Home after nearly 4 months in Uganda…

OliviaHi Friends, 

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Olivia Coble.  I was born and raised here at First Pres, and now call Colorado my home.  I am in my third year at Colorado College and spend a lot of time playing in the mountains – hiking, skiing, you name it.  When it came time last year to consider studying abroad, I looked into a plethora of programs and decided on one in northern Uganda.  The program was through the School for International Training, and focused on post-conflict transformation.  (If you’re not familiar with recent Ugandan history, there has been a conflict between a rebel group and the government in the northern part of the country for over two decades now, though it has largely moved out of Uganda at this point.)  It certainly wasn’t going to be an easy semester, but that was fine with me.  I set off to East Africa at the end of August and called Uganda home until mid-December.

To give a brief overview of the program, our first two months were spent living with host families and learning from lecturers about the conflict.  We heard from government officials, religious leaders, cultural leaders, and nonprofit workers.  We also traveled to different parts of Uganda and spent two weeks in Rwanda learning about the genocide.  During our third month of the semester, each person in my group of fourteen either did an independent research project or internship.  I learned a great deal, both from my host family and through doing an internship with an outdoor education-based nonprofit.  People in northern Uganda are surprisingly open in talking about the conflict, something I didn’t initially expect.  One of my host brothers once pointed to a building in town and told me that’s where he and his siblings would stay at night to escape the rebels, who abducted children from their homes.  I learned that one of my adopted host brothers was the child of a woman raped by a rebel.  I also met more siblings than I could keep track of who had been adopted into our family after losing their parents to HIV/AIDs, murder, and other horrible things.  I learned to cook traditional foods and speak the local language.  I was invited to countless church services.  I never quite convinced my host sister that I could actually wash my clothes by hand without her help.  It was a semester filled with both laughter and tears.

There are still many fresh wounds in northern Uganda.  Previously-abducted individuals continue to return from the bush…yet I learned more about forgiveness and resiliency than I did anger or resentment.  Though thousands were killed and many more maimed or left without family, people in northern Uganda choose to move forward.  I often asked myself several questions throughout the semester – How do these people keep the faith?  And why does God let such atrocities occur?  I struggled to find answers to these questions, but am slowly developing some answers since returning home.  Maybe we DON’T get to know why such horrible things can happen in the world.  Maybe the more important thing to take away is how individuals respond.  Northern Ugandans are choosing to forgive those who have murdered, and are moving forward to rebuild a broken society.  If there is one lesson I have learned more than any other while living abroad, it is that humans are resilient.  There may be some who think that forgiveness is impossible.  I have seen first-hand, however, that people left without much can be some of the kindest and most warm-hearted people I have ever met. 

There is a lot more that I’d love to talk about, but I know my space is limited.  I hope that this short write-up causes you to pause in your day and reflect on the sweet lives we each live.  Thank you for taking time to read this!  Sending my best to Nashville from Colorado now.

Cheers and blessings,

Olivia 

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