Concordia’s ties to Uganda are well established but that doesn’t mean everyone is prepared for what they will encounter in the war-torn region.
Some 300 volunteers have already worked in Gulu, the Northern Ugandan town where the Concordia Volunteer Abroad Program (CVAP) is based. Now, the organization is rethinking its strategy on pre-trip education.
Last year, sixty students volunteered abroad, and Peter Schiefke, CVAP’s executive director admitted that “some of the student volunteers who go there have no idea what they’re getting themselves into.”
In response, CVAP is putting an emphasis on education before the next batch of volunteers leaves in order to guard against possible embarrassments.
To illustrate the point, at an information session last Thursday, former volunteers told the story of a couple of volunteers from another organization who found a monkey in a camp for internally displaced persons. They had apparently put a leash on it and started carrying it around. The monkey was never tested for diseases and it later bit them several times.
Schiefke explained the importance of the mission to the thirty students who showed up. In addition to adhering to strict guidelines, applicants will have to learn about Ugandan politics and history.
Uganda has seen more than its fair share of chaos in the twenty years since the formation of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). The LRA, “like the Taliban, only Christian,” according to Schiefke, is a rebel movement that wants to govern according to the Ten Christian Commandments.
Although hostilities between the LRA and the Ugandan government have cooled down in the past three years, much of the population still lives in Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps.
Schiefke, who went to Uganda three years ago, said that IDP camps lack running water, proper sanitation, and access to education and food. “We chose to set up there because the need is just so huge,” he said. Regarding how the experience impacted his life, Schiefke said, “You learn how every decision you make here has an effect around the world.”
Concordian undergraduates currently pay one dollar per course to fund CVAP. The program is still seeking new applicants for the next summer.
According to him, every group sent over will be responsible for organizing an HIV awareness event and educating the community about the disease. Schiefke said that of the 500 people tested for HIV at last summer’s awareness event, one-third tested positive.
The application deadline is Nov. 15. A maximum of sixty students will be selected and sent over in two separate groups. The first group will leave at the beginning of May, as soon as exams are over. Each group will stay in Uganda for nine and a half weeks.
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