By Cooper Brown, Interim Research and Documentation Officer, ARLPI
This past July 15th was a long awaited day for many in and around Gulu district. After much anticipation, the day brought the official opening of The Recreation Project—or, in the parlance of non-profits, “TRP.”
Known as a “ropes course,” TRP is situated on tranquil forest land belonging to the Sisters of Mary the Immaculate of Gulu and hosts several activities sure to get the heart racing of anyone who fears heights. Among these is a zip line that whisks participants the length of a football pitch 10 meters above the ground. Another, demonstrated by co-founder Sister Mary Carla Ajio at TRP’s grand opening, is called the “leap of faith.” For this activity, participants climb a 10 meter tall tree trunk (while secured by harness and rope), perch themselves precariously atop it and then leap, chimpanzee-like to a trapeze bar hanging mid-air, beyond reach.
Despite the dangerous appearance of its challenges, TRP’s obstacles are designed and constructed with safety in mind. In addition, TRP reports that the project’s mostly Ugandan facilitators are all extensively trained in climbing safety and thoroughly experienced, both as facilitators and participants, with the obstacles they supervise.
The brainchild of Ugandan Sister Mary Carla Ajio and American Ben Porter, The Recreation Project is founded on the idea that experiential learning holds unparalleled potential for confidence building. According to Hilary Porter, Ben’s wife, the idea for the site emerged some years ago through Mr. Porter’s work as a trauma counselor in Northern Uganda. Participants at the TRP learn through active experience. Dangling high above the ground one is met with discomfort, fear and anxiety. The value of the TRP is that it provides participants a rare opportunity to butt up against these insecurities and, eventually, to overcome them, all in a safe and nurturing environment.
Besides this, The Recreation Project also specializes in group strengthening activities. The site is home to several group building obstacles designed to nurture cooperation and foster teambuilding.
The TRP has already extended its services to several hundred individuals, mostly local youths and school age children and, although these make up the project’s target audience, the TRP is also open to local adult groups and organizations who wish to strengthen both their individual and collective confidence. As Archbishop John Baptist Odama, the guest of honor at TRP’s well attended grand opening ceremony, explained, “even if you’re not traumatized but just stressed, you should come and do these activities. You will go back to work rejuvenated.”It is precisely this—to rejuvenate the many, long-traumatized residents of this community and remind them of their unconquerable potential--that appears to be the ultimate objective of the project. An objective it appears to be facilitating, one stomach-dropping challenge at a time.