Chris Markomanolakis (Uganda)

Christopher Markomanolakis graduated from Towson University in 2012 with degrees in Political Science and Metropolitan. He served in the United States Peace Corps as a community health volunteer for three years (2014-2017). During the first two years, he worked on a wide variety of projects/programs including water sanitation, youth empowerment, HIV/AIDS awareness, increasing the capacity of health care providers, and many more. After the first two years, Chris became an Assistant Project Manager with Catholic Relief Service’s Accelerating Stunting Reduction Program which focused on reducing stunting by providing pregnant women with nutrition counseling and giving them to tools and skills needed to maintain a home garden. Chris’ responsibilities included facilitating seminars, distributing inputs, designing and constructing solar dryers, and reporting on project indicators. Now Chris has begun studying to earn a Masters of Public Management from the University of Maryland. He has been rewarded several fellowships including the TIAA Nonprofit Leaders Fellowship, Coverdell Fellowship, and the Global Philanthropy Service Fellowship. During the winter of 2017, he worked as a consultant with the Grameen Foundation’s Bankers without Borders and the Wildlife Trust of India(WTI). His team conducted a quantitative analysis to measure the WTI’s impact on female empowerment and conservation within the Valmiki Tiger Reserve. With June just around the corner, Chris is eager to begin training with The Advocacy Project and help the Gulu Disabled Persons Union promote sustainable WASH practices in Gulu, Uganda. After returning from his fellowship over the summer, Chris discussed with AP the impacts the fellowship had on him. "AP gave me the opportunity to stand on my own two legs. Graduate school loves to teach theory and best practices, but AP allowed me to take those lessons and apply them in real life. It was the best ten weeks of my life and it gave me the confidence to pursue a career in international development."

Uganda-1 Chris- 0

11 Jun

To summarize my first week in Uganda, all I need to say is – it can only get better from here.

Allow me to explain.  On the eight hour bus ride from Kampala to Gulu, I fell asleep.  I know, seems innocent enough.  Unfortunately someone noticed the sleepy mzungu (white person) so I when I woke up in Gulu, my backpack was gone.  Stolen to be exact.  Oh man, that was a bad way to start this adventure.  Laptop, kindle, cords, battery packs, and my toothbrush! I would like to lie and say I handled it with dignity. But I’m a little more hotheaded than that.  I don’t believe any Ugandan has heard such a large variety of English curse words.  F bombs could be heard echoing throughout the bus stand.  Like I said, hotheaded.

I felt so deflated.  Not because my stuff was gone, stuff can be replaced.  What really shook me was how stupid I was.  I have lived in East Africa for over three years so I considered myself an expert, a professional, a modern day David Livingstone. That’s how life works, right? As soon as you get a bit too cocky, life comes along to humble you.  Well, consider me humbled.

You may be wondering at this point of the story, if Chris’ laptop was stolen, how is he writing this blog? Short answer – good people.  I arrived at the office of the Gulu Disabled Person Union (GDPU) with my mouth still full of expletives.  I was having a personal pity party when I got out of my taxi. Then I saw a man with no legs sitting on the ground fixing his wheelchair. It was pretty hot outside, even for a Ugandan, so sweat was trickling down his face as he worked.  I was amazed, not because I had never seen a man without legs, but because he had a smile as bright as the African sun.  I walked over to introduce myself, but before I said a word he told me how sorry he was to hear about my laptop.  News travels fast out here.  Charles Okwonga lost his legs after stepping on a landmine and I had the nerve to complain about a laptop.

Charles Okwonga

Then I met Patrick Ojok, the director of GDPU, who did not hesitate to offer me his laptop. People I never met before began messaging me on facebook to offer me condolences and access to their laptop. Local Ugandans stop me in the street to apologize on behalf of the country.  I have made friends with locals and Peace Corps Volunteers.  How can I be sad when I am surrounded by such wonderful people?  Once again, I have been humbled.  This time by the love and support of people who don’t know me at all. Life is funny that way.  One minute you are questioning your faith in humanity and the next you are sitting in awe of it.

I don’t intend to write more blog posts like this. The only reason I decided to share this story is because I really believe life doesn’t do things to you, it does things for you.  For the rest of my time here, I will use this blog to highlight the lives and stories of the people of Gulu.  To share the voices of those that are never heard and show the faces of those who go unseen.   So sit back, relax, and enjoy the next ten weeks as I show you a side of Uganda you haven’t seen before!  And if you have’t yet, please consider supporting our work so everyone can live with dignity regardless of their disability.  Just follow the link to donate – Support GDPU

Uganda Sky

Posted By Chris Markomanolakis (Uganda)

Posted Jun 11th, 2018