“Let us turn our thoughts today
To Martin Luther King
And recognize that there are ties between us
All men and women
Living on the Earth
Ties of hope and love
Sister and brotherhood
That we are bound together
In our desire to see the world become
A place in which our children
Can grow free and strong
We are bound together
By the task that stands before us
And the road that lies ahead
We are bound and we are bound”
– James Taylor, Shed a Little Light
In trying to find the right way to start documenting this summer’s experience with the Gulu Disabled Persons Union (GDPU) in Uganda, those lyrics seem fitting. Currently, I’m sitting in the Indianapolis Airport, waiting for a flight to Washington DC where I’ll get my first in-person introductions to The Advocacy Project. From there, I’m drawing on three years experience working with people with disabilities in Indiana + six weeks in Gulu (2008) volunteering with another organization + five years of growing interest, study, and love for Northern Uganda to build what I hope is a necessary skill-base to support the GDPU.
Still, I feel like I’m beginning an experience where I’ll hit the ground running before I quickly realize it’s less of a foot-race and more of an intense game of chess. Meaning, I’ve seen the game in action, can name most of the pieces, and have played a handful of times with reminders on the path of the rooks vs. the knights. But I’m no expert. This isn’t to say I don’t feel prepared or adequately trained for the fellowship – I’ve studied, read, prepared, jotted down notes, and refreshed what little Acholi I learned three years ago (“Apyowo! Iti maber?”).
More so, I always wonder when I go into situations like this to what extent I’ll be able to positively impact the people I will be serving. Can I – a female “Mzungu” from the suburbs of the Midwest – really relate to people who have been victims of the longest running war in Africa? Can I – a person without a physical disability – find a common ground and earn the trust of people with disabilities in Gulu, a marginalized minority that accounts for nearly ¼ of the population there? Can I – an outsider with a 12-week plan – provide support, advocacy, and a voice to the community? And if not…what am I doing there? Don’t get me wrong – I am thrilled and ready to be part of it! Still, anytime I travel – be it for service or exploration – I want to constantly remind myself that I am a guest of the country, first and foremost, and my role will be one of learning, partnership, and support.
Speaking of partnership, I owe more discussion to the Gulu Disabled Persons Union. Comprised of five advocacy groups that support a variety of disabilities, the GDPU strives to provide agency and a voice to the disabled population in Gulu. To be honest, direct communication with the individuals at the GDPU has yet to happen, as making contact from the states has proven to be the first challenge. However, from what I’ve gathered, the individuals with whom I’ll have the honor of working are nothing short of amazing. Still, their disability may deprive them of certain opportunities; the non-disabled community may write them out of the rebuilding process; and, I suppose, the individuals themselves may be struggling to accept their disability. This issue of “disability rights” warrants an entire discussion in and of itself. Expect more – MUCH more – later!
I suppose I’m setting this up like some sort of disclaimer, preparing you as well as myself for the uncertainty of it all. If you anticipate following this journey, I welcome comments, ideas, questions, and challenges. Hopefully this will be a learning and growing experience for both of us. It is my hope that this journaling shares as accurate and honest documentation of the work, the experience, the people, and the impact. I hope you get a glimpse – in the midst of the babble – of the hope, possibility, and struggle of the GDPU, its people, and Gulu in general.
For now, it’s time to hit the ground running…knight to C3…
Check out the video below for more!
GDPU and Rebecca – Summer 2011
Posted By Rebecca Scherpelz (Uganda)
Posted May 30th, 2011