AVP International GatheringSo it has been a while since my last post, first of all because of a month of traveling during which time I didn’t have internet, and then due to the flu which kept me rather occupied (sleeping) for the past week.

The first week of my travels was to the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) International Gathering in Kakamega, Kenya, which brought together more than 120 participants from 23 countries.  The gathering was an opportunity to find ways to strengthen our work, share resources and techniques, and generally learn from others’ experiences. Outside of the actual content of the conference however, I was most impressed just by the chance to meet so many inspiring people who are working to avoid violent conflict in their communities by gathering together groups of people at the grassroots.  To see how people had creatively adapted the framework of AVP to different conflicts and challenges was quite inspiring, and such a positive perspective from which to be learning about other parts of the world.

Sorting CoffeeThen I spent a week in Nairobi, generously hosted by a generous friend I met at the conference, and finally I spent two weeks in Bududa, a small town set in beautiful hills of eastern Uganda.  I had come to visit a friend of mine from DC who was in the Peace Corps there, and he played a great host.  I went on hikes, milked a cow, sorted coffee beans, and learned a little bit of Lugisu, the language most prevalent in that area (my favorite expression – as a way of greeting people: “Wakinyala!” i.e. “well done!”)  But Bududa is also host to a vocational school supported by the African Great Lakes Initiative, so I was able to participate in some of their classes, see the program they run for orphans, and was even put to work in helping to distribute money donated by Canadians to pay for school fees for orphans.

As a result, along with another volunteer from Canada, I spent six days traveling around southeastern Uganda visiting schools, meeting children, and distributing funds.  This was a great way to see the country a bit, but I’m not suggesting that this is a good way to go about social change.  Actually, in some ways it is rather problematic, given that there is no real sustainability to the program (the funds might not even be around next year), and no lasting relationships are really being built.  And there was some corruption amongUgandan school children the people we were working with, a few of whom included their own children in the lists to receive money, even as the money was clearly meant to be for orphans.  And I heard many stories of corruption in the region, which I’m not in a position to evaluate, but suffice to say it made me quite appreciative of the relationships that my coworkers have created over the years in Burundi, which seem to be quite trustworthy.

Also while I was in Uganda – I was part of a rather significant accomplishment.  Now people in East Africa often talk about how many people get packed into matatus (minibuses) in various countries.  I submit our achievement: in a matatu designed with 15 seats, we fit 27 adults, or 29 people if you count the two infants.  In the middle two rows alone, we fit 15 people (okay, so 2 of them were only partially in the matatu).  I’m sure it’s been beaten before, but it’s a personal best for me.