By Kate Culbertson
Arriving in Entebbe Airport on July 29th was extremely exciting and quite nerve racking. I couldn’t wait to meet all the HCU kids and get the chance to work alongside the inspirational team of women making this educational vision a reality here in Gulu, Uganda. Walking into the classroom, I couldn’t fight the large grin that stretched across my face.
These kids show a contagious excitement and drive to learn in this class environment. Instead of finding seats in the back and hiding themselves from the teacher, these kids attending the Hope Center fight for their place in the front row. As I began teaching my first lesson, the kids fell into complete silence and stared up attentively.
We started discussing the importance of expressing our emotions and understanding mental health in our day-to-day lives. With everything that these kids have gone through, it is key to eliminate the negative stigma here placed on revealing “unfavorable” mental health. By this, I mean we aim to teach them how valuable the freedom of expression is for their well-being. Especially for the boys who feel a certain amount of pressure to maintain a “manly” image by keeping their feelings and concerns to themselves.
Throughout the lesson, I was continuously impressed by their knowledge and ability to think critically in a language other than their own. It is extremely important to the team of HCU that these kids have a comfortable learning environment where they can voice both their feelings and opinions within the Gulu community. An open discourse of mental health is essential in the process of academic growth, especially for these young kids in such a vulnerable stage of life.
It is also crucial that each of the kids understands the ways in which their own frustrations can directly and indirectly impact those around them. Nevertheless, I have found since being here in Gulu, there is a mutual respect within the community that is often hard to find elsewhere in the world. When the class was over, we asked how the kids feel when they come to Hope Center Uganda: they applauded in appreciation and some of them even got out of their seats, dancing and waving their arms in joy.