Intern Update: Return and Reflect

By Mia Hodges

It is hard to believe that just about a month ago I was finishing up my 5 weeks in Gulu. In some respects, it feels like ages ago that Allison, Saelar, and I visited the endearing community of Okumu and were given a chicken as a gift to thank us for what HCU’s micro-finance program has done in their lives. At home in Atlanta, it feels like even longer ago that we sat bemused and surprised as we then ate that chicken the next night for dinner. Yet, a few nights ago, when showing pictures to my family and describing the experiences I had in Gulu, it felt like just yesterday that the three of us were meeting with the children and women that are a part of the HCU community.


Although I loved working with HCU’s students on the weekends, I found that interacting with the women that HCU’s micro-finance program, Uplift, is currently supporting was the most rewarding part of my experience. While Allison, Saelar and I were in Gulu, we met with women in all three of the HCU-supported communities, and were welcomed into their homes with broad smiles and gracious hospitality.


As I told my family about the women who care for at times as many as eleven children through selling produce or working in quarries, they marveled at the diligent work ethic and passion these women have for supporting their families. As I showed them the pictures of these women in their huts, I remembered how they never failed to offer me a chair and express exuberant generosity to ensure that I felt welcome. After leaving, it was extremely rewarding to know that our time in Gulu helped contribute to the expansion of the Uplift program, thereby continuing to support the hardworking women of these various communities.


Upon reflection, I look back on my time in Gulu as an incredible learning and perspective-widening experience.  It is so great to see the continued developments that the current interns are making now, between the opening of House of Hope and the new computer classes that are being conducted there.  I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with the amazing HCU executive team and I have no doubt that Kevin, Ella, and Jamie will continue to lead HCU to an incredible future. I look forward to helping HCU expand, both in the USA and in Gulu!

Intern Update: October

My first few weeks in Gulu have been great to say the least. Although my attempts to learn the local language have stalled I’ve learnt plenty more. I think  I can say that I know my way around town and have slipped into a good routine. Ive begun to sink my teeth into a draft strategic plan for HCU after getting a grasp of the organisation on the ground; what it does, how it functions, who’s involved etc.

Like anywhere else, weekends are the best part of the week. Not because I get to blow off some steam at a party but because I get to teach my HCU class on Saturday and Sunday afternoon. I wont lie and say I wasn’t a little nervous with my first solo classes over the students but any sense of nervousness dissipated on my second weekend when I arrived to find a few of the kids having spelt my name out on the blackboard – whether or not they meant it I took it as a sign of affection.

I did encounter one challenge that I didn’t foresee when teaching the class. In an attempt to curry some favour for myself (and also because I need any excuse to eat some chocolate myself) I told the class that I’d bring some chocolate to the next weeks class. When the day finally came, to great anticipation, I brought in some chocolate for the class. What I thought would’ve been an easy and happy enough task turned slightly sour as some children from the other class got wind of it and came down to get some as well. I tried to accommodate as many as possible but some went without which left a bad taste in my mouth about something that should’ve been a happier event.

Resolute to fix the issue next weekend I brought in some more chocolate for myself and the class but distributed it in a lot more controlled fashion. While this solved the problem it reinforced a thought of mine that good intentions aren’t always enough when it comes to helping. You need to have a plan and implement it correctly to avoid unforeseen consequences and achieve your desired outcomes – a good lesson when approach future programs within HCU I’m sure!


Written by Harry Marshall

Intern Update: First Impressions

By Harry Marshall

I’ve always found arriving in a new city or country at night is unsettling. You struggle to get your bearings because everything is either dark or lit up by brownish-yellow florescent streetlights. So arriving in Kampala at 9:00PM at night and the subsequent 6-hour drive to Gulu didn’t really allow me to get my bearings until morning.

Uganda was infinitely different to what my mind imagined the night before. Saying that, I honestly don’t know what I was expecting before I arrived and I prefer it that way when I’m going to new places. It allows you to enjoy every new aspect you’re faced with instead of making comparisons to some made up place in your mind. The one thing that my imagination would never have been able to think up was the sheer beauty of the natural environment. The landscape was contrasted between the green of the environment and the brown soil of the earth, all against the backdrop of the immensely blue African sky.

This isn’t my first trip to Africa however something that I must’ve forgotten in the last 10 years since I was last here was how friendly everyone is. Always eager to ask how your and laugh at a joke; if sometimes are your expense. Innocent, Kevin’s husband, is a fine example of this. I don’t think he can manage a sentence without laughing mid-stream at one thing or another.

The first weekend’s HCU classes with the kids was a genuine treat. Kevin introduced me to the older class first then took me to the middle and young class afterwards. After jumping the first hurdle with the kids as to how to pronounce my name Kevin and Mirriam left me armed with nothing but a red pen to manage the class and do some marking of their earlier work. Immediately I remembered the power of a red pen to primary school children from my own school days; a tick here, an enthusiastic ‘100%’ there and I was fairly sure I would manage the next hour or so.

The next day on the Sunday was my baptism by fire. Kevin and Mirriam left me with the older class for the entire class running through a few English exercises. Surprisingly I absolutely loved it (and I hope the kids took some enjoyment from it as well). Kevin seemed to think I did a good enough job to merit taking the upper class more regularly which will also free Mirriam up to take more specialised technology classes with small groups of the students.




In the Classroom: Annual Field Day!

By Kate Culbertson:


On Sunday, August 6th, HCU had its annual field day and I am so happy that I got the chance to take part. This year the team had Hope Center t-shirts made for both the kids and the staff. The t-shirts turned out great and have promoted the values of HCU throughout the Gulu community, turning heads and giving the organization a little bit of extra publicity. Before arriving to the classroom, we picked up some snacks and refreshments for the kids, which for many of them was the only food they received that day. As soon as we walked in and carried the supplies with us, the kids were overjoyed.

Field day is a way of rewarding the kids and giving them a balance between work and play in the HCU program. In the field outside of the classroom, we organized different games such as soccer and tag for the kids. I was so excited to see that all of the kids were playing fair and with a great deal of enthusiasm. Field day is important in teaching the kids how to work well in teams and support each other’s achievements in an environment outside of the classroom.

We continued to pass out each of their Hope t-shirts, which many of them continue to wear on a daily basis. We loved this opportunity to provide positive reinforcement for the children who continue to attend classes at HCU, when they could easily skip. One of our main goals as an organization is to keep these kids wanting to come back with a drive to learn, and maintain a regular attendance rate.

A few older boys who had stopped attending HCU classes several months ago showed up at the field day, trying to take advantage of the fun day of games, free t-shirts and snacks. They realized that learning at the Hope Center isn’t just about sitting in the classroom but is a fun, fulfilling program with numerous activities to encourage growth. We told them that these gifts and activities were only for the children who had been attending lessons, and that if they started attending again they’d be eligible for next year’s field day. The next day we held classes and every day since, these boys have had perfect attendance. This is the kind of encouragement we aim for in the long run; encouragement that gets more and more kids returning to their classes and off the streets. It is key that they stay motivated and determined to get the best education possible for whatever opportunities that lie ahead of them.


In the Classroom: Mental Health

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.


Intern Update: First Impressions

by Mary Maxton Fowler, July 14, 2017

FullSizeRender (14)

These first two days have already shown me so much about this beautiful place and it’s beautiful people. Kevin- the best mom in Uganda- is providing her wonderful home for us to stay in and the views for the sunset are out of this world. We are completely immersed in the culture here as we went to the markets to buy local fruits and vegetables, made a visit to the salon (which I never thought I would say in Africa), drove around town ourselves, and even visited the local bar BJ’z for trivia night.

I love how crazy this all seems to some of my friends in America, but yet it feels so normal for me now that I am here. At the same time, seeing how this part of the world lives makes me rethink how I live. I pay over $20 for a few meals worth of vegetables in America, while here we paid $6 for the same amount. I never think twice about flushing the toilet in America, while here it is not flushed every time. I drink water from any sink in America, while here we are only drinking bottled water. In America, I think less about the important topics, while I think more about them here in Uganda.

Along with immersing ourselves in the culture, we also immersed ourselves into planning ahead for the work needed. The previous interns that were here taught the kids awesome lessons on basic computer skills, menstrual health, loyalty, kindness, and bravery. We plan to continue that lesson on important character traits starting this weekend.

As we continue to plan out what activities we will do with the kids these next few weekends, we also assessed the needs needed elsewhere in the community. One of these critical needs is the refugee settlements in Uganda, as Uganda is home to the biggest one in the world. Since so many Sudanese refugees are fleeing conflict in their own country, Gulu is being flooded with them. This is such a current, important issue that we have decided to dedicate some of our time here to seeing how we can deliver menstrual health education and other education to these refugees at the entry points of nearby resettlement camps.

I am so excited that we are going outside the borders of the classroom in every type of way these next few weeks. I am so excited that I came here with somewhat of a plan and it is completely changing to fulfill the needs of the community. I am so excited to have come back to Africa. I am so excited to have come to know HCU. Most of all, I am so excited to have come to make a difference in this beautiful community of Gulu.

After working in Tanzania last summer, I’d hoped I’d be writing about new adventures in Africa someday- but I wasn’t quite sure the day would actually come-but here I am back in Africa, in a different country, writing about my Ugandan experience thus far.

My trip started off a little rocky, feeling sick with some rough travels. Even though I was returning to a place I loved so much, I was still as anxious as ever- that anxiety stripped away when I awoke the next morning in Entebbe overhearing the lyrics, “rise and shine and give God the glory glory” play at the building next door.

It was a piece of home and a reminder that I have a home here too.

We started the day with Entebbe by morning and Gulu by night. Traveling through Entebbe had me mind-blown by how many people are living there; I’ve never seen anything like it. Cars, motorcycles, bikes, and people cover every inch of the ground.

While we waited at the airport for Jamie’s plane to arrive, I got talking to Kevin about how HCU came to be. While many people have inspired me through my volunteer experiences, Kevin, Jamie, and Ella are truly an inspiration I have come to know. It all started when Jamie and Ella interned in Gulu a few years ago and noticed that there was much more to be done here. There were no existing extracurricular education programs and so that is where they decided to fill the gap with HCU: a program that would focus on literacy, technology, and arts education, but most of all fulfilling the community’s needs. Originally, this was through their Youth Literacy Program, which provides weekend and after-school classes to 77 local children in Gulu. The recent addition of the Girl Power Gulu program teaches menstrual education to girls and women in the community.

Hearing Kevin’s passion as she talked about this nonprofit organization already had me hooked. Not only does Kevin work with HCU, but she also has two other jobs as a social worker and as a mother of two. She is God sent. Seeing these three women from all different parts of the world come together to create such a needed foundation for this community is unbelievable to see firsthand. I’m so lucky to be a small part of it.

Screen Shot 2017-07-14 at 3.55.34 PM


Intern Update: July II

by Achen Joyce

Date:            16 July, 2016

Summary of week events.

We began normal lessons on Saturday at 2:00pm where I took over P.1 and P.2 as Miriam took over the rest of the classes and I taught on a topic called ‘’the different types of foods’’ where I told them as many foods as possible and I told them to draw and name as many foods as they know which they did as exercise. Besides foods, I also told them many types of fruits and told them the same to draw and name each of them where a greater percentage did well and by 4:30pm we got done with everything. On Sunday at the same time we resumed with normal programs then I taught P.5 and P.6 on a topic called ‘’adjectives’’ where I explained to them how adjectives describes a noun and what a noun is, where I gave an examples like Mr. Mukasa’s daughter is a humble girl that is to say humble is an adjective while girl is a noun. After that, we went for bead rolling where the children showed improvement in the smoothening of the beads respectively.

A time of excellence and kindness.

On Saturday when I drew foods and fruits on the blackboard and asked the children to tell me their names in English, one of the children called Lakop Lorna really impressed me. She could name all of them in English, while others only knew the Acholi names. Examples of this included cassava, sweet potatoes, yams, beans, cabbages, maize among others.

The same applies to the rest of the children because they have improved since I first met them and they are doing well in almost all the activities that we carry out. Also in a class of P.5 and P.6 on Sunday  when I taught them adjectives, by the time the lessons got done, most of the children were able to identify the adjectives and nouns in the in different sentences respectively because I made sure I gave them as many examples as possible so that they understand well. Therefore, I know with time the children that attended consecutively will be capable of doing whatever we taught properly.

Favorite moment of the week.

My favorite moment of the week was on Saturday during P.E., when we arranged the children in their respective classes to compete in a race. At one point, one of the pupils called Wilfort came and told us he also wanted to run. We saw he couldn’t manage to run among the rest since was a little younger, so when we put him to among P.1 and P.2, in the process of running, he fell down while the rest continued to run. But he could not give up, and we thought he would cry when he fell down but he did not! Instead he got up very first and followed his friends. Although he was the last to reach after his friends, everybody was left into laughers and happiness. This really showed how focused and determined he was and the same implies to the rest of the children in that they all did well. However, we are looking forward to seeing that these children’s capabilities are built.

Something I struggled with this week.

Some of the children cannot even copy what is already on the blackboard simply because they have never attended school before and they only come once in a while. They find that their friends have learnt a lot, which makes it difficult to put them in same level. I showed them how to write their books one by one and I showed them how their work can look nice when they write well. There are four children in P.1 like Adyero Mercy, Onencan Stephen, Rubangakene Patrick and Anena Immaculate Teddy whose work cannot be read well and I am trying so hard to ensure that they learn and be well equipped with all the activities being done. Above all they are improving every time I teach although slowly, with time as the lessons go on, they will be better people.

Innovative ideas for HCU.

Hope Center Uganda (HCU) is a very good program that is improving the livelihoods of the local people in Kasubi, Gulu district and with due respect I would like to conclude by urging HCU to carry out more research on the previous reports written by other organizations with related vision and mission so as to improve on the monitoring and the evaluation process. By doing so, HCU can be able to assess its achievements effectively and improve on its program.







Intern Update: July

by Achen Joyce

Date:   4 July, 2016

Summary of the week events:

Lessons began on Saturday at 2:00pm where I took over P.1 and P.2 class and taught them how to identify shapes. The students also learnt different colors like red, yellow, blue among others. By the time the lesson ended, most of them were able to identify the colors and name them accordingly.

At 3:00pm, the children went for P.E. to play games and refresh their mind. From 3:10pm, we started learning bead rolling as part of hand craft. The children really showed much interest in the activity. However, much effort is being put forth to ensure that English and the rest of the activities are being carried fully. We want to ensure that we are building the students’ individual capacities as well as strengthening HCU to grow to a greater level.

On Sunday we covered a topic of writing words and drawings to go with them. Afterwards, we gave the children an exercise to test whether they had learnt something, and were very impressed with the results.

Time of excellence:  ( please talk about a particular kid and the good thing that that kid did this week)

It was on Saturday when I gave an exercise to the children and most of them did well, except a few who did not perform so well due to various reasons. Some had never attended school before and this was really a challenge to them but above all, they are learning a lot through HCU because of the training and greatly improving at the moment. And on Sunday the same, especially during bead rolling, most of the children showed interest in learning how to make paper beads by participating actively in bead rolling. In the beginning many were poor but by the time we finished, most of them had done better. Therefore, if only the materials and requirements could be enough, HCU is at a greater chance to improve and establish its programs.

Favorite moment of the week:   

First and foremost, my favorite moment of the week was on Saturday when I stepped into the class for the very first time and introduced myself to the children that I was going to teach, I started teaching them and got to know them, the challenges they face and their interests in the curriculum, for example I got to know Adyero Mercy, Kitara Gismail, Innocent, Lorna among others. And I realized that these children really want to learn and know a lot of things basically on what they are being taught, we had a good rapport together with them through interactions. Definitely through providing them with possible skills and knowledge, their livelihoods and vulnerability level will improve. Then on Sunday, the time for bead rolling, the children showed a lot of responsibility and interest while rolling the beads and it was fun rolling together with them. Although some of them couldn’t do it so well, by the time we left, most of them had improved on the shaping the beads. And I believe that with time as the activity becomes continuous, they will learn and be perfect.

Things I struggled with this week:

Teaching the children to be in the same level was something I struggled with because some of them had challenges of reading and writing as well as copying what was written on the blackboard. So I really strived hard to make sure that they know something and others could not pronounce some word properly and clearly. And also when they collected their books for marking, some expected to be marked right even when they failed that is to say, they only wanted correct marks in their books and when I didn’t do so, they became annoyed and they were not pleased at all but I made sure that they do corrections so that they know that it was their mistakes which they later on realized. They need to be patient with, otherwise they are hard to deal with because P1 and P2 get angry so easily and very first and the only thing is to make sure that they like the program.  Above all, they can easily be convinced to do the needful although stubborn, because they tend to do what you do not want them to do. Actually it’s really a serious struggle which we shall succeed with as time goes on.

Innovative ideas for HCU to improve and establish its program:

In order for HCU to improve, it needs to provide the necessary requirements for learning of the children and also involve the local people in the decision making through their participation because their views and ideas can greatly contribute to the growth of HCU. Operation at a larger scope for instance bigger coverage will expose at international levels and it should be in collaboration with other development bodies like donor agencies, development partners, local government, central government and other NGOs, CBOs among others if possible so as to get better financially, economically or socially. Provision of some materials may also be of great help to HCU to improve that is to say, scholastic materials like color pencils that can be used while teaching them colors, books, pens and the art craft materials such as papers for rolling, glass beads, Goss wires, varnish among others so as to boost the bead rolling as well as children’s studies respectively. However, if all this is put into consideration then HCU is at a greater level to improve and establish the programs both efficiently and effectively.


Intern Update: June

by Ayat Single Joan.

Date:   25th June 2016

Summary of the week events:

The children are welcoming, active and displayed a positive attitude toward the subject.

Time of excellence:

I had collected the books for marking and a pupil came and requested I give him his book back. I asked him why, and he said that he had forgotten to put periods in all the sentences he had written.

 Favorite moment:

After class, we always give the pupils porridge as part of the program. One day we added food color, and many of them were laughing and making fun of the colored porridge.

What I struggled with this week:

During the week I struggled with some children whose handwriting are difficult to read by helping them improve.

Innovative idea:

The children in upper classes would be involved in other activities such as brick making so that with time they become self reliant and be able to support themselves.