October 30, 2009

Volunteer, Jenny Calvert, Shares Her Experience at the AGYA Learning Center in Uganda

Jenny Calvert, a 22-year old graduate of the University of Southern California and founding member of AGYA partner organization R.A.Y.S.E. (Rise of African Youth through Self-Empowerment, a student-led group at USC), has been in Uganda since September. In this article, Calvert who hopes to work in the field of international development shares her thoughts about AGYA and Uganda's language, culture, and people!

(Above: Calvert plays a card game with 3-year old Shafik)

(Written By Jennifer Calvert, 10-30-2009) Before I arrived in Uganda, when people asked me what I would be doing at AGYA, I responded, with enthusiasm, “Teaching!”. And though I technically have been holding English and creative writing classes twice a week and dance classes once a week since I have been here, the perpetual newness of my experiences and the energy and talent of the people around me has turned my entire world into a classroom.

Besides the actual classes that are happening every day – art, music, dance, film, photography and countless others – I am discovering a new way of life and a new culture in many simple, everyday tasks. And with every single new experience I have here in Uganda, I lose a little bit of my heart to this beautiful country and its people.

One of the first things that Divinity said to me when we sat down for my first Luganda lesson was, “The best thing about Luganda is that it makes sense. It’s logical. The ancestors knew what they were doing”. And while that is absolutely the case with the local language in Kampala, that observation also applies more broadly to way life is lived here. Take food, for instance. Families grow a variety of agricultural products on their farms and bring them daily into the local market, where other people buy them. This is not because we have an active Slow Food Movement chapter or a co-op of local farmers and a progressive streak in our neighborhood, but because that is how people have lived for centuries – healthily, and happily.

In addition to life as it should be, one of my favorite things about staying at the AGYA house is the constant positive and creative energy that both the youth leaders and the participants of classes bring to the space. And again, while I came to lead classes, being constantly surrounded by young people using their talent to express their dreams and their experiences has revived a spark in me that I lost somewhere among the books, essays, and analysis of other people’s thoughts that my education required of me. It was only when I recognized the positive influence that being a part of this community has had on me that I really understood how important the work of AGYA is.

In my short month here, the members of AGYA have become my surrogate family, and though I am half a world away from the place I was born and raised, I feel completely at home. And despite the cultural and linguistic differences, my roommates here and I laugh about and get frustrated by the same things, have the same big dreams for our future, and have dance parties to the same music as me and my friends back home. And if someone asked me today what I have been doing in Uganda, I could only reply “Learning, laughing, being inspired”.

Above: Jenny with the AGYA Family Melodies Choir before departing for a praise and worship ministry at a local church

Above: Jenny having a one-on-one Luganda language lesson with AGYA Youth Leader, Nelson Kazibwe

Above: Jenny assists with the AGYA Free Lunch Program by preparing chapati, a local favorite made from flour, water, and salt!

Above: AGYA Girls members participate in Jenny's weekly dance class.

Above: Jenny, Shafik, and Nelson celebrate Ugandan Independence Day at the Annual Trade Fair Exhibition on October 9th.