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I can’t believe how much I’ve experienced since the last time I was here in the Qatar airport. It still hasn’t hit me yet that I’m headed back home to America, and I won’t have a hearty meal of rice, beans and matoke to look forward to tonight. Uganda Martyrs University (UMU) quickly became my home away from home during my two month stay in Uganda, which is hard to imagine because my first two weeks were far from a “honeymoon” period. Getting used to the Ugandan diet and my cockroach infested dorm room was a struggle. So I started focusing on the joyful parts of each day – the smiling faces of the dining hall staff that greeted me at each meal, the satisfying feeling after a long day of interviews in the field, the stories and realizations shared at dinner amongst my peers. These little things quickly overshadowed my frustrations, and a place that seemed so foreign upon arrival became a place of comfort and belonging.

 

As an Accounting major and Actuarial Science minor, I was nervous when I was given the health internship – going in with an open mind and a desire to learn was my only option. This summer I had the privilege of monitoring a project sponsored by the Verizon foundation and surveying the people of Nnindye Parish about their available health resources. For those of you who are not familiar with this project, its goal is to assess the impact of using SMS messages as a mode of communication between the Nnindye Health Center III and the villagers. Sending weekly SMS messages and seeing the effects first hand was my favorite part of the summer. While everyone else was doing research for the future, I was a part of a project in action, doing research to help it move forward.

 

Pulling away from UMU yesterday was bittersweet. Of course I am excited to go home and see my family, sleep in my mosquito net free bed, and share my experiences with loved ones. But I also feel an overwhelming sense of guilt. One of our fellow Notre Dame colleagues teaching in Uganda handed each student a blank note card on the first day of class, and asked them to write something they wanted her to know about Uganda. One child wrote, “Uganda is not easy.” What a powerful, simple statement. It’s overwhelming to have lived in a place filled with so many unaddressed issues. Where do you begin, and where do you end? Although I feel accomplished in providing research to improve the standard of living in Nnindye Parish, Uganda is filled with places just like Nnindye in need of the same attention. Going home to my comfortable life in America knowing so many people are struggling in Uganda is a difficult realization. All you can do is make the most positive impact you can in the time you are given. A part of me will always be thinking of the people I met and the things I experienced this summer.

Interviewing Myself about Nkozi

 

I decided that it would be better for me to discuss my summer experience through question and answer format. The following is a self-interview I made, hopefully giving you a taste of my experience in Uganda.

 

1.  Tell me about your trip.

This summer, I was an Intern for the Ford Family Program, funded graciously by the Kellogg Institute for International Studies.  I lived at Uganda Martyrs University in Nkozi, and completed my work at the nearby Nnindye Parish.  My included two tasks: to provide teaching support to St. Francis Kankobe Secondary School (the only school in the parish), and to develop any research project for the school.  I ended up completing research on Teacher Retention at the school.  Through teacher interviews and questionnaires, I was able to provide some suggestions on how the school may reduce teacher attrition without increasing salaries/benefits.

 

2.  What did you teach?

I taught Math, Physics, Chemistry, and Biology. It seems ridiculous but I only taught some sections of each so it wasn’t too bad.  It was little rough for some subjects like Physics and Biology because those are iffy subjects for me.  Math was fun because I could help students one-on-one through exercises.  In hindsight, I should’ve offered to help in English because I think that would have allowed me to develop stronger relationships with the students. I watched a friend teach English and was jealous to see the students write and talk about their life experiences to him in class.

 

3.  Did the kids understand you?

I’m not totally sure.  I got in a habit of asking, “are you with me?” or “have you understood?” after hearing actual teachers say such.  I would usually get a head nod or two from the more attentive students in the class.  Math was nice because I could see who was struggling individually.  Physics, on the other hand, would sometimes be a mess, as I would lose the attention of my students.

My experiences have led me to believe that English slows development in rural communities like this.  I understand that English is needed for the country as a whole to connect those of different languages, but in a village like Nnindye where it is barely spoken in or outside of school, learning abstract and complicated science concepts in English is extremely challenging.  At times, I had a hard time communicating with the teachers at the school, so I could only imagine how much some students understood me.

 

4.  How was Uganda Martyrs University?

UMU was great to me.  I loved living in a dorm with Ugandan students.  After working in the field for the day, I would go in my friend Rocky’s room, and a group of us would talk, “jazz”, and joke around.  Sometimes, we would go play basketball, before going to dinner. The food was actually a pleasant surprise for me.  After having eaten plain white rice all my life at home, the rice and bean sauce was in some aspects an upgrade in taste.  Campus truly is beautiful and I will miss it.

 

5.  What was your favorite part of your experience?

The people.  I became very good friends with several of the UMU students and will miss them dearly.  They were so fun to be around, and I learned very much from them. I loved my interactions at the school as well.  I liked talking to teachers about education and Uganda and interacting with students.

 

6.  What was the coolest experience you had?

I had many great memories.  We took many trips that were memorable, like to Martyr’s Day, Fort Portal, a National Park, and more.  However, my favorite memory was seeing Tom’s giving away shoes to each student at St. Francis. It was cool to see that Tom’s actually does gives away pairs of shoes in Africa.  Though I have to question how important one pair of shoes was to the wellbeing of these students.  At the time, it was on the bottom of my list of things that the students needed.  When I asked the students what they would be using the shoes for, they said, “martial arts!”.  Too funny.

 

7.  What is your favorite Ugandan dish?

Posho and beans from St. Francis Kankobe Secondary School.

 

8.  What shocked you most about Ugandan culture?

The most interesting aspect about Ugandan culture for me was religion.  Religion is a huge aspect of life for many Ugandans.  At times, I felt that my environment and the country around me were saturated in faith and spirituality.  Simply driving through Uganda I found Mosques and churches everywhere.  One person I met at UMU was so confused about why I was not religious that she tried to convert me to Christianity.  While I cannot say that I have been converted, I definitely felt more faithful and spiritual in this country.

 

9.  What was the biggest challenge you faced?

In the very beginning of the trip, I had a major insect problem.  I came back after day 3 with a bunch of bites all over my legs and arms, scared out of my mind about what was to come for the rest of the summer.  It turns out that I really attracted fleas during the day and their bites were really pesky.  By the end, I was getting less and less bites, and it was no longer a problem.  I am a little paranoid about potentially getting malaria after my week of medication at home is over.  I got too many bites not to have any complications.

 

10. Would you recommend this program?

Yes. Yes. Yes.  I loved my summer here.  I think this program is unique compared to other Uganda summer programs because of the University and/or village life experience.  I was shocked at how much I connected with the Ugandan students and felt like I was having a study abroad immersion experience.

I want to thank the Kellogg Institute, Ford Family Program, Uganda Martyrs University, UPFORD, Nnindye Parish, and St. Francis for providing me with this opportunity and helping me learn and grow through it.    I hope to come back one day in the future and visit the friends I have made, and continue to experience this country.

The Pursuit of Posho

After five hectic weeks of fieldwork, Edgar and I have finished all our interviews! Now, to the fun part: writing our reports. For my report, I am responsible for writing the business plan for a maize hammermill. For those of you who have no idea what a maize hammermill is, fear not! I was in the same boat about three weeks ago.

My research is focused on maize, which is one of the most prevalent crops here in Uganda. I have talked to farmers, middlemen, and grinding mill operators to fully understand the maize production and consumption processes. Almost all of the maize grown here is fed through a grinding mill. The mill takes in dried maize kernels and produces maize flour. This flour is then used to make posho, a staple of the Ugandan diet. After five weeks of interviews, it has become clear that the Nnindye community could use its own grinding mill. Before I go home, I am responsible for writing a detailed business plan for this mill. Uhoh!

A quick self-introduction: I am a physics major. I know absolutely nothing about starting a business. The little bits I have learned over the past few weeks are entirely derived from my new bible, “So You Need to Write a Business Plan!” Yet here I am, in charge of designing this new business. This is nerve-racking, empowering and stressful all at once. But if the plan is implemented, a desperate community need will be satisfied. The end goal will be met: posho for all!

I had a troubling realization about this the other day. My plan, if written well, will enable increased posho production. On paper, this seems like a great thing. But that is probably because none of you have ever tried the flavorless mush that is posho. Couldn’t I help the people build a brick pizza oven? Or maybe teach them about cheeseburgers? But I guess if the people want posho, then that’s what I’ll give them. No matter how much it pains me (and my tastebuds) to do so.

Week 6 in Review

After five days of fieldwork, Sawula and I can proudly say that we have finished collecting interviews! From being gifted with papayas and groundnuts to encountering four separate puppies in Lubanda C, we took a lot more than just research away from our last official week in the field. I became really nostalgic on our last day and decided that we will break up next week’s report writing and take a “field trip” out to Bukibira for the day. I can’t say goodbye quite yet!

Looking back on our four weeks of fieldwork, there were many challenges we encountered when trying to meet with the SILC groups. Meetings rarely started on time and many of them lasted for several hours before we had the opportunity to interview the members. I’ll admit it was difficult to balance my expectations with the results; one day this week, we waited three hours to interview a group only to find that the members were not very interested in business skills training and didn’t have many ideas to offer. However, then there were the groups like Kankobe Senero. We rallied on Sunday afternoon to attend their meeting and found a group full of collaborative and vocal members. Almost eight different people regularly contributed to the discussion and offered suggestions that I had never heard of or thought of before. One man suggested using the same SMS mass texting system the health clinic uses to send out invitations reminding villagers of training sessions. I’ve never waited with such baited breath to hear Sawula’s translations as I did in that meeting.

As we head into these final two weeks of report preparation and presentation, I’m shocked that we’ve already completed 6 weeks in Uganda. I spent 6 months mentally preparing for this adventure – what happens once it’s over? Though I am definitely looking forward to seeing family and friends from home, it’s so strange to think of being back in my house with my 25lb cat, cold fruit, and AC. Life here has become my “new normal”. I love waking up to “Wasuze otya” at the dining hall and “Bye, mzungu!” shouts from the village children. I actually look forward to matoke, rice and beans for every meal and each day I proudly greet the people in the village with my well-rehearsed introduction: “Nze Colleen Grace (they can’t say Colleen or Wade very well, so I use my middle name). Nva America. Ndi muyizi mu University ya Notre Dame. Nsanyuse okubalaba.” The weather here is truly spectacular every day and the people I’ve met in the village fill me with a tangibly warm welcome each time we start a new interview. I can’t imagine being anywhere else in the world right now, and I love that. Here’s to soaking in every last bit of this beautiful country while I still have the chance!

Week 3 in Review

Research always sounded like a funny thing to me. As a business major with a strong liberal arts interest, I’d always pictured “research” as a bunch of people standing around a fizzing beaker with gloves and hazmat suits on. Of course, coming to college made me rethink my definition. I had looked through marketing research for projects, heard results of management studies in class, but it wasn’t until this summer that I had my own first hand experience with the topic. And trust me, it’s a good thing I left the heavy-duty chem gear at home – Africa can get hot.

As a Ford Family program research intern this summer, I’ve had the opportunity to travel 8000 miles from home to the small village of Nkozi, Uganda. While living at Uganda Martyrs University, I am conducting research (translation: interviewing as many people as I can find) on the SILC (Savings and Internal Lending Community) groups in the area. Last summer, Luke Horvath identified many business skills that these people were lacking and suggested that a business skills training program should be implemented. I am here to develop that program and (hopefully!) pilot it before leaving. It has been extremely rewarding so far to be working – yes, working! – on something that I feel like could truly lead to development in this community.

So far I have completed a week of Luganda lessons, a week of proposal and interview question writing, and now my first week of interviewing in the field. To be frank, week 3 was tough. Each day, my research partner Sawula and I conduct about 4 hours of one-on-one interviews for his research and then attend a SILC meeting before finally getting to ask members my questions. Makes for a long day in the villages! Despite that, the feeling I got after the two group interviews that panned out was 100% worth it. Seeing how excited and interested the members were when asked about a business skills training program makes me feel like, for the first time in my life, I’m spending my time doing something that could result in a long-term, potentially life-changing benefit for others. What a fulfilling way to spend a summer!

Next week brings with it five more full days in the field, but the goal is that at the end of the week, we will have input as to what the program will look like from 40 SILC members in 9 of the 12 groups. Though I can’t say that 8 hours of sweating and sitting in swarms of mosquitos sounds fun, I can promise that hearing the input of driven and intelligent people taking charge of their own development makes me look forward to Monday morning.