Written by Dickens Akena Communications Support Officer and Hannah McCandless Managing Director
“It wasn’t just because of COVID-19 that my life was hard and boring. I dropped out of school some time ago, so I used to stay home and then go to the trading center then come back home doing nothing. It became harder when COVID hit Uganda with lockdown imposed in the country that prohibited people from gathering to avoid the spread, life became twice hard,” says Patrick, a recent graduate from the TRP Community Outreach Program. In September, Patrick’s sister Sandra told him that there was going to be a training happening in Lagwiny Village and that The Recreation Project was seeking students out of school to participate, and that Patrick could attend if he wanted to.
“Of course I felt that it was worth trying so I went the first time and the first training was awesome, I enjoyed every bit of it. So I started going every Friday.”
A year ago, the world we knew crumbled into uncertainty. Here in Northern Uganda, we watched as COVID-19 started to make its way into Europe and the U.S., and soon to South Africa. While life in Uganda continued as usual, we knew it was a ticking time bomb. We waited for the inevitable. On March 20, 2020 schools in Uganda were closed—the first of COVID related lockdown restrictions. A few days later, Uganda’s first case was discovered and the borders were closed indefinitely. Almost a year later, schools in Uganda remain closed to the majority of students, with millions of students out of school, many of whom may never return.
In accordance with lockdown policies, The Recreation Project closed for several months in 2020. However when the most severe lockdown restrictions were lifted, and schools remained closed, we felt a sense of responsibility toward the youth in our community. While youth remained out of school, teenage pregnancy sky-rocketed and reports of increased domestic violence were rampant. In September, The Recreation Project decided to restart programming with youth, launching a Community Outreach program to reach youth forced out of school as a result of the pandemic.
When Patrick started attending TRP’s trainings he was very shy. However, as the modules progressed, our team noticed that he starting taking up leadership roles in some activities. During one module, he even led the team in one of our favorite ice-breakers, called “Who is your Lawyer.”
“I can never forget about some of my favorite games: Milk Tea River, blind elimination and oversized clothes relay races. I loved these games and learned that when we work together, we can stand strong.”
Working with local government officials in Bungatira sub-county, we registered 60 youth, including Patrick, to participate in our 15-week program. Youth ages 14-18 gathered once a week in groups of 15 with our facilitators for our play-based resilience education trainings. In December, we finalized the Community Outreach program with our Family Dialogue Day. We invited parents of participants and local leaders to the sub-county office where we spent the day playing together! Through play-based learning activities, we allowed youth to share their learnings with their parents and provided space for parents and youth to reflect on their roles in the household and brainstorm strategies to ensure that youth would continue to thrive after the program.
Since the trainings ended, Patrick used some of the activities that he learned to help overcome conflict at home. During our trainings, TRP illustrates the impact that adversity and trauma can have on youth by opening a bottle of soda that has been shaken vigorously. When the soda sprays out, leaving less than half of the liquid left in the bottle, we explain that when we are exposed to violence or conflict or other types of adversity and we don’t have the opportunity to address it, we are like the half empty bottle of soda—we can’t be our best and whole selves. Patrick was able to use this activity to solve a conflict between two boys in his community. “I demonstrated with the CocaCola soda pressure how to deal with anger. The boys then understood and stopped quarreling. I was able to help resolve this conflict thanks to the training.”
Now, Patrick is making charcoal for home consumption and selling the surplus as a source of income. “These days I feel confident talking to a group of people, both old or young and male and female, without fear. Before the training that I was a bit shy, but now I’m confident and I feel I have strong problem solving skills.”
Patrick’s mother explained that Patrick has been a quiet boy since childhood. “But I am so happy that he is now becoming more open to me as his mother. I remember when we were having some domestic issues at home, he was the only one who calmed down the situation by talking with us and reminding us on the examples we had from the parents’ meeting on how to deal with anger, I am so proud of him, and I want to say a very big thanks to the teachers who were able to create positive impacts on my children. Three of my children who were attending the training and they are all behaving well at home now.” Explained Santa, Patrick’s mother.
Here are some other highlights and reflections from graduates of the Community Outreach Program:
"According to the training I got from The Recreation Project during the lockdown, I have learned and remembered how to believe in myself. I know how to take care of myself, how to talk to people, how to ask for help from a friend or an elder. I’ve learned how to not to overreact to the problem immediately. For example, I asked my dad to buy me clothes but he didn't and I thought of not helping with anything at home but I remembered the training and I consoled myself. There was also a time I told my little sister to collect sweet potatoes from the garden but I found she didn't and I was about to get annoyed but I remembered the anger demonstration of coca cola soda then I calmed down and asked her why she did not collect the sweet potatoes and she told me that she got pricked by thorns and she asked me to help remove them. So I helped her remove the thorns and then we all became happy. I also tried one of the activities called connecting dots with my father and sisters at home. In this game we have nine dots in a grid and you have to connect them with only four lines. They thought it was a very easy game but they failed so then I told them that before doing anything you have to first make a plan and according to the game, that's how hard life is."
"Before the training with The Recreation Project, life was so boring. I used to destroy a lot of things and they used to beat me from home almost every day. But I heard from the local leader of our community that there is a group from town called The Recreation Project that has some training for youth in Lukodi Centre so I had to attend since it was boring to stay at home. I went and attended. At first I thought it was like just playing games but later the facilitators started telling us how the games we are playing are connected to our daily normal life, that is when I realized that I have been doing so many wrong things. As I continued going for the training, I began see my relationship with my mum change. I feel like a different version of me. And from the training I got, I started believing in myself. I learned that when you believe in yourself, you can do some things that you never thought you could do. For example, I am building a small relaxation hut with my brother and its coming up really nicely.
Blind elimination throw and Community Chain are two activities I can’t forget. I even ended up playing them at home with my mother and my siblings, we had so much fun but unfortunately I forgot to tell them what those games mean real life situations besides just having fun. Currently, I am helping my mother with the farm work and she is very happy I can see. I just want to thank the team from The Recreation Project for teaching me and showing me the right direction to life and knowing how to choose good friends. I am ready to share what I learned with other friends too."
"Before the training, I used not to listen to my parents and I had bad peers and inappropriate behaviors and I wasn’t honest enough. But when The Recreation Project started training here in our village, my mother told my little sister, my brother, and me to go and attend the training and see what it was all about. After attending the training regularly, I began to realize that what I thought was ok with me all along was wrong. I started listening to my parents and giving them enough respect, I also started being honest by telling the truth. This helped make peace between me and my parents. I also started taking time to react to some situations and control my emotions.
I learned and practiced making connection with myself and others, being socially effective by doing communal cleaning of the water point when needed and making new good friends. I also learned about connection through the game called Life Line and Yurt Circle that I taught to my family at home after the training."