Courtney Spence on Why Uganda Human Rights Trip Refines Career Purpose

In Chapter 12 of 15 of her 2010 Capture Your Flag interview, non-profit executive and Students of the World founder Courtney Spence answers "How did your 2003 trip to Uganda change your life?" Spence reflects on her travels to Uganda in 2003 to work in HIV and AIDS public health efforts. Experiences there, from witnessing charitable acts of kindness and charity to engaging with refugee children rescued from the LRA and civil war, resonate with Spence's soul and inspire her continued work with Students of the World.


Erik Michielsen: How did your 2003 trip to Uganda change your life?

Courtney Spence: We went to Uganda to try and work with organizations that were fighting HIV-AIDS, Uganda is very famous for really tackling HIV-AIDS heads on and although it was - had some of highest percentage rates of infection, it has really been successful in lowering those rates. When we got there in 2003 the war in the north with the LRA, which is a rebel army led a madman named Joseph Kony, was really ravaging the north and ravaging the Acholi people, and there was 1.2 Acholi people at the time that were in refugee camps and everyone kept talking about the country as though it was split, I mean it was almost like a civil war, it’s like the south and the north, the north and the south and the south was where we had planned to spend the majority of our time. Well we got there and we had a camera and we had a member of parliament who was from the north who basically begged us to go up there and document what was going on. So three of us went up to the north for about a week, a week and a half and it was unlike anything I could’ve ever imagined, you couldn’t… you couldn’t write a fiction, you had 1.2 million people in refugee camps, the LRA is an army made up completely of children, so they go and they raid these camps and take a hundred, two hundred kids at a time, so much so that at the time it wasn’t safe for children to sleep at home or with their parents in these camps, they had to walk to town, sometimes up to ten kilometers each way.

They would sleep on the streets in town and you would go and there was thirty to forty thousand children at the time in Gulu. The concept that it is safer for children to sleep on the streets than it is for them to sleep with their families is something that I think us here, we can’t, you can’t fathom that, you cannot fathom that. At the same time we met people that were working on the ground, Human Rights Focus which was really an organization that was dedicated to calling out the government when they were mishandling the situations in the camps, which they were. We made friends with a group of young people in their twenties, early thirties, they created an organization called Charity for Peace and they were taking these children from the streets, volunteering, sleeping with them in basically a big school ground and they would divide up the children, girls on one side, boys on the other, provide them with some games, monitor them as they slept so there was some sort of sense of safety for these children on the streets. They took in seven thousand kids almost every night and it was like, people were doing things without any money, without any international support.

There was part of me that was inspired that people were doing something about it and it was -- it also just is a place that sort of resonated with my soul, I was there and I felt at home and I kind of feel this way about the world, I think there are certain places that resonate with your soul and it doesn’t necessarily have to make sense.