We arrive at Karuma Bridge, which crosses the Nile River. I cannot believe my eyes. Here I am, a student from Toronto face-to-face with the famous Nile, a river that is the lifeblood for so many on the African continent. The mood is relaxed and joyful. A Ugandan People’s Defence Force (UDPF) soldier lies against the lush slope of grass and bush beside the road. My driver, Moses, offers him a handful of bananas in exchange for permission for me take a photograph of the magnificent river. The soldier, assault gun at his side, eyes the ripe bananas and quickly obliges.
Just a few years ago, this relaxed atmosphere would have rarely been observed at Karuma. During the war that ravaged the north of the country, Karuma Bridge represented for travellers the gateway to either relative peace in the south or the great instability of the north. It was during this time that over 1.5 million people were internally displaced, but now it is very much a period from which the nation is determined to move on.
For me, today, this bridge is the gateway to what will undoubtedly be a remarkable, challenging, and humbling experience.
My name is Ethan Way. I am a fourth-year student in the Centre for Critical Development Studies (CCDS) at the University of Toronto Scarborough. This week I arrived in Lira, Uganda, for my co-op placement with a local NGO named Children of Hope Uganda (COHU). COHU was created in the aftermath of the LRA insurgency that lasted for over 20 years in northern Uganda. Although it is a small organization, COHU has a multitude of different projects, which they implement throughout the surrounding Lira province. The village of Barlonyo, the site of a massacre perpetrated by Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in 2004, is where one can find two of COHU’s main programs. These are the Early Childhood Development Centre (ECDC) and the Barlonyo Vocational Technical Institute (BTVI). The ECDC has over 100 students enrolled in the school, while the BTVI has over 200 students enrolled. At the BTVI, students aged 18-30 learn important skills such as bricklaying, carpentry, and tailoring. While on placement I will be travelling back and forth between COHU’s office in Lira and the village of Barlonyo, helping out in any way possible. I have attempted to read as much as possible about the Ugandan context in preparation for this internship, and now have the unique opportunity to be living with a Ugandan family during my time here. I am incredibly excited and thankful for this opportunity, and can’t wait to see what this year has in store for me!
All the best,