Friday, November 26, 2010

Uganda: A Snapshot

If you are anything like us, you might not know a whole lot about Uganda. We certainly didn't much before we found out it would be our new home while serving in the Peace Corps. So, over the last few weeks we have learned lots about this beautiful country. The Peace Corps Uganda welcome book has been very helpful in giving us some snapshots of our future home. Here are some of the basics and interesting things we've learned about the "Pearl of Africa" so far:
  • Uganda is located in East Africa. It spans the equator and is bordered on the west by Congo, on the north by the Sudan, on the east by Kenya, and on the south by Tanzania and Rwanda. Lake Victoria forms part of the southern border.
  • The country of Uganda is about the same size as the UK.
  • People living in Uganda speak around 50 distinct languages, divided into three major linguistic families. While Swahili and English (inherited from the colonial period) are the official languages, we will likely be learning another language spoken in the rural village in which we will be serving.
  • Peace Corps volunteers began coming to Uganda in 1964, and have continued, on and off, since then.
  • Currently, there two types of Peace Corps programs operating in Uganda: Education, and Community Health & Economic Development.
  • Uganda is one of the countries most severely affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic, yet it is also a tremendous success story, as infections rates have reduced by 50% over the last 10 years. (The current adult infection rate is around 10%)
  • "In the 20th century, Uganda went from being perceived internationally as an Eden incarnate — Britain’s “Pearl of Africa” — to being considered the antithesis of Eden, largely because of the extreme actions of post-independence leaders Idi Amin and Milton Obote."
  • Uganda peacefully achieved independence from Great Britain in 1962.
  • Until recently, the Ugandan government followed a single or no-party parliamentary system. However, now there is a parliament representing various parties.
  • Uganda has frequently been considered an economic success story by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, due to their economic reforms that begun in 1986.
  • Education is highly valued in Uganda, as seen by the government's commitment to universal primary (and recently, post-primary) education.
  • Uganda has an equatorial climate that is moderated by altitude. Average annual rainfall varies from more than 84 inches around Lake Victoria to about 20 inches in the northeast. Vegetation is heaviest in the south, thinning out to savanna and dry plains in the northeast.
Hopefully that gives you a *tiny* snapshot into Uganda. And hopefully our blog can provide even more of a personal snapshot in the months to come.

It will be great to learn in this adventure together!



Once you have been invited to serve with the Peace Corps in a specific country, you are required to submit some additional paperwork to your Country Desk. Part of this paperwork is the "Aspiration Statement" a chance to share some of your prior experience and PC goals.

I thought I'd copy some pieces of our Aspiration Statements into our blog, both to share with friends and family some of the things we are hoping to accomplish, and to have something to look back at once our service is over and reflect how closely our pre-service aspirations matched the actual goals we met while serving. So, here they are!

Emily's Aspirations:

· Gain an understanding of the people and culture of Uganda through training, volunteer projects, and personal relationships with members of the community

· Develop my skills as a teacher and as an advocate of holistic youth development

· Participate in efforts of prevention, education, and care of HIV and AIDS and grow in my understanding of the effects of such diseases on communities and community members

· Work with my Ugandan counterparts to increase the mathematical proficiency of the secondary students with whom we work

· Develop community partnerships that increase sustainability and long-lasting impacts on the communities in which I serve

· Share my knowledge of and experiences in Uganda with members of my community in the United States

· Reach a level of fluency in my assigned language

· Continue developing skills to work with students and staff cross-culturally, while broadening my worldview and understanding of the global community

Ryan's Aspirations:

Develop a high level of proficiency in a second language

Gain further skills in teaching, and specifically teaching cross-culturally

Build new friendships throughout my community and my fellow Peace Corps members

Gain a better understanding of the realities of the fight against the HIV/AIDS pandemic in Uganda. I hope to understand the struggles in fighting the virus, and the current successful methods in doing so

Develop my skills in communicating in cross-cultural situations

Emily, on life after Peace Corps:

Serving in the Peace Corps will play an influential role in my personal and professional aspirations after my service ends. I have no doubt that my experience in the Peace Corps will be a transformative, as I believe that this kind of commitment and experience changes people by its very nature. My service in the Peace Corps will build on the national and community service experiences I had before joining the Peace Corps, and will serve as a steppingstone to continue life in that spirit of service after I return home. I desire to live with a global worldview, and Peace Corps will help me strengthen my understanding of cross-cultural relationships and broaden my understanding of other global communities. The skills I develop while serving in the Peace Corps will transfer directly to my work once I return home. Whether working as a secondary teacher, promoting youth development in urban communities, or working on HIV/AIDS education and prevention in the U.S., the experiences of learning and growing I will experience while serving in the Peace Corps will certainly shape my personal and professional life even after my service is completed.

Ryan, on life after Peace Corps:

Upon my completion of my Peace Corps service I plan to move into a long term career. There are many ideas I have at this point of what I may want to do when that time comes, but I also realize that it may all change during my time in Peace Corps. Peace Corps will be an eye opening experience for me in many ways. I believe that learning a new language will test my abilities to faithfully study content that I will lean on for the rest of my service, influencing my study skills long after Peace Corps. The stories I hear from members of the communities will bring new perspectives that challenge my own. Serving with my wife will strengthen our relationship for the rest of our lives through the happy and hard experiences we face together.

The work I do in Peace Corps will help me gain further insight on community based organizations, and how they can work together with government agencies. An interest of mine going into Peace Corps has been the way in which money is invested by the government and philanthropic organizations to impact low-income and high need communities. My service in Uganda will continue to offer me many insights on how this looks in different cultures and places.

Finally, committing to serving others for two years of my life will build off of a commitment that has already run throughout much of my life. Serving in Uganda will continue to make this commitment to service stronger. Since I was a young child I have felt a strong draw to serving those around me. This yearning has lead me to work in non-profit organizations, earn a college degree in Reconciliation studies, and to complete two years of AmeriCorps service. My time in Peace Corps will continue to strengthen my commitment to service, and continue to teach me the complexities of what it means to serve those of differing backgrounds.

Monday, November 15, 2010


The invites arrived last Wednesday! Ryan and I are going to Uganda! This is completely surreal and so exciting!!! The process getting here has certainly felt long, but has gone very smoothly overall. Peace Corps has done a great job of helping us understand what to expect at each step. Now that we are officially invitees, we consider ourselves extremely fortunate to be given an incredible assignment suited to our specific skills in what we hear is a wonderful and beautiful part of the world! We can't wait!

So, according to the assignment packets we received with our invites, here's what we'll be doing:
  • Ryan's job is as a primary teacher trainer. He will be working in a computer lab and teaching classes to primary teacher trainers. From our understanding, he will be based out of a college and will provide technology training for the students there. He may lead additional workshops or trainings on college holidays and vacations.
  • I will be working as a secondary classroom teacher/teacher trainer. This means that I will be a classroom math teacher in a rural school for middle or high school students. I will collaborate with my Ugandan counterparts to create lessons and plans and examinations. Additionally, I may lead workshops or trainings for other teachers when school is not in session.
  • It is expected that all volunteers in Uganda will work on secondary projects related to HIV/AIDS education and prevention, so we'll certainly be engaging in those efforts as well.

We have a feeling the three months until we leave are going to FLY by! We leave February 9th for staging in Philadelphia, and arrive in Uganda on the 11th. Our two years of service officially start April 23. We are thrilled to have these official dates on our calendar. The reality of what is to come is really setting in!

Thanks to all of our family and friends for their support as we prepare to head into this amazing adventure! We are so thankful to have a community of amazing people surrounding us and helping us process and prepare for what is to come!


Friday, March 12, 2010

Our Peace Corps Timeline

They say the Peace Corps process takes lots of time and patience. They're right. Here's the time line of our application from the day we submitted our applications to the day our invitations arrived at our door! It felt like such a long process but it all felt worth it when we found out we were going to Uganda!

11/18 /09 - Applications submitted

11/29 /09 - All 6 of our references are submitted!

12/3/09 - We "meet" our recruiter through emails and a package of extra forms in the mail. We fill out the paperwork, get fingerprinted, and send our information to the Chicago recruiting office.

12/21/09 - Our recruiter receives the extra forms and sets up an interview

1/7/10 - We take the Megabus to Chicago for our interview! At this point, we were told that couples were nominated once every quarter from the National Office. If everything worked out for us, we would be hearing sometime in March, and our nomination would be for the March-May quarter of 2011!

3/2/10 - We touch base with our recruiter again. We send in extra updated forms. She tells us, "If all goes well, we could hear within 2 weeks!" We get more excited and more anxious!

3/9/10 - Nomination! We are nominated to serve in the Caribbean! Ryan serving with Community Development and Emily with Youth Development. We are ecstatic!

3/15/10 - Medical Packets arrive in the mail - sooner than expected!

3/22/10 - Emily and Ryan have their medical and dental appointments!

4/2/10 - After lots of tracking down immunization records and waiting for lab test to arrive, our medical packets are ready to be sent in! We're relieved to be done with this part (hopefully!)

4/10/10 - Toolikit updated: Medical packets have arrived in D.C.

5/19/10 - Toolkit updated: We are both dentally cleared!

9/10/10 - Toolkit updated: We are both medically cleared! Our journey begins to feel real!

9/23/10 - Toolkit updated: We are both legally cleared! One more step and we'll know where we are going!!!

9/27/10 - We get our first email from the Placement office. They need my final transcript and our firm availability date. We hope to hear very soon!

11/3/10 - We get a call from the Placement Desk in D.C. Surprise! They ask us to consider serving in Sub-Saharan Africa! They would like to invite Ryan as a primary teacher trainer and Emily as a secondary math teacher. We say we'll do it! Send that invitation!

11/6/10 - We wake up to an exciting toolkit status update: Invitations have been sent!!!!

11/10/10 - Invites arrive!!!!! We are going to Uganda February 9th!

How it all began...

Here we are sitting in Nina's (our favorite coffee shop) dreaming of what will be our reality before we know it. The dream: serving in the Peace Corps. After many years of hoping, and a year or so of planning we are now in the long process of applying to be volunteers. We've made it to the nomination phase. Up next - medical clearance! So what will the coming months hold?... rather what will the next three years hold? Only time will tell...

If you are reading this blog you either have an investment in our lives, or an interest in joining the Peace Corps. Whatever your reason for reading this blog we hope that you find reading about the events as exciting and interesting as we will find living them.

Until we write again, stay well, spread peace, and find love!