USFSM’s Dr. McBrien, Ashley Metelus visit Uganda for book tour

Dr. Jody McBrien, third from left, and Ashley Metelus, third from right, visit some of the women who contributed to McBrien's recent book, "Cold Water: Women and Girls of Lira, Uganda."

Dr. Jody McBrien, third from left, and Ashley Metelus, third from right, visit some of the women who contributed to McBrien’s recent book, “Cold Water: Women and Girls of Lira, Uganda.”

SARASOTA, Fla. (Sept. 24, 2015) – USF Sarasota-Manatee Associate Professor Dr. Jody McBrien has made multiple trips to Uganda over the past six years, but she was wowed this past August when visiting Lira, a dusty city 220 miles north of the capital, Kampala.

On tour to promote a book she co-edited with Dr. Julia Byers of Lesley University in Cambridge, Mass., she learned that a friend who collaborated on the publication organized a book launch at Dr. McBrien’s hotel.

To her amazement, more than 200 people showed up, including community leaders, reporters and a group of child singers. “It was exhausting,” Dr. McBrien said of the event, which stretched into the late afternoon. “It made me realize how glad I am I’m not a celebrity.”

The crowd worked through an interpreter who translated between English and the native Luo during the lengthy question-and-answer session with the editors and authors. Ashley Metelus, a USFSM undergraduate student who previous traveled to Uganda with Dr. McBrien, accompanied her to field some questions as well.

The book, Cold Water: Women and Girls of Lira, Uganda, is a first-person telling by seven women from Lira who had rebuilt their lives after the country’s bloody 20-year civil war. The conflict saw the abduction of thousands of children by the Lord’s Resistance Army, which forced the teens and pre-teens to engage in violent atrocities under penalty of death.

Beyond the horrific recollections, the book emphasizes stories of hope as the women move forward with their lives, helping others along the way and lifting their communities. The 150-page book is told by the women themselves, making it all the more powerful, Dr. McBrien said.

“I always feel so privileged to work with these women,” she said. “They’ve done so much more for me than I could ever do for them. They’ve helped me to learn about forgiveness and love and humility. The things they’ve been through are unspeakable. They’re remarkable women.”

Cold Water, three years in the making, came out about six weeks ago by Fountain Publishers in Kampala. Printed in English, it’s available at Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com for $26.

In addition to promoting the book, Drs. McBrien and Byers, along with Metelus, visited the King Solomon School about 45 minutes outside the city center. Launched two years ago as a one-building, K-2 school, it has since expanded to a pre-K-6 school spread over multiple buildings.

Dr. McBrien credits its tenacious founder, a teacher named Betty Okwir, for erecting the first building on the flat grassy plain. The school now draws more than 100 children, the sons and daughters of farmers, from across the region.

“Betty started it brick by brick,” Dr. McBrien said.

When Dr. McBrien and her party arrived for their visit, “they literally rolled out the red carpet for us,” she said. “It was very humbling. I probably cried. I tear up a lot while I’m there.”

A tent was erected. Children sang songs while teachers and others laid out a banquet. Dr. McBrien said she was astonished at the outpouring. Even more surprising, the organizers had affixed brass plaques with Dr. McBrien and Dr. Byers’ names to two school buildings.

She called the honor “far more than I would ever expect. Of course, I was very moved.”

The pre-school wing will be named for Metelus, who visited Lira two years ago to interview child survivors of the war at a high school.

Metelus said Uganda felt like home to her, which is why she wanted to return. She saved up during an internship at the University of Virginia to pay for the trip. While in Lira, she was interviewed by a local radio station about life in Florida, including at USF Sarasota-Manatee, and how it contrasts to life in Uganda. Although the African nation lacks wealth and technology, it’s rich in other ways, she said.

“The warmth of the people, they’re very inviting,” Metelus said. “They feed you. They genuinely care about you. I just felt very comfortable while I was there.”

The group also visited important war sites, as well as “Psychoaid,” Lira’s only mental health care facility. It was founded by Emma Aceng, who also organized the book launch. Aceng is set to visit USFSM and the USF Tampa campus in February to visit classes and make public presentations.

Starting in November, Dr. McBrien will make copies of her book directly available for $16, plus $2 for shipping within the United States. Proceeds from sales benefit girls’ education in Lira. To obtain a copy, write to jlmcbrien@sar.usf.edu.

To learn more about USFSM’s College of Education, where Dr. McBrien works, visit www.usfsm.edu/college-of-education/.