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.”

There are ties between us…

30 May

“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


  • Jarod

    May 30, 2011


    So proud of you! It will be amazing, because you are amazing!

  • Jamie Miller

    May 31, 2011


    You are such a dedicated, driven, and inspired person! Knowing you makes me try to be a better person. You are going to change the world, just stay safe while you do it! Best of luck, LOVE YOU!

  • khone

    May 31, 2011


    so honored to know you rebecca! you inspire us all to do more!

  • Stef Todd

    May 31, 2011


    BECCA! You are such a beautiful person and I feel so honored to know you! I can’t wait to follow you on this jouney! You will changes lives there.. I have no doubt in my mind. I love love love you and be safe!!!

  • Bridget

    May 31, 2011


    Everyone you meet is lucky to have met you, and the people in Gulu will be no different. Good luck:)

  • Heather Dolstra

    June 7, 2011


    Hi Rebecca,
    We chatted at Ian’s house and I hope you will allow me to drop in on your blogs when they start coming. I wonder how you are doing with the vegetarian food? That is always my first concern….
    Loved the lyrics from the James Taylor song…


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