A Voice For the Voiceless


The Advocacy Project (AP) recruits students to help marginalized communities tell their story and claim their rights.

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Bittersweet goodbye.

Christine Marie Carlson | Posted August 22nd, 2010 | Uncategorized

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This is will be my last post from Gulu, Uganda. It has been a great honor to work with GDPU and I am very grateful to AP for the opportunity.  

My overall academic goal is to understand the relationship between social service delivery systems and government in developing countries. GDPU was a golden case study. I will continue my research during my last year in graduate school and will definitely return to Africa to learn more and hopefully contribute.

A few weeks ago everything that I assumed about Gulu seemed to expand and shift. I began to glimpse the worlds within worlds. I’ve faced a lot of complexity here. My local friends agreed when I observed that Acholi’s seem to have happy faces and sad hearts. I have one friend here who after two years, calls it “post-conflict Disneyland.”  Implying that there is this sort of free-for-all hysteria of outsiders coming here for a story, adventure, fulfillment of some vision, art experiment, career move etc. (Though I’m pained to admit it, I’m included.) And despite all this there are still tragedies occurring every 5 minutes.  And then there is another layer of finger pointers, another layer of swindlers and another layer of hard working war-traumatized Acholis.

Playing with the children at St. Judes Orphanage for the disabled.
Playing with the children at St. Judes Orphanage for the disabled.

Playing with the children at St. Judes Orphanage for the disabled.

I have had the sweetest moments and possibly learned the most when I just let go of my agenda and spent time with people. One day in particular I sat on a large mat under GDPU’s mango tree with the ladies from the Landmine Survivors Beauty School.  They braided my hair and laughed as I put on my first tiko (five strands of beads tied around the waist-the beautiful secret of African women.) We used the extra beads to make necklaces for everyone while they told me stories of their lives and the courage it took to recover from their injuries and start their lives over.  These lazy bittersweet moments have crept in to me and have revived tenderness to some weary corners of my soul.

I have tremendous respect and love for the staff and board of GDPU. Their stories and passion were overwhelming.

Fred Semakula discusses GDPU with Disability Rights Fund.
Fred Semakula discusses GDPU with Disability Rights Fund.

Fred Semakula discusses GDPU with Disability Rights Fund.

Mr. Fred Semakula is an incredible leader, who very patiently taught me about the nuances of disability politics and etiquette.  Fred’s spinal cord injury was caused when he fell out of a mango tree as a boy.  His tenderness with clients is amazing. His disability does not stop him from raising the four orphans of his deceased brother, playing a mean game of pool and making all the ladies very happy to see him. He still loves mangos.

Mr. Simon Ojok was my closest friend in Gulu. (Pictured several times through out this blog.) We were either laughing, having very serious conversations about the war, disabilities or business often during our sessions “opening our minds” with a few bottles of beer.  Despite his visual impairment caused by the LRA he is the only person in his village to go to University.  Besides his full time work training PWDs on their rights he raises two children of his own with his visually impaired wife and raises four orphaned children of his brother.

Beautiful Patricia Okwir at GDPU.
Beautiful Patricia Okwir at GDPU.

Beautiful Patricia Okwir at GDPU.

Ms. Patricia Okwir is truly the most graceful woman I have ever met.  With sweetness, strength and great eloquence she empowers the disabled community. She shared incredible insights with me about Uganda and in particular the Acholi culture and history of the war.  She is also raising two children and completing her Masters degree. She truly taught me the special strength that is unique to African women.

Santos Oryema, the best driver in Uganda.
Santos Oryema, the best driver in Uganda.

Santos Oryema, the best driver in Uganda.

Santos Oryema is the best driver in Uganda and the most handsome man in Gulu. He uses his skills learned from being a driver during the war for Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders to drive the staff to the remotest parts of Gulu on the worst roads I’ve ever seen.  He took very good care of me and shared incredible stories about spending his childhood sleeping every night with hundreds of children on the veranda of the hospital to escape the LRA. Even when he describes how he survived being attacked twice during his driving career or how his father was killed by the LRA he will only knit is brow for a moment and then he pulls from his incredible strength and his sparkling smile returns.

John Aluma is the most committed intern I’ve ever seen.(pictured in the previous post with his quilt piece) He is the first one at the office and the last one to leave.  I was amazed how quickly he got around with only one leg.  When he wasn’t busy finalizing proposals, completing research or running errands he and I would laugh at the hilarious romantic music he was always downloading. John, your heart is as big as Africa.

I leave  GDPU with a new website. www.guludisabledpersonsunion.org I hope that it will bring much deserved attention and support from agencies in Uganda and internationally for their work. After spending three months here I have become a big fan of the agency. Of course they have their challenges, but I believe at times they demonstrate the model of what a Ugandan run agency for Uganda’s most vulnerable should look like.

I did many other things in Uganda besides work at GDPU: I tracked gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable Forrest. 
Winner of the MJ Dance Contest in Gulu.
Winner of the MJ Dance Contest in Gulu.
I attended a traditional wedding, a Michael Jackson Dance contest, a break dance contest for youth. I rode motorcycle taxis  (boda) side saddle all over Kampala and Gulu, I supported Gulu’s only female boda driver (call Aber at 0788242258), attended mass at the beautiful Camboni Cathedral in Gulu, and I was a judge in contest for “Miss Karuma Falls” a talent/beauty contest for Acholi women. 
This blog rarely recorded the loneliness and sadness I felt after long days seeing such tragedy or just from feeling like such an outsider. I was so grateful for the staff at Hotel Kakanyero who gave me a deal for the summer, took care of me when I had dysentery and treated me like family.

Thank you Gulu for a bittersweet adventure and teaching me lessons that I will never forget.

Thank you to my friends and family back home who helped me spiritually and financially.

My sweet Father- You are my best friend, my councilor and my mentor. Thank you for everything.

Lisa- I could not have done this trip without your support. Thank you for the hours of insightful conversations.  Keep up the good work at the Gates Foundation!

Kathy-  Thank you for all your wisdom, advice and sweetness.

Leen and Sam-  My Belgian angels. Thank you for being my family in Africa.

Iain and Erin- Thank you again for your guidance, practical advice and for pushing me to go beyond myself.  You opened the door for me to have a life changing experience. AP is truly an incredible organization doing amazing work around the world.

Sunset in Gulu.
Sunset in Gulu.

Sunset in Gulu.

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GDPU’s Advocacy Art Quilt!

Christine Marie Carlson | Posted August 18th, 2010 | Uncategorized

During the last month here 25 persons with the range of disabilities made panels for a quilt that I will use to spread the message of GDPU in the US with support from AP.

Each of the panels includes the name of the creator and a design made from a variety of mediums that depicts something of meaning to them. Several of the panels were made by disabled children at St. Jude’ Orphanage. Two of the panels include miniature sweaters that were knitted by a blind man for himself and his wife. The perfection of the sweaters is astounding. Three of the panels made by the accountant of GDPU depict stories of PWDs struggling to run away from the LRA during the war.

The quilt was constructed by Josephine, a single mother of two children, who has a spinal cord injury that confines her to a wheelchair. She did a wonderful job and we I really enjoyed sitting with her for hours designing the final piece.

Josephine and I next to finished quilt.
Josephine and I next to finished quilt.

Josephine and I next to finished quilt.

As one GDPU board member said, “The project helped us to realize that we could work together to create something that showed our creative talents and ability to produce something beautiful.”

The piece will hang for a week in the GDPU reception area. Many members have stopped by to sit and discuss it with great admiration. They were so inspired that GDPU has plans to construct another quilt. They anticipate that this time there will be more members who would like to participate.

Well done GDPU.

One Response to “GDPU’s Advocacy Art Quilt!”

  1. Erin says:

    it looks beautiful. great work!

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Gulu Sunday Blues.

Christine Marie Carlson | Posted August 3rd, 2010 | Uncategorized

Last Sunday I had an intense dose of life in Gulu. In the morning I witnessed what it is like for the deaf to access healthcare and in the evening my host related stories about the history of Gulu that provided an important context to understanding development in the area.     

 In the morning I returned to the hospital to see another patient.  Due to many circumstances I was asked to deliver some money for surgery from a friend to a deaf patient. Charles Arum, GDPU’s most experienced deaf interpreter escorted my new Belgian researcher friends and I to the hospital. We arrived to find Atim Scovia lying in a room with eight occupied beds, her husband and friend by her side.      

Skovia Atim waits in bed at Lacor Hospitol for her results.
Skovia Atim waits in bed at Lacor Hospitol for her results.

Skovia Atim waits in bed at Lacor Hospitol for her results.

She was very grateful for the mango juice, groundnut butter (peanut butter) and bread that we brought.  She put it aside and lifted her shirt and showed her distended belly then invited us to touch it.  The deformity was terrible. I used my remedial sign language to tell her that I was happy to see her and that I hoped that she would recover. Despite her pain she smiled widely the whole time.  I was even more amazed at her positive demeanor when I learned that her eleven month old baby had died three weeks earlier because she was not able to feed her. At 24 she also had two other children, but her husband’s two other wives  care for them.     

 We waited for a few hours for the doctor so we could find out her diagnosis. I held her hand, sponged her body and gave her mango juice as we watched the other patients in the room.      

An old woman next to her attempted to get comfortable tossing around in her bed, the sheets and loosely tied nightgown falling from her body and the bed. It was difficult for her to maneuver due to a tube hanging from her side that drained puss into a large bottle next to the bed. When finally the covers fell from her buttocks, I arose and recovered her with a blanket.     

Skovia may have received care earlier if she wasn’t deaf.  The deaf community is incredibly isolated. Although Gulu does have two schools for the deaf, the majority are left without access to education. Therefore they are unable to write but somehow band together and teach each other sign language. They often marry each other and somehow scrape together enough to feed and shelter themselves. When there is an emergency they are completely reliant on sign language interpreters.      

After several hours of waiting, the nurse invited us to a counseling room to tell us what Skovia was suffering from an abscess in the liver.  The nurse said she did not know if the abscess was due to the fact the Skovia has Hepatitis B, or possibly from liver cancer. They also suspect that she has tuberculosis. We must wait two weeks for the results.     

When we found out that she probably has TB it was the first time during my visit I recoiled in fear:  my non-immunized friends could be at great risk.  In an effort to do something after the hours that we had been sitting with and touching Skovia we ran to the bathroom and vigorously washed our hands and faces. (I later found out that this attempt to protect ourselves was quite ridiculous.)     

 I was also shocked that despite the fact that the hospital knows she may have TB Skovia was not isolated- one more incidence when a situation that would be intolerable in the West is taken as not a big deal here.  According to USAID Uganda ranks 16 the on the list of 22 high-burden tuberculosis (TB) countries in the world. (http://www.usaid.gov/our_work/global_health/id/tuberculosis/countries/africa/uganda_profile.html)    

Charles at Pece Stadium awaiting to see if his candidacy made it through the primary vote.
Charles at Pece Stadium awaiting to see if his candidacy made it through the primary vote.

Charles at Pece Stadium awaiting to see if his candidacy made it through the primary vote.

Lacor Hospitol doesn’t employ sign-language interpretors despite Uganda’s laws that supposedly enforce equal access.  Charles believes that in time these policies will change. He believes that if he shows that he is already in the field they will find what he does valuable and pay him for his work.  So whenever he is needed he takes an expensive taxi all the way to the hospital and spends hours waiting for the doctor to make sure the deaf patient can communicate.  He is truly a noble man and deserves support for what he does. 

Me in my Kitenge made by Vicky.
Me in my Kitenge made by Vicky.

Me in my Kitenge made by Vicky.

I was so glad that I decided to choose his partner, Vicky amongst the many dress makers to make me a “kitenge!” I’ve sent other friends to her shop as well. I hope that the support helps their family.

Charles is also running for office. I really hope he wins.

Charles Arum and Vicky at her shop.
Charles Arum and Vicky at her shop.

Charles Arum and Vicky at her shop.

In the evening Vicky, Charles, Sam and Leen, my two Belgian friends and I ate Chinese (which is really Ugandan food with a dash of pepper) by candle light under a full moon.We wanted to hear more about his work, but eventually the conversation turned to the war.
He recounted story after story of the brutality  inflicted by Lord’s Resistance Army during the recently ended 20 years civil war. (The following is graphic and disturbing.)  


Many children had been abducted for the purpose of carrying goods for the LRA along the road north. If they made it their reward, was to turn them into soldiers. The children were not given food, water or rest. If they complained the soldier would ask who else was tired, then they would all be untied from the line of the children and “put to rest forever” with one slash across the chest from a machete. 
I later heard that if you complained you were hungry they would use an equally repulsive practice. The complainers would be offered copious amounts of food. Then the soldiers would sew their anus’ closed and wait for them to die an excruciating death as their bowels exploded.
Charles’ has a brother who was abducted. One day he was so sick that the LRA just left him in field to die. Some hours later soldiers from Uganda People Defense Forces’ (UPDF) saved him. Charles says even to this day his brother is “disturbed.”
In Charles’ village the LRA arrived one day and started to cut people up. They put the people into pots and boiled them, some still alive. Just as they began to force the villagers to eat the bodies UPDF airplanes flew by, requiring the LRA soldiers to stop and leave.
At night everyone slept in Internally Displaced Camps.  There were very few latrines and food was scarce. The situation was even harder for persons with disabilities, and many died.  If a UPDF soldier saw you outside the camp after 7pm they would shoot you on sight assuming that you must be LRA.  In very dangerous areas whole villages were moved to the camps to live day and night. 
After the war many had made the camps into their homes. If they returned to their homes they would find only graves: parents and children killed.  Before the war villages were vibrant.  Now they are empty and now the town of Gulu is full of people without family trying to rebuild their lives and redefine their sense of order. 
We asked Charles why; How is it possible that soldiers of the LRA could do such things? “They blame it on the evil spirits.” If “jok,” tells you to go and kill ten villagers you have no choice, you must go and kill them. 


Graffiti in Gulu asking for LRA Soldiers to return.
Graffiti in Gulu asking for LRA Soldiers to return.

Graffiti in Gulu asking for LRA Soldiers to return.

 Many Acholi today are able to forgive their friends and neighbors because they believe that they were full of evil spirits which are now gone.  Others say they can forgive because of Jesus. 

Under the moon light we sat exhausted and overwhelmed as we contemplated the events of day. With such a violent heritage perhaps Gulu is actually doing quite well. I wish the deaf and particarly after this day that Skovia had better care, but given the circumstances the care that is available is actually pretty incredible.

One Response to “Gulu Sunday Blues.”

  1. Erin says:

    Testing comment please delete

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GDPU profiled in prominent review!

Christine Marie Carlson | Posted July 29th, 2010 | Uncategorized

“People with disability live in families and live in communities. We cannot be separated from society.” Simon Ongom, Chairperson of the Gulu Disabled Persons Union (GDPU)

This is the opening quote in a recent article about GDPU published in the ”Forced Migration Review” University of Oxford Press, Refugee Studies Center:   http://www.fmreview.org/disability/FMR35/16-18.pdf

Email fmr@qeh.ox.ac.uk for copies…

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Leather corsets, catheters and peanuts.

Christine Marie Carlson | Posted July 27th, 2010 | Uncategorized

Recently, I tagged along with some GDPU representatives on a trip to Lacor Hospital to assist a man who sustained a paralyzing injury from a motorcycle accident.  

Members of GDPU and Lacor Hospitol with patient, Odong Geoffrey
Members of GDPU and Lacor Hospitol with patient, Odong Geoffrey

Members of GDPU and Lacor Hospitol with patient, Odong Geoffrey

GDPU runs a large campaign to help persons with spinal cord injuries. It connects persons with appropriate wheelchairs, wheel chair technicians, and other health services.  They also modify huts and latrines for wheelchair access and provide some basic supplies to help prevent bed sores, the bane of persons in wheel chairs. Much of this work is supported by the Baron and Elerman John Foundation.

Motorcycle accidents are all too common in Gulu where there are almost no car taxis and virtually no one but the NGOs or the rare farmer, or “diggers” as the call them here have automobiles.

Lacor was founded by Italian doctors about 50 years ago and is funded privately. A patient is only required to pay about $10 to stay there for up to six months. They must  pay extra for procedures and medication which is fortunately very discounted, but still expensive for the average Ugandan.

Lacor Hospitol, Gulu Uganda
Lacor Hospitol, Gulu Uganda

Lacor Hospitol, Gulu Uganda

The nursing care doesn’t extend to assistance with the toilet, bathing or food. Therefore whole families arrive to tend to their sick relative needs. The partner sleeps under the bed of the patient and the rest of the family; babies too sleep on the patio outside the door. They cook Acholi staples of beans, rice, posho (cornmeal porridge) and various other simple dishes in designated areas around the hospital grounds. People walk through the hospital selling water and boiled eggs with a salt shaker on hand for taste.

Women cooking at Lacor Hospitol
Women cooking at Lacor Hospitol

Women cooking at Lacor Hospitol

Our client sat in his new wheelchair all laced up in a leather corset to keep him up right. Patrick, the GDPU case worker, who also uses a wheelchair, instructed him on how to use his catheter and urine bag. The man gazed at him, alternating between looks of pain and gratitude. 

Woman in bed at Lacor Hospitol.
Woman in bed at Lacor Hospitol.

Woman in bed at Lacor Hospitol.

While we waited for the family to get ready and for Patrick to record the man’s story I played with some kids in the courtyard who amused themselves by hanging peanuts off their ears. Again, the children here amaze me with their joy and creativity even in the worst moments.

Boy at Lacor Hospitol with peanut earrings.
Boy at Lacor Hospitol with peanut earrings.

Boy at Lacor Hospitol with peanut earrings.

By the time everyone was packed into the Toyota SUV there was no room for me so I decided to take a motorcycle taxi back to town. I wandered to the taxi station through the hospital’s system of courtyards and wards teaming with patients with the occupational therapist  who complained that the family wasn’t ready right when we arrived- he likes systems to run efficiently and he must divide his time amongst so many. He had many nice things to say to GDPU and I admired him for his dedication to helping the newly disabled figure out how to survive.

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Goats=money makers for the blind in Uganda.

Christine Marie Carlson | Posted July 23rd, 2010 | Uncategorized

Blind man with his new goats! Yum!

Today was a wonderful day for several blind persons in Gulu! GOATS! Due to the efforts of the board of GDPU, The Ministry of Labor, Gender and Development of Uganda gave a small grant to develop livelihood projects for the blind. The member agency of GDPU, Gulu Handcraft Society of the Blind were the fortunate recipients.

Santos Okot and Patrick Okello look at the new goats.

In the morning a truck drove into the courtyard of GDPU full of whining goats. Three minutes later the drivers were tying the 20 unruly animals to the fence.  “OK, I thought just another weird, unexplainable occurrence in Africa…” No, it was a carefully planned donation to generate income for the blind. In the next few hours I learned a lot of about goats. I agreed that it was funny that it costs 50,000 Uganda shillings for female goat, but males are free! A female goat can produce several kids a year who can then be sold for income and boy goats only purpose is to impregnate them! Ugandans love their goat meat so there is always a market for it.

Taking new goats home on a "boda" motor cycle taxi.

Even I enjoyed some goat meat on a stick purchased through a bus window on my way up to Gulu from Kampala. I’m please to know I was supporting the local economy. It was delicious.

Blind women wait for goats.

Goats wait for their new home.

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Feel good moment in Gulu!

Christine Marie Carlson | Posted July 23rd, 2010 | Uncategorized

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This just made my day: an email from co-worker with visual impairment in Gulu:

Hell0 Christine my friemd,
i got soo much imprasses with your work in GDPU and particularlly your Advised t0 me.
i will do remember you in the rest oy my llife.



Joyce and Simon with children Martin and Tracy.

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HIV testing under a pig carcass.

Christine Marie Carlson | Posted July 15th, 2010 | Uncategorized

I just returned from a community meeting in the sub-county of Gulu called Lakwana. I assumed it would be a casual meeting with a few members sitting around a tree in a field like the last few times.  However this time it seemed the whole village showed up… and they were ALL disabled in some way and eager for the free HIV testing.  During the course of the meeting, the medical team tested seventy six persons.

It was the first time I witnessed a concentrated group of men injured by the Lords Resistance Army.  Man after man rolled up his leg to show me scars from gunshot wounds. 

We sat down for introductions and then lined up next to a pig carcass hanging from a large tree.  Behind us a group of men observed while slurping some sort of mud looking alcohol through long reed straws out of a dirty communal bucket.  The smell of alcohol was on the breath of many or the clients. 

People waiting to be tested.
People waiting to be tested.

My coworker was overwhelmed with registering everyone so I sat down with a pen and some improvised registration forms and tried feebly to get accurate information about birthdates and addresses. Only year of birth and name of village could be specified by most and only a fraction could sign their name.  

After a little over month here I realized I’ve become used to the bodily smells that a few months ago would have made me turn away.  There I was sitting under the pig carcass, squished up next to persons reeking of sweat and other bodily fluids shaking hands and laughing full belly laughs at my terrible pronunciation of their homes and names. 

Evelyn, GDPU Board Member and MC for the meeting.

What has amazed me over and over again is that despite the grime, even the poorest person attempts to dress well: The old blind women with rotting teeth and hands mangled from years of hard work in the field, wore a beautiful satin “kitenga” dress tied with a contrasting sash around her slim waist. 

Blind woman waits to be tested.
Blind woman waits to be tested.

 As we organized people for testing a local drama troupe of disabled, HIV positive women presented skits and music about protecting oneself against the disease and the importance of testing.  A large group of children sat and eagerly enjoyed the entertainment. I hoped they listened well.  

Santa Otto Payero directs “Disabled Women Group,” HIV does not discriminate!
Santa Otto Payero directs “Disabled Women Group,” HIV does not discriminate!

 Sitting now in my whitewashed restaurant kilometers away from the village, the full impact of the fact that four of the seventy six tested positive makes me hold back tears. 

PWDs wait to be tested.
PWDs wait to be tested.

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Who will be the spokesmodel for data collection?

Christine Marie Carlson | Posted July 14th, 2010 | Uncategorized

Data Collection = Organizational Empowerment.

One of Gulu Disabled Persons Union’s main needs is an up-to-date census of persons with disabilities in the district of Gulu. This would be extremely helpful as they create their next five year strategic plan and craft their current grant proposals. Despite the fact that the presence of persons with disabilities in Gulu is overwhelming, the lack of solid data makes it difficult for advocates for PWDs to establish urgency and create a cohesive plan.

The most recent legitimate census in Gulu was in 2002. Since then war has caused thousands to become displaced, many to sustain disabling injury and others to sustain injury due to poor healthcare. In areas of conflict it is understandable that collecting this kind of information is the last thing on people’s minds. During rebuilding, however it is essential to creating sustainable programs which can help Gulu get on its feet.

What is a disability?

This kind of data collection is not as clear as it might seem at first.  The label of “disabled person” can have a huge impact on one’s socio-economic status and perception of themselves. Persons with disabilities have been viewed as burdens instead of persons with equal value and equal ability to contribute. Furthermore, what is a disability? Are you considered disabled if your injury is due to old age? Should person with mental illness or post traumatic stress syndrome be counted? How disabled do you have to be to be counted and more importantly, to receive benefits. Are there risks involved in with being labeled disabled?

Who would be the international spokes model for data collection?

Who will pay for this work? As I have written in previous blogs, most of the work for PWDs in Gulu is funded by NGOs who must solicit donations from foreigners. In order to secure these resources they must move these donors with emotional stories. Who would you be likely to give money to: an organization saving children whose parents were killed by the Lord’s Resistance Army  or data collection? What celebrity would go on tour asking for donations for data collection? You can hardly go a day in Gulu without hearing or seeing the evidence of programs aimed at serving orphaned children, or women maimed in the war. These problems are certainly crucial, but despite their good intentions international organizations get caught up in the immediate emotional issues and divert resources from the crucial underlying problems.

GDPU's Mr. Fred Semakula assessing client

NGOs, government agencies and advocates must commit themselves to wading through these questions and concerns and faithfully execute a comprehensive data collection plan…  Until this work is done many people in need will fall through the cracks and basic needs for PWDS will go unaddressed: the blind woman who is clearly in need goes without a white cane, the child without the use of his legs goes without a wheelchair, the deaf man will go untreated because there is no one to translate for him to his doctor.

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Deaf children,no pencils…. “WE WANT FOOTBALLS!”

Christine Marie Carlson | Posted June 29th, 2010 | Uncategorized

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I got a little bit teary when Mr. Charles Ojok said he was leaving yesterday to go to Kampala to improve Ugandan Sign Language. At present it is an adapted version of American Sign Language and lacks many Ugandan terms. Charles also teaches sign language to deaf and hearing persons at GDPU and has taught many of the local teachers.

In the afternoon of my first day at GDPU I borrowed a bicycle and followed him deep into Acholiland to, Laroo, a village where one of two schools for the deaf is located. Of an estimated 450 in the area it is estimated that only 60 attend school. Ten of the children live at the school.

Charles pulled on one of the girls shirts and signed that she should clean it. It seemed that these young children were left completely by themselves with nothing but a field, some bunk beds and some hollowed out buildings with broken windows. I employed all kinds of “stupid human tricks” to get them laughing and then taught them a version of paddy cake.

Charles and I returned the next day when they were in school. Although they were neatly dressed in uniforms and the board was covered in multiplication tables the lack of pencils and paper, especially for deaf children was disheartening. This lack of materials is compounded by the fact that the children have varying levels of understanding sign language. Some of the children were rendered without any ability to communicate sentences. It was amazing how they made up for it with incredibly demonstrative expressions, coos and gestures.

I was about to leave when the teachers said, “The children have something they want to say to you. “ “Yes, “I said, “What can I do for you?” Gulu is firmly in the grip of World Cup mania…. “We want footballs.”  So simple. So next week I’ll go to the one place in Gulu that sells sports equipment and return to smiling children.

One Response to “Deaf children,no pencils…. “WE WANT FOOTBALLS!””

  1. Christy Gillmore says:

    Your post makes me think about how I’ve never seen a non-Western culture use sign language. When Louis and i were in Mali, Louis had a deaf neighbor living next to him. He could only communicate through big gestures, lived alone and was pretty isolated from the community. That’s wonderful that Mr. Ojok is improving Ugandan Sign Language.

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Fellow: Christine Marie Carlson

Gulu Disabled Persons Union


Acholi Acholi Beads Advocacy Advocacy Project Africa Bed Sores Blind Bradt breakdancing Carmel Casanova children Christine Carlson Christine M. Carlson Church deaf disabilities Disability East African Community Services Fairway Hotel Feel Good football GDPU Gulu Kampala layibi malaria MIIS Missionaries mosquitos NGO Obama Persons with Disabilities pinapple Prayer PWDs Rebecca Haagens sign language Simon Ojok spinal cord injuries teacher Travel Uganda Ugandan Breakdancing Project Wheelchair




2013 Fellows


Benan Grams
Meron Menwyelet
Mohammed Alshubrumi
John Steies


Andra Bosneag
Chris Pinderhughes
Emily MacDonald
Jasveen Bindra
Kelly Howell
Raymond Aycock
Sujita Basnet

Middle East

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2012 Fellows


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Laura McAdams
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Matthew Becker
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Latin America

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Middle East

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North America

Caroline Risacher

2011 Fellows


Charlie Walker
Charlotte Bourdillon
Cleia Noia
Dina Buck
Jamyel Jenifer
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Rebecca Scherpelz
Scarlett Chidgey
Walter James


Amanda Lasik
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Latin America

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Middle East

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2010 Fellows


Abisola Adekoya
Annika Allman
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Christine Carlson
Christy Gillmore
Dara Lipton
Dina Buck
Josanna Lewin
Joya Taft-Dick
Louis Rezac
Ned Meerdink
Sylvie Bisangwa


Adrienne Henck
Karie Cross
Kerry McBroom
Kate Bollinger
Lauren Katz
Simon Kläntschi
Zarin Hamid


Laila Zulkaphil
Susan Craig-Greene
Tereza Bottman

Latin America

Karin Orr

North America

Adepeju Solarin
Oscar Alvarado

2009 Fellows


Adam Welti
Alixa Sharkey
Barbara Dziedzic
Bryan Lupton

Courtney Chance
Elisa Garcia
Helah Robinson
Johanna Paillet
Johanna Wilkie
Kate Cummings
Laura Gordon
Lisa Rogoff
Luna Liu
Ned Meerdink
Walter James


Abhilash Medhi
Gretchen Murphy
Isha Mehmood
Jacqui Kotyk
Jessica Tirado
Kan Yan
Morgan St. Clair
Ted Mathys


Alison Sluiter
Christina Hooson
Donna Harati
Fanny Grandchamp
Kelsey Bristow
Simran Sachdev
Susan Craig-Greene
Tiffany Ommundsen

Latin America

Althea Middleton-Detzner
Carolyn Ramsdell
Jessica Varat
Lindsey Crifasi
Rebecca Gerome
Zachary Parker

Middle East

Corrine Schneider
Rachel Brown
Rangineh Azimzadeh

North America

Elizabeth Mandelman
Farzin Farzad

2008 Fellows

Adam Nord
Annelieke van de Wiel
Juliet Hutchings
Kristina Rosinsky
Lucas Wolf
Chi Vu
Danita Topcagic
Heather Gilberds
Jes Therkelsen
Libby Abbott
Mackenzie Berg
Nicole Farkouh
Ola Duru
Paul Colombini
Raka Banerjee
Shubha Bala
Antigona Kukaj
Colby Pacheco
James Dasinger
Janet Rabin
Nicole Slezak
Shweta Dewan
Amy Offner
Ash Kosiewicz
Hannah McKeeth
Heidi McKinnon
Larissa Hotra
Hannah Wright
Krystal Sirman
Rianne Van Doeveren
Willow Heske

2007 Fellows

Johnathan Homer
Adam Nord
Audrey Roberts
Caitlin Burnett
Devin Greenleaf
Jeff Yarborough
Julia Zoo
Madeline England
Maha Khan
Mariko Scavone
Mark Koenig
Nicole Farkouh
Saba Haq
Tassos Coulaloglou
Ted Samuel
Alison Morse
Gail Morgado
Jennifer Hollinger
Katie Wroblewski
Leslie Ibeanusi
Michelle Lanspa
Stephanie Gilbert
Zach Scott
Abby Weil
Jessica Boccardo
Sara Zampierin
Eliza Bates
Erin Wroblewski
Tatsiana Hulko

2006 Interns

Laura Cardinal
Jessical Sewall
Alison Long
Autumn Graham
Donna Laverdiere
Erica Issac
Greg Holyfield
Lori Tomoe Mizuno
Melissa Muscio
Nicole Cordeau
Stacey Spivey
Anya Gorovets
Barbara Bearden
Lynne Engleman
Yvette Barnes
Charles Wright
Sarah Sachs

2005 Interns

Eun Ha Kim
Malia Mason
Anne Finnan
Carrie Hasselback
Karen Adler
Sarosh Syed
Shirin Sahani
Chiara Zerunian
Ewa Sobczynska
MacKenzie Frady
Margaret Swink
Sabri Ben-Achour
Nitzan Goldberger

2004 Interns

Ginny Barahona
Michael Keller
Sarah Schores
Melinda Willis
Pia Schneider
Stacy Kosko
Carmen Morcos
Christina Fetterhoff
Stacy Kosko
Bushra Mukbil

2003 Interns

Erica Williams
Kate Kuo
Claudia Zambra
Julie Lee
Kimberly Birdsall
Marta Schaaf
Caitlin Williams
Courtney Radsch