Rachael’s volunteering (part 1 of 7): Hello from Patongo!

Sorry it’s been a while but the internet has been challenging due to a combination of weak reception and power black outs.

It’s just over a week since I first arrived in the small town of Patongo in Northern Uganda, working with a locally run youth centre, and it’s going really well.

For background, the people are still suffering the effects of the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army) war / insurgency that lasted for 20 years and came to an end in 2006.

During the war, people were forced to leave their villages and move to IDP (Internally Displaced People) camps created by the government, and tens of thousands of young people were abducted by the LRA to be child soldiers, mules and child-wives to LRA commanders.

Although the war is now over, the area still suffers from extreme poverty and hardly any of the young children in town seem to wear shoes; many have ragged clothes and are malnourished with distended bellies. Patongo also has a very high unemployment rate, and like other towns in the region, has a generation of people who basically had to put their lives on hold just to survive in the camps.

The town was very small before the war, but had the second biggest IDP camp in the region, and for several reasons, many people have not returned to their homes in the villages so it is a larger town today.

The youth centre I’m working with was set up by a young local couple, David and Agnes, to help the former child soldiers, other formerly abducted young people (like child mothers who had babies while they were in the bush) and other disadvantaged young people. The construction of a large new centre is also underway, which means they’ll be able to increase the services they can provide and the number of young people that they can work with.

They mainly help youth groups and some families by providing counselling, educating them on health/HIV/gender based violence and other social issues, and working with the community to encourage them to try and accept former child soldiers back into the fold. They also help with setting up income generating activities and savings and loan associations (the level below micro-finance).

I’m helping them with finance, general management and anything else that is useful! I’ve already worked with them to make some changes to their accounting records, set up some simple management reports and I’m now helping them finalise their 2011 annual report and 2012 budget.

I’m also creating a database for them to track information for the 1,000+ youths they are working with; acting as a baseline to measure future progress and highlighting where specific individuals or groups might need more help. We’re also collecting information on education, household situation, health, employment etc. which I’m finding really interesting.

Anyway, lunch hour over (our office closes between 1-2pm each day for lunch which is nice) so back to work. In the next blog I’ll tell you more about the area!

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