Christine Marie Carlson

Christine Carlson (Gulu Disabled Persons Union): Christine received her BA from The Evergreen State College. She went on to work for Planned Parenthood in Seattle, advocating for reproductive health strategies; co-manage a project on HIV-AIDS with PATH (the Northwest Microbicides Campaign Bill) funded by the Gates Foundation; and worked as an associate producer for Bill Nye’s series “The Eyes of Nye.” Christine was pursuing a Master’s in International Public Administration at the Monterey Institute of International Studies (MIIS) at the time of her fellowship. After her fellowship, Christine wrote: “I was extremely lucky to have such a wonderful group of people to work with. They are highly social and welcomed me eagerly. They tried to put my desk in an outside office, but I insisted on being put in the main office. I often bought sodas and fruit for the whole office, took photos constantly (which they loved) and was always available to lend a hand or an ear.”

Persons with Disabilities in Gulu! Heroes and Failures.

24 Jun

After a harrowing six hour bus ride north from Kampala to Gulu I have finally arrived at Gulu Disabled Persons’ Union (GDPU). On the bus a mazungu (white person) missionary laid hands on a man with an injured leg in an effort to heal him. After a week in Gulu I have begun to learn that this is a common occurrence. Streets are lined with NGOs and churches offering a range of effective and ineffective aid to worn torn Gulu.

So when I accompanied the GDPU team to the St. Jude’s orphanage I was shocked to see, despite the heroic efforts of the staff, how few resources and little support the children with disabilities have.

I sat for a long time with Catherine whose bed sores are so bad that the rotting flesh of her buttocks attracts a swarm of flies that hum around her. She was laid out on a mat in front of her shared room and her glazed over eyes and hot skin showed that she had an extremely high fever and no hope of relief due to the lack of all medicine including a simple aspirin.

She still managed to smile when the other children crawled, wheeled or limped over to tease the mazungu that was greeting their friend. The enormous love these children showed each other left an indelible impression on my heart.

I rode back to our office past sign after sign for one NGO and church after another. I was disgusted that any of them could allow a child to live in such state.  I realize that there are competing priorities, complicated politics, corrupt leaders, a history of war to deal with, and many souls to save, but surely a suffering innocent child deserves to be the absolute priority.

Precariously held together with a patchwork of grants, and heroically negotiating between a tug-of-war of government and donor politics, GDPU stands guard over its constituents and works tirelessly to help children and adults like Catherine. “All issues concerning persons with disabilities in the northern Ugandan District of Gulu, are sent to GDPU,” Patricia Okwir, Program Assistant.

GDPU is officially a chapter of National Union of Disabled People of Uganda (NUDPU).  These agencies are recognized by the government as the service coordinators for PWDS, but receive negligible government funding. GDPU represents sub-agencies that focus on particular disabilities: from blindness, spinal cord injuries to mutilation from the war.  Depending on funding their staff fluctuates from 1-5 and does everything from coordinate resources, provide livelihood training and educate PWDs on their rights.  It will be a great honor to work this summer with Fred Semakula, and his team Simon Ojok, Patricia Okwir, John Aluma, Santo Oryema.

As my blogging continues I will highlight the work of GDPU and its sub-agencies carried out amidst the palpable legacy of civil war that taints every aspect of Gulu society.

Posted By Christine Marie Carlson

Posted Jun 24th, 2010


  • Dara Lipton

    June 25, 2010


    Your photos are so powerful. The story that you tell about the unfortunate reality of NGOs, church organizations and development organizations and their conflicting priorities seems to be all too common throughout Africa…a continent plagued by good intentions and unsustainable initiatives.

    I applaud your work, and your amazing attitude. I look forward to reading more!

  • Dina Buck

    June 27, 2010



    I’m with Dara. What awesome photos! And I love seeing the whole staff of GDPU by their sign. Hope you are doing well “gulu” (up there). 🙂

  • Ashley Potter-Barlow

    June 29, 2010



    Your words and pictures are beyond anything I ever imagined to see when you spoke of Gulu.
    I am very impressed, and very proud to see all of the wonderful things you are aiming to achieve.
    I wish you much luck and success in your endeavors in Gulu!!
    Absolutely touching, thank you for this…


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