived and volunteered in Gulu and Kampala. Prior to her AP fellowship Rebecca spent over two years working with Best Buddies, an international non-profit that supports people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. After her fellowship Rebecca wrote: “I think I found what I want to do long-term. I’d like to go into a long-term career of recipient-donor relations, empowering recipients to speak up for what they need the most... It really made me think about what we give, from dollars to second-hand things, and how recipient organizations deserve the very best…not just leftovers.”

Gulu – A Day in the Life

11 Jul

6-6:30am: Generally I sleep through the night and wake up under my canopy mosquito net. I wake up by phone alarm and/or an anxious rooster crow. My room is a private guest house behind Mama Margaret’s house, where Mama and a revolving-door of 2 to 4 adult children and 1 to 4 young grandchildren live. For a family who has VERY little, it is almost embarrassing that they have insisted that I stay there for free, but it’s one of countless examples of the generosity of even the most impoverished people of Gulu. I hope to find other ways to support them before I go.

6:30-7am: Get ready for the day, including a daily dose of Doxycycline (anti-malarial meds), a jerrycan/bucket shower, and the constant fight to avoid the red-orange dust. It’s also expected that I brush my teeth prior to eating, too!

7-7:30am: Mama has breakfast ready for me: bread, Blue Band “butter,” a hard-boiled egg, and Ugandan tea (including at least two heaping scoops of cane sugar for the locals).

In the kitchen

Helping to prepare a “traditional American meal” my first weekend in Mama’s kitchen. Here, I am pictured with Beatrice, Rosetta, and baby Asifer.

7:30-8am: 15-20 minute boda-boda ride into town with my favorite boda and friend, James. Recent rain has kept the dust to a minimum; however, on the hotter days, the dust is heavy by morning. After showing up on my first day with my right shoulder caked with dust (I sit side-saddle on the bikes), I learned to apply sunscreen AFTER reaching work!

*Side note on transport: Most of Gulu is a web of two-ish lane roads—some paved, most dirt. To call them “potholes” is an understatement, as boda drivers have to navigate very specific paths to avoid holes, rocks, water, etc. As far as movement goes, there is a definite hierarchy on the roads: (walkers) step aside for (bicycles) veer left for (boda-bodas) who steer clear of (cars/trucks/NGO vehicles). And everybody gets out of the way for the large coal/material trucks that rumble by, as the inevitable dust cloud that swarms up takes several seconds to settle. Rain will essentially shut down transportation, as there are very few covered taxis in town.

8am-5pm – Work at GDPU! Staff makes their way in between 8-9, as road and weather conditions make all the difference. Tea happens promptly at 10am, often including cassava chips. Power is pretty spotty, often leaving the staff frustrated and idle (cross your fingers for a generator!). At lunch, I prefer to walk into town and pick up a few mangos; however, I’m constantly reminded of the “big African stomach” and encouraged to eat a full, hot meal. On the hottest days, warm malikwong (a bitter green simmered in sim-sim paste. Think spinach + liquefied peanut butter), beans, and potatoes isn’t always appealing, but it definitely fills me up!

As for the work itself, I’m starting to get a hang of my tasks. Goals for the summer include several proposals to help bring in funding for GDPU. Recently, we completed the first one for UNDP to fund the construction of accessible home modifications and a public, accessible toilet. Cross your fingers for $7k! Tech training and building a website is also on my to-do list.

5-6:30pm – I make my way home. Sometimes, this includes a stop in town to run errands or visit with friends (including the Sisters of St. Monica, the convent where I lived in 2008). On occasion, I will meet my host-brother, Brian, at his school, and we will walk the 3 or 4 kilometers home. He knows the back roads through the bush to avoid the dust.

Giving it a try...

I joined Beatrice and Rosetta to fetch water. Though they carry the 44-pounds of a 20L jerrycan with ease, I had a hard enough time standing still!

6:30-7pm – Mama Margaret insists that I take tea. Afterwards, I usually sit with Beatrice in the pharmacy out front where she works while the kids run around outside. She wants to learn French, so I’m reliving my days in French 1 to teach her the basics. People in the neighborhood of Forgod recognize me by now, but I can’t help but feel like a zoo attraction to those who walk by and stare at the curious white woman.

7-9pm – If there is power, Mama tries to get dinner ready earlier so we can eat with some light and enjoy their favorite television programs (dubbed soap operas from the Philippines and Mexico). This time of year, it gets dark by 7:30 or 8, and “dark” means something very different here without even the faintest glow from a streetlight or a city. Though there are a few windows in the home, they close up by 6:30pm when the mosquitoes have their nightly reservations for dinner.

9-10pm – I usually head back to my room (a 30 yard walk behind the main house) around this time, guided by a flashlight. Grateful for a laptop on hand, I’ll do a little work, use a portable modem to check email, and maybe watch an episode of West Wing on DVD, a small comfort of home! Otherwise, I make my way to bed and fall asleep to any number of sounds: silence; television from the house next store; packs of wild dogs running through and quarreling; maybe a mouse exploring my shoes; and always, mosquitoes. I can tell how many there are based on their slightly different pitch as they try angrily (but in vain) to get into my carefully tucked net. If I’m lucky, at least their different pitches will create a harmonic lullaby.

And with that: Goodnight, Gulu moon.

Posted By Rebecca Scherpelz (Uganda)

Posted Jul 11th, 2011


  • Genni Gardner

    July 11, 2011


    Wow Rebecca, what a beautiful picture of life up North. Keep your head up, after a while you forget you’re white!

  • Rebekah Nimtz

    July 13, 2011


    You’re awesome girl:) thanks for visualizing for us some of the details. Thinking of you.

  • Julia Dowling

    July 20, 2011



    This sounds amazing. What an interesting schedule to keep up. I wish I could join you there for a couple days and live in your shoes. You’re doing amazing work!


  • Kristen Johnson

    August 16, 2011


    Hey lady! Miss you tons. Just getting caught up on your blog. Good thoughts here and interesting, as always. Sorry I have been absent amidst the short breather from LC and gearing up for another glorious BB school year. The life and times of RS sound incredible. Keep up the remarkable work…you, of course, amaze me. Peace and love!

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