Yesterday I shared with you some of the background on our Reality Tours trips to Uganda. Today in Part 2 of this two-part series, you’ll read my firsthand account of traveling on a Reality Tours trip to Uganda:

Follow along on a Reality Tours trip to Uganda

Arriving into Kampala I recall the delightful heat of the air. I had to wait in line to purchase my visa and was behind a group of missionaries from the US who were eager and complaining about the slow speed of our processing. I felt awkward about one of the gentleman’s statements about bringing God to “these people” and decided not to engage in a discussion about salvation and religion at that moment. Instead, I pondered about what I was about to experience,  and the stereotypes I brought with me.

After arriving at the airport I was met by one of the hotel staff and was whisked away into the night for a long drive to the hotel. There I met up with some fellow trip participants, a group of free spirited students from Suffolk University. We sat and talked about our first day in Uganda. These young women knew the issues and were really excited and nervous to meet with youth from Sister Rosemary’s Girl’s Tailoring project the next day.

Over the course of the next week and a half we met with many individuals and organizations that are committed to rebuilding their communities and lives. We met with folks who work to rehabilitate and provide psychological support services to children who are former “child soldiers” and “bush brides”.

Here are highlights from some a of the many amazing stories that came out of this inspiring trip to Uganda:

Meeting with “Child Mothers”: Picture a large living room shared by about two dozen North Americans and two dozen Ugandans. We had invited two women from some of the groups  working with the child soldiers in Gulu and Lara to travel to Kampala to meet with our group, share their stories and exchange. What a fabulous encounter this was.

First we met with Sister Rosemary Nyirumbe who is the Director of the St. Monica’s Girls Tailoring School located next to a refugee camp in Gulu, Uganda. Her school works with ‘child mothers’ -a term Ugandans use to describe women ages 12 to 18 who were abducted child soldiers.

During our visit, the young women shared personal stories of abduction and rape by their captors, their struggles to survive and their hopes for their future and for those with children, their families’ future.

The next day we were joined by Lina Zedriga (who now runs  the Trauma Healing And Reflection Centre-Gulu or THRACE-GULU) and heard similar but unique experiences shared by the youth under her care. Lina is a lawyer and magistrate who has tirelessly advocated for women, peace and security. We all listened silently to story after story told by the courageous young people, each of us connecting to the stories, some of us with tears, some of us with clenched arms, and others feverishly taking notes.

This was quite a moment for many of us, including the children who were able to listen and share with each other their stories of struggle. For many this was their first visit to the capital. As one of Lina’s girls spoke, she had to stop and gather herself to resume her story. Her strength was admirable.

As the exchange ended, we dispersed after hugs and thank you’s, ready to break for a spell before dinner. Some of the youth went off to play soccer. Over dinner our group processed and discussed, but also shared moments of laughter, a choir of voices, all of us mingling, talking, and sharing. I closed my eyes and listened to giggles and heard people talking about music and the best places to dance. Plans were made for groups to go out and enjoy some local night life.

Friendships had been made. I wrote in my journal that night a rhetorical question:

How can one so young, so innocent, see so much brutality, endure so much pain, inflict pain on others still find the internal reserve to live, laugh, heal and dance?”

I left Uganda imprinted with the faces of the children I met, remembering the image of one of them carrying a 25 kilo sack of sugar on her head into the bush, starting off on her hours-long trek. This travel experience left me with an amplified respect for the tenacity of the human spirit and with a broader understanding about our human capacity to endure, feeling compelled to hear truth, unconditionally love and take a stand.

Join Us on an Upcoming Reality Tours Trip to Uganda! Learn more  by joining us in Uganda this year. Visit our website for all you need to know about upcoming trips to Uganda.

Watch this great series! Check out  Bridge the Gap’s Uganda Series, a wonderful web-based TV program that highlights some wonderful transformational stories, including linking Uganda and community development to the importance of Fair Trade (through bees!)  Here’s a spot on Bridge the Gap about Global Exchange:

2011: Global Exchange: join the network for people’s globalization! from Global Exchange on Vimeo.

Prof. Judy Dushku with Ugandan Children, Suffolk University Delegation to Uganda

This is Part 1 in a 2 part series about Global Exchange Reality Tours trips to Uganda. 

History of Global Exchange Reality Tours Trips to Uganda: For decades many of us here at Global Exchange talked about adding more trips to Africa to our list of destinations. Given our  commitment to social justice advocacy, citizen diplomacy and socially responsible tourism surely there are dozens of African countries where folks would want to meet the people, learn the facts, make a difference.

It wasn’t until 2008 when we started seriously considering creating our educational human rights journeys to Uganda, just two years after we began working in partnership with the abolitionist organization Not For Sale.

As a human rights organization, we partner with like-minded organizations to educate groups of individuals who travel abroad to learn about the root causes of human trafficking and to inspire and mobilize participants into the international abolitionist movement.

After organizing delegations to many other countries to explore the issues of smuggling and trafficking of human beings for slave labor and sex slavery, we recognized the importance of examining what has been happening for decades in Uganda with the mass abduction of children into armed conflict.

Learning About Uganda:

Visiting the IDP Camps in Gulu, Uganda 2009.

I started reading about “child soldiers” and about the political struggles in Uganda and what led to the birth of the LRA (the Lord’s Resistance Army). Established in 1987 the LRA engaged in an armed rebellion against the Ugandan government in what is now one of Africa’s infamous conflicts.

I visited Uganda and got the chance to visit one of the IDP camps (for internally displaced peoples). We drove by one of the old haunting spots of the LRA’s leader, Joseph Kony, and I could not help but feel the immediacy of this place and the astonishment and fear that many must hold in their hearts for their leader.

Reality Tours Trips to Uganda Began:

Eventually we decided to develop a reality tour trip that would examine not only the beauty and biodiversity of Uganda, but also investigate the legacy of conflict and the last remaining active rebel group, the LRA.

The LRA is accused of widespread human rights violations, including murder, abduction, mutilation, sexual enslavement of women and children, and forcing children to participate in hostilities and incursions. LRA fighters have achieved a sad notoriety by turning on the Acholis people they claimed to represent, hacking off lips, ears and noses, killing thousands and abducting more than 20,000 civilians, mostly children.

The conflict continues to have devastating effects on the Ugandan people, Museveni’s political legitimacy, and countries in the region that have experienced increased strain due to the flow of irredentist populations. The need for people to learn from the stories of communities in Uganda that have been affected themselves compelled us to offer a series of delegations in the summer of 2009 called Human Trafficking in Africa and Rehabilitation and Reintegration of Trafficked Girls and Boys coerced into being Child Soldiers in Uganda.

That’s it for Part 1 of this 2 part series about our Reality Tours trip to Uganda. Tomorrow in Part 2 on our Reality Tours blog, I’ll share with you some of my memories and pictures of the Reality Tours trip to Uganda that I participated in. 

Join Us on an Upcoming Reality Tours Trip to Uganda! Learn more  by joining us in Uganda this year. Please also check out  Bridge the Gap’s Uganda Series. A wonderful web based tv program that highlights some wonderful transformational stories, including linking Uganda and community development to the importance of Fair Trade.  In fact, check out the Global Exchange spot live today!


Photo Credit: Beth Garriott

On July 9, 2011, South Sudan gained independence from Sudan after an overwhelming majority of South Sudanese voted to secede and become Africa’s newest country.

Beth Garriott, Global Exchange’s Gifts & Grants Officer, lived in South Sudan from 2006-2007 while she worked with Mercy Corps. She shares her thoughts about South Sudan’s independence.

The birth of a New Nation: South Sudan

Photo Credit: Beth Garriott

“Peace is good. I built a house a year ago, and it has not been burned down like it was every year before.” —Nuer woman, Rumbek, South Sudan – 2006, one year after the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed

Watching the celebrations in South Sudan this weekend, I felt a mix of emotions. Mostly I felt incredible joy, relief and satisfaction on behalf of millions of people who had endured more loss and pain than most could ever imagine – after a generation of civil war and the displacement of millions of people. I also couldn’t help but feel a longing to be back in Sudan, celebrating with the friends I made during my time in the country from 2006-2007. And I was cautiously optimistic about the future of this infant nation, given continued conflicts along the border regions between the north and the south, tensions among tribes in the south over land rights and political control, and the poor infrastructure, healthcare options and education system in the country.

Photo Credit: Beth Garriott

That said, sheer delight trumped all other emotions and questions this past weekend while I watched the singing, dancing and festivities online. A world away, I share in their joy. But my happiness about South Sudan’s independence surely didn’t come close to comparing to the utter elation that most people in the country – and South Sudanese around the world – must have been feeling, deep in their bones, on July 9th.

Photo Credit: Beth Garriott

South Sudan is different culturally and religiously from the northern part of the country – it is primarily Arab and Muslim in the north and animist and Christian in the south.

For far too long the people of South Sudan were oppressed. They suffered through violence, displacement and slavery during 22 years of civil war leaving over one million people dead and more than four million people displaced. But finally, in 2005, they got a chance to taste freedom when the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was signed, signaling the start of a six-year semi-autonomous period in which the government of South Sudan would be initiated and power-sharing structures would be established with the North. At the end of the six years, the CPA stipulated that South Sudan would have a chance to vote for independence.

Photo Credit: Beth Garriott

During my time in South Sudan working for a U.S-based non-governmental organization on an initiative to strengthen civil society, most people were not certain whether peace would even last another year, much less all the way through to the election in 2011. One of the least developed countries on earth, the majority of people in South Sudan back then had no access to clean drinking water, electricity or roads. I lived in a mud hut and had it well.

Photo Credit: Beth Garriott

Carrying out an election in such a massive geographical area (the former country of Sudan was roughly the size of Western Europe, the largest country in Africa) without roads, and with a literacy rate of between 20-30%, seemed all but impossible. Additionally, tensions were still high between the northern and southern militaries, and rising between various tribes in South Sudan over land and political representation. But alas, we were all proven wrong when – in January this year – democracy triumphed on a continent where peaceful elections are few and far between. And this past weekend, the long and perilous journey towards a freer and calmer Sudan was complete.

Photo Credit: Beth Garriott

My time in South Sudan was the most seminal and important period of my life. It continues to inspire and ground me in my work at Global Exchange to bring about greater awareness of human and environmental rights issues around the world. If I close my eyes, I can still picture the lush mango trees along the Nile River in Juba, the new capital of South Sudan. I smile imagining the traditional Dinka greeting, which includes a brief clasping of a person’s right hand, then slapping of the other’s shoulders with the same hand – over and over again for several cycles.

Photo Credit: Beth Garriott

I recall the conversations I had with community members in the remote village where I worked for a year – in the disputed region of Abyei, straddling the north-south border – where much of the country’s oil lies (it is unclear whether this small area will become a territory of North or South Sudan). People here talked about their vision for South Sudan – a peaceful, independent and thriving nation.

This vision is now two-thirds of the way there.







Global Exchange has worked with our allies in Nigeria for over a decade to help stop the illegal and deadly use of gas-flaring.

Today, our friends at Amnesty International have launched an important new campaign to end flaring — and you can help!

The oil industry is abusing the human rights of hundreds of thousands of people in the Niger Delta region. So far, the Nigerian government can’t or won’t hold oil companies accountable. Amnesty’s Demand Dignity Campaign is pressuring the world’s largest oil companies–including Chevron, and the government of Nigeria, to clean up the Niger Delta. As part of that work, Amnesty International USA’s new Eyes on Nigeria project uses the power of satellite technology to monitor oil industry abuses in the region.

A major source of oil pollution is the practice of gas flaring — burning off excess gas as waste. The people of the Niger Delta need a real deadline for ending gas flaring — and they need full transparency about the health risks of flaring.

This summer, Amnesty International will be pushing government and corporations for accountability on this issue.


Add your voice to the Niger Delta petition at

Learn More!

Read about gas-flaring in Nigeria in The True Cost of Chevron: An Alternative Annual Report.

Stay connected!

Photos (c) Alison Dilworth/Friends of the Earth