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Morning Sun
  • PATRICK'S PEOPLE: David Westfall will lead a group to Uganda in May

  • Africa is a long way from southeast Kansas, but David Westfall has learned that both places have a lot in common.

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  • Africa is a long way from southeast Kansas, but David Westfall has learned that both places have a lot in common.
    “Poverty is poverty wherever you’re at,” he said. “I had a sociology class and heard about poverty around the world. Half the planet lives on less than $2 a day.”
    Westfall, who grew up in Arcadia and graduated from Northeast High School, Arma, is now a PhD candidate at Kansas State University, Manhattan.
    “We moved to Arcadia when I was 13 or 14, and I and my friends were never real well off,” he said. “Then I spent 10 years after high school in the real world doing work and was kind of stuck in the cycle. The big change came when I saw my brother’s children. His son is very intelligent, but he said he was going to work at Walmart when he grew up. He didn’t think college was an option for him.”
    Westfall decided then that he would set an example by going to college. He first completed a bachelor of art in sociology and multicultural studies at Pittsburg State University.
    He has several times visited Africa doing research for his doctoral dissertation, and is now preparing to take a group of undergraduate students to Uganda to do research with victims of the Lord’s Resistance Army, which was the subject of a widely seen documentary.
    “When ‘Invisible Children’ came out on video, it got 100 million views,” Westfall said. “I knew that the documentary’s version of the story was way over-simplified and lacking in historical context. The Lord’s Resistance Army has not been attacking in Uganda since 2006.”
    He added that his Ugandan family and friends are not happy with the way they are being portrayed.
    “Their voices are being lost,” Westfall said. “They say that Joseph Kony (leader of the LRA) was six or seven years ago, and wonder why we’re worried about a conflict that was seven years ago. They say, ‘You portray us as voiceless and hopeless and I’m not that, I’m a very strong person’.”
    He has also heard that Kony has not been the only villain in the situation, that the Ugandan government sent 1.8 million people to displaced person camps in northern Uganda at the height of the violence, then did not adequately provide for them.
    “One thousand people were dying every day in those camps, and some Ugandans believe the government was committing genocide,” Westfall said. “They wonder why we don’t talk about that.”
    He is very concerned that well-meaning people who are trying to help Ugandans don’t actually make matters worse.
    “These are people who have been victimized for 20 years, and it’s important not to re-victimize them while trying to impose a solution for them,” Westfall said. “Some of them don’t even see a problem.”
    Page 2 of 2 - However, he and the students he’s taking will be doing some service work with the Ugandans.
    “I’ve been teaching at K-State four years, and every summer students ask if I’m going to take students to Africa when I go,” Westfall said.
    He finally began to explore the possibility, and received strong support from his department, which put him in touch with the K-State International Service Team to aid in the process of planning the trip. The hope is to also establish a new long-term service site in Uganda for the IST program.
    Making the trip with him will be Grant Kohlmeier, junior history major, Manhattan; Chase Fortune, pre-journalism and mass communication junior, Newton; Maggie Burger, anthropology senior, Summerfield; Anna Clary, horticulture senior, Topeka; and Danielle Crossland, social work senior, St. Louis.
    The team has created a campaign on the crowd-sourcing site indiegogo.com to raise money for the trip. Contributions may be made there through April 26, when the campaign ends.
    Westfall said the team will leave in late May and spend 10 weeks conducting ethnographic research, examining the effects on local people of the Lord’s Resistance Army.
    The group has also partnered with M-Lisada, an orphanage in Kampala, Uganda.
    “The orphanage will started by eight street children and now houses about 80 children,”  Westfall said. “About another 70 or 80 come in to eat. All the children play musical instruments, do acrobatics or dance. They go out and perform in the slum, pick up trash and plant trees. We’ll help paint their house and teach.”
    He said the group will also visit the BeadforLife village, where women who have been impacted by the Lord’s Resistance Army make beads from recycled paper. They also learn business and entrepreneurial skills, and the aim is to help them become self-supporting.
    “We’ll also go to the place where the women gather shea nuts and press them into shea butter, which is used for balms, lotions and soaps,” Westfall said.
    He said the experience will allow the K-State students real-world, hands-on experience that they could never receive in a classroom.
    “This should be a life-changing experience for all of us,” Westfall said.
    Even when his dissertation is completed, he sees himself as continuing to visit Uganda.
    “I have a pair of shoes from my first visit in 2009 that were tinted by the red soil of Uganda,” he said. “I’ve washed them, but the red won’t come out. The red dirt of Uganda has a way of dyeing one’s soul.”
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