Tag Archives: Uganda

Student Helps Kids in Uganda Become More Self-Sufficient

Pigs and chickens are practically staples of almost any animal farm in the world. For some, the two yield key ingredients of the quintessential breakfast. For a group of kids in Africa, these farm animals have become the ham and eggs that bring in the green — vital money resources that connect them to an education, in part, because of the help of one USF student.

From May through August, Mallory Aurellano-Browne developed a plan that allows disadvantaged youth in Uganda to generate their own income by selling livestock. She worked with 26 young people between 12 and 22 years old, all of whom had lost one or both parents to AIDS and were being raised by distant relatives.

“I didn’t want to be disrespectful and show sadness for their life stories. Instead, I knew I needed to tap into what I came there to do, and my biggest motivation was just working and playing with the kids, even if my plan didn’t work,” she said.

In her plan, the group would make a profit by breeding or raising two chickens or a pig. Pork is a popular food item in the area she worked, and Aurellano-Browne wanted to accommodate the Muslim children in her group with the option of raising hens. She bought 20 pigs and 12 chicken for about $450, giving one pig each to 20 kids, and two chickens to each of the six Muslim kids. Kids were also given a five pound bag of feed, nails and wood, and attended a pig sty building workshop.

She raised money for the supplies by promoting her project on GlobalGiving, a charity fundraising website for nonprofits.

“I was surprised — most of the people who donated were my friends, a bunch of broke college students,” she said, laughing.

Aurellano-Browne was paired up with Kitovu Mobile, an organization located in Uganda’s Masaka district that provides care and treatment to communities affected by HIV and AIDS, as part of a Sarlo Scholars’ summer program. She devised and conducted the first income generating strategy for the youth in Masaka’s Kabonera sub-county, where farming is a main source of income and food.

While the sub-county’s population is mostly made up of children under the age of 18, it’s common to find only a small percentage of them attend school. Unable to afford attending school, these individuals spend each day doing arduous tasks like fetching gallons of water, carrying wood, or making bricks. These jobs often pay about 5,000 Ugandan Shillings, or barely two US dollars, each month, which is only enough to buy food for one family.

Aurellano-Browne said although one boy wanted to make more money carrying wood, his small body frame was not strong enough to take on the heavier wood load, which would give him a higher pay.

Oftentimes, Aurellano-Browne observed many of the children had the same responsibilities as their parents or caretakers. Yet while she perceived the workload as a harsh means to make a living, this lifestyle was fairly common among the Ugandans. “Between the youth and adults, I saw a different story. For the kids, this was just the way it was, they were born into it, but the adults felt like they had no connection to their children,” she said.

When she asked the children what they wanted to do with their profit, many of them said they hoped to be able to pay for school, in addition to buying coveted, costly goods like sugar and soap to wash their clothes.

“One of the best parts of being there was seeing the kids walk with their heads held high. Seeing their transition from the beginning of my trip to the end was amazing,” she said. Near the end of Aurellano-Browne’s 10 week stay, her group raised $700. She celebrated with Kitovu, as well as local government officials, who recognized the success of her plan.

By that time, Aurellano-Browne had already been welcomed by the community she worked in, and was even dubbed with the clan name Nassali, or ‘monkey’ in Ugandan, but the first few weeks of her stay were filled with homesickness, two encounters with malaria, and being called mzungu, which means ‘foreigner’ or ‘white person’. “I’m half black, but in Uganda, I was still viewed as an outsider. The whole time I was there, it was like I was playing tug of war trying to find common ground with the people there,” she said.

Wherever she went, young children ran to her, smiling and shouting “mzungu.” She said, “In some parts, mzungus are something like celebrities. One man even said to the kids, ‘Come touch her skin. She’s just like us!’”

Though it took Aurellano-Browne some time to adjust to her new surroundings, she said from the start, her host family treated her as their own kin, a kindness she especially appreciated when she contracted malaria while on safari.
Aurellano-Browne explained that her host mother, Mama Tamale, stayed with her in the hospital for three days, ensuring she received proper care and attention in the non-English-speaking facility which had no sheets on beds and did not offer food to its patients. When Tamale had to leave, she had her distant relatives come in to keep Aurellano-Browne company.

“I couldn’t believe that she did that. I don’t think the experience would have been the same without my host family,” she said.

Though Aurellano-Browne found it challenging to live off a diet of mashed green bananas, cabbage, and tough-skinned chicken, a wardrobe of five skirts and shirts, and a television with one channel, she said she eventually learned to adapt to the new, simple life. “I realized that a lot of the things I have are unnecessary.

The communities I worked with didn’t have much, but they’re happy,” she said. In her host home, Aurellano-Browne took showers by pouring buckets and used latrines formed by holes in the dirt floor. “Now, I’m scared that I’ll get too used to my life here, and forget about life in Uganda,” she said. Getting off the airplane in her hometown of Los Angeles was surreal, and she committed a whole day to recollecting her thoughts by herself.

Aurellano-Browne hopes to return to Uganda sometime soon and continues to keep in touch with her host family through Skype. “Being in a completely differently country and being part of a community to the point where we know each other’s faces, instead of just finishing my project and leaving — that was the best experience I got out of my trip,” she said. She is currently raising funds to apply her plan to another group of 26 Ugandan youth.

For an inside look at Aurellano-Browne’s work in Masaka, Uganda, check out her blog at ninethousandthreehundredand1.blogspot.com, which is named after the distance in miles between Uganda and San Francisco.

Getting off the KONY 2012 Bandwagon

“Kony 2012” was released online on March 5th, 2012 by Invisible Children, Inc., a non-profit organization that was founded in 2004 to shed light on the activities of Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda. Immediately after the film’s release, the video went viral, reaching an astronomic view count of 50 million in just one day.
The LRA, a Ugandan rebel force claiming Christian roots led by Joseph Kony, is believed to have recruited/kidnapped 50,000 to 100,000 children for use as soldiers in his army since 1987, and the film leads its audience to believe the numbers of child fighters in the army are still in that order. In fact, the size of the entire LRA is now well below several hundred fighters after Kony and his forces were driven from Ugandan territory in the mid 2000’s.

This may not seem like a serious point of contention when we can all agree that Kony is an altogether despicable man. He killed tens of thousands of innocent people throughout Central Africa, to be sure. And while the Kony 2012 campaign might be trying to do some good by shedding light on the activities of LRA, not giving the audience all the facts, or even the wrong ones, amounts to making an expensive, spectacular fiction film.

The only thing that is black and white in this world are those half-black-and-half-white cookies; the events of the LRA and Africa are much more complex than what is shown in this movie. I understand the intention to want to spread the word of an important cause, but is it really benefiting that cause if it is hidden behind a series of half-truths? Invisible Children spent over $1 million on production for Kony 2012, and even Jedidiah Jenkins, Invisible Children’s Director of Ideology, admits that, “the truth about Invisible Children is that we are not an aid organization, and we don’t intend to be. I think people think we’re over there delivering shoes or food. But we are an advocacy and awareness organization.”

For an organization raising tens of millions of dollars in donations, the fact that less than 40% of that revenue is used for actual non-profit purposes is troubling. I wrote this article because everyone on my Facebook page all of a sudden seemed to be Kony activists. I truly hope Invisible Children’s $1 million budget for travel, and the resulting pictures of kids with AK-47s and RPGs, helped the children that suffered under Kony. I’m more convinced, though, that $1 million in aid would go much further than lavishing donations on making videos that are only partly true. Imagine the food, housing, and water that can be gotten with even half that money.

Profile: Erika Myszynski Erasmus Student Films Documentary Exposing Human Trafficking in Uganda

Daughter of filmmakers and a filmmaker herself, Erika Myszinski spent two weeks last summer with the members of USF’s Erasmus community documenting human trafficking in Africa. Photo Courtesy of Erika Myszynski

“From International Displacement Camps to the sex trade to domestic servitude,” human trafficking is when an individual “is forced into a situation and they are not free to leave—whether mentally, physically, emotionally or financially,” said International Studies major Erika Myszynski.

After reading “Not For Sale” by Professor David Batstone of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, Myszynski was stunned to discover human trafficking in her hometown of Orange Country, Calif. Determined to get involved, Myszynski joined the Erasmus community, a living and learning community comprised of student activists working with the Not For Sale Campaign to end modern-day slavery. For Myszynski, she said it proved to be “the best decision I ever made in my life.”

Her efforts culminated last February, when she screened her first film about human trafficking at the 2010 San Francisco Human Rights Film Festival. “Ugandan Days” is a 16-minute documentary that explores faith and forgiveness in the context of the Ugandan Civil War, based on her experience during the Erasmus trip to Uganda. After participating in Alternative Spring Break last March, Myszynski also started an as-yet-untitled project set in Peru.

According to Worldvision.org, approximately 25,000 children have been kidnapped by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) to fight the Government of Uganda and an estimated 1.7 million people have been displaced—leaving many children as vulnerable targets for recruitment. “We were there to be immersed, embrace the people and exchange culture. We were not there with a mission of accomplishing a goal,” she said of last summer’s Erasmus trip.

Not For Sale promotes “smart activism,” or “combating human trafficking in your own way.” Myszynski “was studying media, that became my avenue,” she said. In Uganda, she was one of eleven students that focused on the fair trade movement, forced prostitution and child soldiers.

Myszynski, whose parents are both filmmakers, taught herself about film during her freshman year with USFtv. According to the aspiring journalist, photography was her first passion. Film eventually emerged as “a great way to re[examine] and express what can’t be written…I never thought that I was capable of film making.”

Over two weeks, she captured 25 hours of footage in addition to 500 photographs. While she initially started a video journal for the Erasmus members, she soon realized the film’s potential to serve as an advocacy tool against human trafficking.

Despite the ongoing crisis in Uganda, Myszynski was surprised to discover a peaceful and progressive nation “that was different from what we read about,” she said.  Prior to our trip, “I definitely expected a war zone.” In contrast to widespread beliefs about the ‘Dark Continent,’ Myszynski pointed to established centers for vocational training, rehabilitation and reintegration. For the Erasmus students, the grassroots response became the most defining moment of their experience. In “Ugandan Days,” forgiveness is a central and reoccurring theme.

Myszynski held a second showing of “Ugandan Days” earlier this month, and has received invitations to screen her film throughout campus and the local community. By “studying issues that catalyze human trafficking, such as poverty”, she said, “it also forced me to do things more locally.”

Last March, Myszynski began filming for University Ministry’s Alternative Spring Break Program where she met with current and former street children in Peru, learning about human rights violations as well as fair trade and sustainable farming industries. By observing the work of NGO Generación, she further developed her understanding of human exploitation. Myszynski continues to raise awareness about human trafficking because, as she points out, “not doing anything is a form of injustice.”

“Allowing people to tell their own stories is the most powerful thing. By telling their own stories in their country, [filmmaking] allows me to bring awareness to people who wouldn’t have the opportunity, and hopefully intrigue others and raise questions.”

“Ugandan Days” is available for rent at the USF Gleeson Library.

USF Student Reflects on Uganda Experience

Jennifer Williams

Jennifer Williams

I was in Uganda and I felt completely helpless. Poverty, pollution and disease consumed the streets I walked on and the air I breathed. Piles of trash, sometimes even old car tires, burned in ditches due to a lack of waste management. Nearby, children dressed in ripped, secondhand tee shirts made toys out of wires and metal scraps. I arrived in May of 2009 with my social justice class to research the human rights situation, specifically the nearly half a million people displaced or abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army. I felt helpless, not because of the harsh, unfamiliar surroundings, but because I knew at that moment I was not making a difference.  Everywhere I went groups of children trailed behind chanting “Mzungu! Mzungu!”, the word for white person. When I reached down to shake their hands the looks in their eyes expressed a mixture of awe, fear and expectation. White people were evil, white people were selfish and white people were rich, they had been told. They were all just as curious about our skin and our nature as they were about our capability to help lift them out of poverty. Some held their hands out, asking with eyes squinting through buzzing flies for chocolate, a bicycle, maybe just a few hundred shillings. I turned them down. It felt like swallowing my own stomach every time I had to tell them, “No, I’m sorry, but I can’t,” because I knew at that moment I could have. I had enough money in my pockets to help at least a few people. But that was not why I was there. Our goal was to learn more about Uganda’s past and present struggles and then reflect, question and find new solutions. We were instructed not give them anything because it would be contradictory to what we have learned about smart activism—rather than simply help someone, it is better to help them to help themselves. I was still unsure of my role in Uganda when we reached Gulu, the northern wartorn region of Uganda. We had arrived in the area a few days earlier and could instantly sense it was different than the busy, industrialized capital city, Kampala. Gulu was a smaller town where one could walk the narrow streets alongside other pedestrians and explore the open air markets filled with handmade goods. Only a few years earlier this area was overtaken by a war between the Ugandan government and a group called the Lord’s Resistance Army. One of the most devastating effects of the war was the legacy of the orphans and former child soldiers. Over 30,000 children had been abducted from their homes and forced to torture and kill the community members.  Those that were lucky enough to survive and find their way back from the bush to Gulu were faced with hatred, fear and alienation from their neighbors and even their families. While there, our group visited the Gulu Youth Development Association, a trade school for war-affected children. They looked bashfully at their feet while we admired all they had built. I spoke with a seventeen-year-old boy who was learning how to paint business signs at the trade school. Hesitant to talk about his dark past, I asked questions focused on the new future he had been offered. He was grateful for the opportunity he had been given, he told me with sad eyes. After a pause, he confided that he was an orphan and wanted nothing more than to find his relatives and a sense of home. We reached the end of my visit and he shook my hand goodbye. He said, “I hope you return to the United States and tell everyone our story.”  I looked him into his eyes and promised him that I would. So now you know, and even though you may be reading this at your kitchen table or on the bus to work half a world away, you are just as much a part of this struggle as my classmates. But you do not have to travel to Uganda to make a difference. You can start in your own backyard. One of the most tragic elements of the war in Northern Uganda was that hardly anyone in the southern half of the country, including Kampala, knew much about it. This may surprise you, but what if I told you something similar is happening in San Francisco and Seattle and Minneapolis; all over the United States and the world? Approximately 27 million human beings are in slavery today, being forced to sell their bodies in brothels, to sew the clothes we buy in the mall and to harvest the food we eat every day. At this moment you may feel helpless, like I did while in Uganda. But you can change that, because making a difference is as simple as opening your eyes. By visiting websites such as www.slaverymap.org and www.free2work.org you can familiarize yourself with both true events of slavery in your neighborhood and ethical, anti-slavery businesses to support. Unfortunately, slavery is driven by everyday civilians like you and me by where we choose to spend our money. By raising your own and others’ awareness of the situation and making simple, conscious changes in your lifestyle and buying habits, you can help eradicate the demand for slavery. Jennifer Williams is a junior English major