By Sean Dingle
The Ugandan Formation Visit to Gulu was a hugely rewarding experience, on both a personal and a professional level.
We were privileged to spend more or less a week in our sister Jesuit college of Ocer Campion in Gulu. While there, we spent valuable time with the Jesuit community and the teaching and auxiliary staff. We were able to share our vision of how best to bear witness to the characteristics of Jesuit education and how these characteristics inform our professional practice. This was done through a formalised day of continuing professional development and through informal conversations with the Jesuit community and with the teachers and other members of the school staff.
We were able to start the process of building links with the school in a spirit of solidarity and mutual understanding and respect. We found that we had so much in common in terms of shared vision and ethos. We were also able to focus on the challenges facing all our schools, be they in Uganda or Ireland.
As our visit coincided with Easter Week, we were given the opportunity to attend the various Pascal services taking place in the school. This was a very enriching aspect of the trip and we enjoyed the freshness and vibrancy of the ceremonies. We were also treated to the school talent show on Easter Sunday. This experience will live long in the memory, as will our attempt to showcase the charms of Irish dancing.
The final leg of the visit involved spending time in the Jesuit Refugee Service and with the John Paul II Justice and Peace Centre in Kampala.
In the former, the refugees shared their stories with us and we got a real insight into the desperation of what lead them to leave their home countries and the challenges and obstacles they face in their host country. This was a humbling and profoundly moving experience and the individual stories will live long in our memory. In the John Paul II Justice and Peace Centre, we were shown how the Society of Jesus, along with partner Missionary congregations, are striving to promote awareness of and a creative response to issues of justice and peace in Uganda.
Throughout the formation visit, we were encouraged to reflect on our experiences and this was a vital element of the process. We were learning about our host country in general and the Jesuit school and other works in particular and growing in our understanding of what development education represents. All of this was in a context of personal and professional openness to growth.