This past June I had the opportunity to study abroad in Gulu, Uganda. I was taking an engineering class, and our main goal was to build a spring box to provide clean water for a planned compound about 2 hours from Gulu. Long story short, there wasn’t a spring, so that project did not go as planned. Instead, we struggled to come up with a useful project, and settled on hiring a contractor to drill a well, making a plan for the water distribution system at the site, and making a map of the site that was to scale. We only accomplished two of these three objectives, as the contractor did not make it out to the site before we had to go home. It turns out that’s just how things work in Uganda, you need to plan for everything to take a lot longer than you might think. I really wish we had been there for more than three weeks so that we could have made a little more progress.
Though the academic experience in Uganda was a little frustrating, the cultural experience was incredible. The one positive of not really having a project to do was that we had a lot of free time to explore Gulu and interact with the people on the compound where we were staying. In the afternoons, the girls in the tailoring school would have a break, and we would all play soccer or netball together, or just sit under a tree and talk. There were also some construction projects going on within the compound – a new library was just built and a new guest house is under construction. I spent a lot of time at these sites attempting to learn how to build things, and getting to know some of the people on the construction crew. Those guys are some of the most impressive people I have ever met, and some of the nicest. They were patient enough to teach me everything from laying tile to making bricks, and even let me attempt to help on their projects. I can’t imagine I was much help, but it was a really good learning experience.
Overall, my impression of Gulu was a positive one. The people we met there are still recovering from the LRA conflict, and many are affected by the current crises in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, but they are incredibly resilient and positive people. Things may take a little longer to get done there, but that’s just something you have to deal with in developing areas. I actually wish we had been able to stay longer, because I was just starting to get settled in and build relationships when we had to leave. I definitely want to go back and take time to continue to build those relationships, because Gulu really was an incredible place.