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The Grace of Jenga and Competition

On occasion friends have commented that I have a competitive nature. Well let’s be honest, friends, family, co-workers, and more have noticed it. I’m not sure how exactly it comes across – maybe it’s the intensity I put into competition with others but also with myself. I strive to do my best, to have personal wins and to improve at whatever goal I have. I hope to not be a sore loser.

As we take out the 2 Jenga games for the 10 girls we have had in our P4,P5, P6 group they get excited. They have played this game before. We divide into teams and set the games on the cement floor of a bedroom lined with bunkbeds. We begin to play and compete. We eat candy and laugh. The towers become higher as these 10 girls (and 2 leaders) are intent on winning this game. I assumed we would play a few times as the towers would fall and we would start over. That’s not at all what happened. The intensity in the room was high, sharp words in Luo to each other, glances at the other team’s tower, advice, correction, and sighs of relief with each block removed and stacked. There was also laughter and celebrating. The girl beside me was full of competitive anxiety as she held her hands around the tower willing it to stay up. There was also physical grace and presence. When these girls dance in a group there is no bumping and stumbling into each other, even as they learn a new dance. They appear to know where their bodies are in relation to others at all times. So it is with playing Jenga. They don’t mistakenly bump another player who may collide with the tower. They are aware of themselves in a way that I admire. The game took nearly an hour.

So, my team lost this competition. There were girls in my group that threw visual daggers at our teammates. Others seem less impacted. So what to do? Talk about competition. I shared about various views of competition and how each person is different. I could not help but smile as if looking into a mirror, minus the physical grace and presence of these Ugandan girls. Many of these girls have highly competitive spirits. So what do you do when your team loses? You find another challenge. I asked the girls if they play football. The boys don’t typically let them and say they’ll get hurt. The Saturday before I left we had a fierce all girls football game with a competitive and gracefulness I’ve only seen in Ugandan young women. I played for each team at different times, and for me it was an afternoon full of wins.

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Good Work in Uganda

My Job Description as a social work consultant in Uganda has included working on Child Profiles (a document which includes background, behavior, emotional health, counseling history, school information, etc.) of 30 identified full-care kids. It also includes making social work recommendations moving forward for the COTN staff as they care for kids. I’ve visited 2 other Children’s Villages thus far with 1 more before I head to London. All of the other Children’s Villages are NGO’s run by Americans though with the majority of staff being Ugandans. COTN is different in that though the funding comes from overseas it is a national NGO, meaning the leadership is national. Americans come to support, advise and encourage but are not primarily directive about how the agreed upon goals and values are carried out.

As I’ve worked there have been challenges completing the Child Profiles and I’ve wondered how to make them as useful as possible to both Ugandan and American staff. English is not any of the staff’s first language, they view child development differently, they see behavior/discipline/obedience differently. The chores and tasks children are expected to do is different from American children. How can I be the most helpful knowing that Americans, and those from developed countries, do not always raise children the best way though sometimes we think we do?

As I’m thinking of recommendations to make I first wanted to share what I believe is done well in Uganda – and specifically in the Children’s Village:

Education is highly valued and not taken for granted

The children are bi-lingual (Luo and English)

Older Children care for Younger Children

Children learn to Dance and Sing and adults join in at the village and at church.

Children are respectful – especially of adults

Children are expected to take responsibility for the grounds (sweeping, mopping, weeding, etc)

Children learn to care for animals (goats and chickens especially)

Children understand the importance of farming and know that much food is grown on the property.

Children are taught to cook and do laundry at early ages – boys and girls.

The children are thankful for what they have and learn to care for it at early ages.

Children are raised with regular times of group prayer and Bible reading and as they grow older they choose to also to have these times on their own.

The children are involved in the local church.

The children are given opportunities to serve outside of the Children’s Village

Children visit their extended family / village when possible on breaks.

This is some of the Good Work done at the Children’s Village in Lira Uganda