MSW Student in Uganda– My Overall Reflection

No one could have ever told me that I would have ended my first year of the Master of Social Work program by studying abroad in Uganda. I considered leaving my program in the fall semester due to stress! I had a commitment to 16 hours a week at my internship which required a lot of driving, 20 hours a week at my assistantship, classes, and still trying to find time to make it to my part-time job. It was very a hectic schedule and I wasn’t sure if it was worth the stress I was experiencing. Each week was a battle and I had a hard time keeping it together. After meeting with my advisor 3-4 times, we talked about waiting to see how I felt after the semester. My GPA for the semester was high and with no alternative option, I decided to stay in the program. Once the second semester started, I was still very stressed but just tried to push through. In late January/early February, I found out about the study abroad program to Uganda and decided to apply because I always wanted to study abroad. I was accepted shortly after, but then ran into the obstacle of paying the deposit fee in just a few days. It was way too last minute, and I had already given up the idea of studying abroad. Then, on the day the money was due, my pharmacist, called me and mentioned the study abroad from a random conversation with my mom and asked about the deposit fee. Long story short, she funded the deposit fee. Dumbstruck by what had just happened, I thanked her and I’m still overly grateful for her generosity and the love she showed me. Once the deposit fee was complete, the next week, I received a scholarship from the school. I couldn’t believe how it was all coming together. After someone mentioned GoFundMe, I decided to just give it a shot. And literally days before the deadline, I raised the money needed through the support of family and friends. I was very thankful to my family because we had experienced two deaths back to back and I was almost positive that I wasn’t going to make it on the trip. Once I realized I was going, I knew it was more than just luck, I was meant to go!

Reflecting on my time in Kampala, Uganda, it is an experience that has forever changed who I am. It has matured me in various ways and encouraged me to get out of my comfort zone more. I’m realizing how blessed I am in my life and all the opportunity I am presented with in America. I don’t want to take anything for granted and my heart aches for those in Uganda living in poor conditions that we connected with. As a group of strangers, we all came together, to experience Uganda for the first time. It is a country with one of the highest rates of alcohol abuse compared to other African countries. The effects of alcohol on their society impact their families and economy. Uganda has the highest rate of alcohol and HIV correlation worldwide and is therefore in a state of emergency. Our research project of collecting data on the slums of Kampala for information on slum environment and alcohol marketing opened my eyes to view my surroundings critically. It has inspired to look more into conducting research in the future and has given me real experience of how to look at data and analyze the reliability of what was collected. Having returned to the U.S., I have been analyzing our own marketing of alcohol and exposure to alcohol, and it doesn’t compare. Personally, I haven’t seen advertisement as large and frequent as seen in the slums of Kampala, Uganda in the USA. I believe a lot of what is lacking in Uganda is proper leadership and law enforcement related to alcohol and alcohol related harm. There are areas where research may be helpful, such as reasons why teens are drinking alcohol and prevention methods to teen drinking. All of this requires time, dedication to the work, and the help of others to truly overcome this crisis. I would like to return to Kampala and work with some of the NGOs. I would like to help them get educated and learn new skills to spark better leadership and see change in their communities.

 My biggest concern is not knowing the culture enough to know where assistance is needed and what is appropriate and effective assistance. Researching the culture and being in the culture is very different, and it reminds me of how some organizations may enter communities in America and have an idea of what’s best for them without knowing if it’s an appropriate suggestion. As a student in the Master of Social Work program, these are concerns that we discuss in class, so having this realization in Kampala gives me a realistic perspective applicable to my own career. This was a true experience and test of cultural humility.

 From a personal view, as an African American, I think everyone who is African American should go to Africa at least once. Coming from slavery in America, Africa is the Motherland. Being in a country–continent of Black people is empowering and beautiful. There are many stigmas and stereotypes about Africa, and many people tend to avoid traveling there out of fear and uncertainty. I had to question my own previous thoughts about coming to Africa and where they originated from. What surprised me the most about the people of Uganda, was their resilience and work ethic. With little resources and opportunity, they work hard and present spirits of joy to others. They improvise with what they have and make the best of it. I cannot count the number of times I have let one setback or negative moment ruin my entire day. Maybe it is inescapable, but by having too much opportunity it is easy to take things for granted. Personally, I took for granted our clean running water, hot water, electricity, air conditioning, proper infrastructure, Wi-Fi, washers and dryers, and more before coming to Uganda. I struggle with coming to the realization that I may still take it all for granted, which is why this experience is one I want to remember forever. The past few days back in the states, I have contemplated why is it that I need to experience less to realize how much I have. This may be true for many, but I can only speak for myself. I have heard about Third World countries and about the lack of resources, but it didn’t impact me the same way as it did to experience the conditions. It is easy to sympathize and empathize up to a certain point, but without experience it’s hard to know what it’s like. I hope to always be aware of my own bias and judgement enough to realize that I may be wrong.

Our time spent at the Parents Academy School was very memorable for me. Having it towards the end of the trip after seeing the slums and getting to know how the country operates, it had a greater impact. The conditions in which they learn in primary and secondary school was not what I expected. The building did not have doors or windows and had wooden chairs and desks for the students. The rooms were small, and we did not see any textbooks, only binders full of exams and class work and posters of material on the wall. The amount of effort they put in to teach the students with the scarce amount of resources they had was mind-blowing. This was an emotional experience just to see all the students and their motivation to want to learn. Especially, the few students studying during a holiday break. Realizing that these students can work hard and still not be presented with better opportunities, exposed my American privilege. There are times I would hate even going to school because it was “boring.” I reflected on the times I would complain about school but realize most of it was laziness. There are certain areas in America that aren’t presented with equal opportunity and resources as they should by just living in America. To have the amount of resources we have, there should be no reason why certain areas lack in our country. I realize how education in America brings a lot of opportunity, probably more than we realize. I hope by visiting the children, they are filled with hope and continue to get their education. I would like to go back and help educate students there and around the world. It is easy to get caught up in believing the world isn’t greater than America, but America is only one part.

Overall, the experiences in Uganda were beautiful and surreal in many ways. It has inspired me and motivated me in ways I cannot begin to describe.  I hope others can do this study abroad and explore a country that is different from their own. It is my best life experie


Uganda, the Pearl of Africa, was farther away than anything I had ever known. Once I arrived, I quickly learned that Uganda is a beautiful land where wildlife teems, finding their homes among the green rolling hills, forests, and farmland nestled between the red dirt roads. People live simply, both in the city and the villages and have a joy that is infectious, a joy that does not come from belongings or accomplishments, but a joy that stems from resilience, gratitude, and a love for other people. At the time that I stepped off of the plane, I had no idea how much this country would change my life both personally and professionally. The trip was packed full of a variety of experiences, from visiting tourist attractions to spending time at a local university to learn about current research on alcohol and its effects on the Ugandan people.  

Before coming on this trip I was unaware of the huge role that alcohol plays in this culture. After the initial shock from the chaotic traffic wore off, I began to notice how many billboards advertised alcohol. In our pre-trip meetings I had learned about these ads, but I was not aware that they were so pervasive. The billboards that advertise alcohol like Budweiser, Johnny Walker Black Label, Captain Morgan, and local Ugandan brands were far larger than any of the other ads and were also in areas with high traffic. Ads like these were unlike any I had seen in the United States. In the US the alcohol ads are mild showing people drinking beer while grilling dinner in the summer. The ads around Uganda showed people having fun, dancing, and even included famous people promoting the alcohol and spanned from the city to the rural villages. There was even a 5k run that was sponsored by a local beer company. It seemed like a dirty marketing scheme unlike any that I had ever experienced.

The closest thing that I could compare these advertisements to are the beauty ads in the US that constantly tell people that they need to look or dress a certain way to be “enough”. I have experienced the harm that these ads cause both personally and by watching other women and girls, in an effort to feel worthy, look to beauty products, clothing, and surgery for fulfillment. After years of this kind of programming, people’s beliefs about themselves have changed, leading to a shift in cultural norms. I see this same thing happening in Uganda, except instead of beauty, alcohol is the focus. Alcohol use has become a cultural pastime for Ugandans, is part of who they are, and no one seems to know why or question it.

I learned during our symposium at Makerere University that alcohol in Uganda comes in various forms, both commercial and locally brewed.  Locally made alcohol can come from sugar cane (waragi) or millet (marwa), while empty plastic sachets, unique to Uganda, once filled with alcohol litter the streets. Alcohol use is prevalent in both the cities and the villages.

During my time in the village of Nasuti, I saw a group of men sitting in a circle around a bucket drinking marwa through straws three to four feet long near their huts. There were 10 men and 1 woman surrounding the marwa. I learned that the women often prepare this drink for the men. When I realized what they were doing I waved to them and asked if I could come talk to them. They were elated to have a visitor and were eager to share their cultural practice with me. They told me that they drink marwa every Saturday to “chase the boredom” and offered me some “Ugandan beer” that smelled very similar to US beer. While this group of men drank their millet, other men sat off to the side drinking commercial liquor. Had I not learned about the different cultural practices related to alcohol, I would not have noticed what these men were doing.

Young people make up the majority of the population in Uganda, and alcohol use is high among youth and young adults living in the city of Kampala. I learned from Dr. Swahn’s research that male youths living in the slum areas tend to drink more than females, but when the female youths endorse drinking, they are more likely to drink heavily. Alcohol use also leads to numerous health problems, including HIV, violence, and depression. When people drink, they are more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors, these behaviors put people at a higher risk for contracting HIV. Alcohol use is also a risk factor for sexual violence, non-sexual violence, and unintentional injuries. Boda bodas, a kind of motorcycle, are common modes of transportation around Uganda. Many times, the boda boda drivers are under the influence of alcohol; this increases the likelihood of injury beyond that experienced in the already chaotic traffic.

Consistent use of alcohol often creates a dependency, leading to substance use disorder. In Uganda, there are not many resources for people with substance use disorder to go to get healthy. During our trip we visited Butabika Psychiatric Hospital, the only government funded hospital of its kind in Uganda. This hospital served people with all kinds of psychiatric disorders, including substance use disorder. At this hospital, there are separate wards for men and women, for severe cases, less severe cases, and for people with additional physical ailments. While the majority of the wards are separated by gender, the substance abuse ward is predominantly men. During our visit there were no female patients at the substance abuse ward. During our visit I learned that a large portion of Butabika’s resources goes toward services for the substance abuse ward. The way that these resources are allocated shows just how big the problem of alcohol use is in this country. Despite the efforts of the hospital to provide healing for their patients, there is a stigma surrounding Butabika and its patients that prevent people from seeking the help that they need. There is a huge need in Uganda for services to treat and rehabilitate substance use disorder.

While there are few organizations that work to treat and prevent substance use disorder, we met with a man working to make a dent in this mountain. Bill Bekunda, a man recovering from substance use disorder, told us his story of how he became an alcoholic. Bill started drinking alcohol because his friends were doing it. At a young age alcohol use slowly started to take over his life. His once high ranking in school quickly fell and he became trapped. Bill eventually decided to check himself into Butabika Hospital and it was there that Bill started his healing process. After Bill finished his time at Butabika, he realized that he could use his story to help prevent other people from experiencing the same pain that he went through. He decided to start an organization that helps to rehabilitate people with substance use disorder and aims to prevent substance use disorder among youth by visiting schools to share his story. Bill is one of the only organizations in Kampala that focuses on preventing substance use.

Alcohol use also impacts more than just people consuming it, it also impacts the people who make it. The village of Kakira is home to a sugar cane factory. Some of this sugar cane is used to make homemade alcohol called waragi. This alcohol making is the primary source of income for the families in this village. The women in Kakira are the backbone of the community; while the women brew the waragi from start to finish to provide for their families, the men, if they are around, are often drunk and unproductive. The process to produce waragi is dangerous and harmful to the health of not only the people brewing it, but also the people who are in the vicinity that smell its fumes. Many of the women in Kakira had problems seeing, and the majority of the kids looked sick because of the brewing process. Despite all of this sadness, the women and children were so joyful to see and to welcome us. The joy that radiated from the women and children in Kakira, despite such heart wrenching circumstances and experiencing so much loss, gave me more than I could have ever given them in material goods. These women and children were resilient beyond measure and were filled with joy as they loved us like we were part of their own family. The women and children in Kakira inspired me to rejoice in all circumstances; they showed me that spiritual poverty is far worse than physical poverty. My heart was forever changed by the sweet people who call Kakira home.   

This study abroad experience, the women and children in Kakira, and the other organizations we visited not only impacted me personally, but also influenced my future goals and professional aspirations. Before I left for this trip, I was certain that I would want to take a job in Atlanta. While earning money was not my primary focus, I had a selfish motivation for achieving goals; I wanted to achieve things for my own personal gain. After experiencing the culture, the people, and how the organizations in Uganda work to improve the health and lives of Ugandans, I feel called to join in the fight, but now, not for my own gain. I was blown away by how Dr. Swahn’s research was applied directly to Uganda and the youth she surveyed, and I was shocked at how welcoming the people of each organization that we visited were; they all wanted us to come back to visit and join in their cause. Professionally, I have had a heart to do research, but also feel a pull to get my boots on the ground and get my hands dirty. Doing research in Uganda, or in another country, would give me the opportunity to get my hands dirty and to interact with the people I want to help. This work could also have a greater impact that could eventually lead to system and policy change. I don’t know what the future holds, but I have committed to being open to new opportunities and to practice choosing to be grateful and joyful like the sweet people of Kakira.  

Uganda Study Abroad Reflection

Looking back at this Study Abroad trip to Uganda, it truly feels like a dream come true.  Outside of living in Puerto Rico from ages 3-5, I’ve never been outside of the United States.  Coming from that, to traveling across the world to a country in Africa has been such an unbelievable experience for me.  If someone told me that I would be helping to collect data for a global health research project at this point in my life I wouldn’t have believed them.  It’s still so surreal to me.  Since I’ve been back, I’ve found myself looking at pictures and reminiscing.  It’s been emotional for me adjusting back to regular life.  I really miss Uganda, but I am so thankful for my month abroad and all that the experience contributed to my personal as well as academic life. 

I initially picked this program I’d heard great things about Dr. Swahn, and the program was recommended to me by my boss Dr. Salazar, as well as some of my other mentors.  I thought it was cool that there was a public health program that was in Africa, but I wasn’t very interested in the alcohol-related harm reduction topic.  When I think about alcohol, I think about social drinking and enjoying yourself, but I know the negative effects it can have on a person.  My older brother is a recovering alcoholic.  Two years ago he was almost killed in a car accident where he was driving drunk and ran into a tree.  He was charged with a DUI, but ended up getting off with reckless driving.  I felt like alcohol abuse and learning how to decrease its’ harm was too close to home, but ironically a conversation with him about this trip ended up being the driving factor for why I decided to choose this program over the Brazil one. 

Alcohol affects people worldwide, but I had no idea going into this trip the impact of alcohol on this country and its’ culture.  It was surprising to see a place where they don’t even have stoplights or paved roads have such high quality and quantity of alcohol billboards and ads.  The amount of money put into the industry shows how much the country values it.  I didn’t realize how big of a problem alcoholism would be in Uganda until I witnessed it firsthand.  I thought it was so random that of all places, we were going to Uganda to study alcohol-related harm reduction.  I never thought of Africa to be a place where alcohol was a big problem.  I was sadly mistaken.  We saw drunk people everywhere, at all times of the day.  I remember being out collecting data at 12pm and seeing a woman so drunk that she was tripping on her own feet.  She even stumbled around to our group and just stared at us without saying anything.  She then stumbled onto a boda boda and was so limp that I thought I was about to witness her falling off as it zoomed away.  On a different occasion, we walked as a whole group through one of the slums near our hotel.  We saw a drunk mother standing outside of a bar while holding her baby.  As if it wasn’t bad enough that the mother was in a bar with her baby, she was stumbling around so much and laughing so hard that she looked like she was about to drop her.  As I looked at the baby I was shocked to see that she had bright blue eyes.  They were so beautiful I wanted to take a picture, but didn’t out of respect of course.  As I pointed the baby girl out to Charles, he told me that her eyes weren’t blue.  It was a cataract film over her eyes, and she was most likely completely blind. She couldn’t even walk yet and she was already blind, most likely from alcohol related fumes.  We see alcohol abuse in America, but these are the things you can never be prepared for. 

What stuck with me most about this trip were the women and children of Kakira.  Kakira is an alcohol production site in Jinja.  This was our first non-touristy thing we did on the trip, and I wasn’t sure how the local people would view us.  To my surprise they welcomed us with smiles and open arms.  The conditions these women and children lived in were so unsanitary, dangerous, and unhealthy.  As soon as we exited our van we all smelled a vinegary odor, which we later found out was the smell of the alcohol being distilled.  The strong fumes nearly brought tears to my eyes.  It was sad to know that these women and children were around that every single day.  A large percentage of the people in the village were completely blind due to overexposure of the fumes.  I originally wondered why these women would stay and put themselves and their children in such dangerous conditions, but they are there because they have no other choice.  These are hardworking women that cannot find work anywhere else and feel that this is the only way they are able to make a living.  We were informed during our meeting with the women that contactors come to the villages and impregnate the women, then move back to where they live.  These women are left to take care of the child(ren) with no support, which leaves them stuck to doing the only thing they know.  These women were so strong and inspirational, but what really impacted me most was the children there.  From the moment we stepped off the bus they clung to us.  I have a soft spot for children, so it was hard for me to see that they didn’t have clean clothes or water.  Despite the conditions they live in, they still found reasons to smile and be happy.  Watching them skip around and laugh brought me so much joy.  Right before we closed our meeting with the group, a young boy stood up and said he had something to say.  He couldn’t have been older than 10 years old.  After they granted him permission to speak, he told us he was so thankful that we hadn’t forgotten about them, was so happy that we were there, and that he loved us.  It was so different to see a child express that much gratitude to complete strangers.  It made me think about the children in America and how spoiled and ungrateful so many of them are.  It was an emotional moment for me, but a moment that has such a large impact on me.   I will never forget the children of Kakira, and am so happy that Dr. Swahn is making efforts to raise money for their community. 

Following our visit to Kakira we went to an organization called Ring of Hope.  It was a place for orphans whose parents were unable to take care of them due to alcoholism.  They greeted us with light-hearted singing and dancing, but one of the songs really resonated with me.  The lyrics were them asking their mothers why they continue to drink.  Their heads hung low during this song as they reminisced on the abuse they experienced.  It was so apparent that they’d had a hard life prior to being adopted by Ring of Hope.  As the song ended and they began a new one, their faces lit up again.  At such young ages these girls exuded resilience.  It made me realize that the work we were doing on alcohol harm reduction was so important.  If the work done could prevent one family from splitting apart, we would be making a difference. 

It still hasn’t hit me yet that I’m back in America and my time in Uganda has come to an end.  It’s weird doing everyday things like sleeping in a room by myself and taking showers at whatever temperature and water pressure I desire.  I feel an overwhelming amount of gratefulness for the lifestyle I live in the states, but I do feel a bit guilty for going back to my life while others in Uganda, and around the world have nothing.  I will never forget the small children beating on the windows of our van with their starving fists of desperation.  I will never forget watching people step over the babies sleeping in their mothers’ arms on the hard concrete because she has nowhere to go.  These things are imprinted in my mind, and I feel guilty.  After this program my priorities have shifted.  As I make plans for my life after I graduate, my plans have less to do with how much money I can make, but how many people I can help.  I still don’t know what the future holds, but I now see myself traveling and serving underprivileged communities abroad.  I never thought I would have the courage to live abroad, and now I am seriously considering applying for the Fulbright scholarship to do research in Africa.  Not to sound cliché, but this trip has really changed me in ways I never would’ve imagined.  I have gained so much, and I just want to say thank you to Dr. Swahn, and to Georgia State for creating making this happen.  It was worth every single penny—and shilling!

The Faces of Tomorrow

If I had to choose an organization that pulled heartstrings, it would have to be the Children’s Aids Fund of Uganda (CAFU). CAFU is an NGO dedicated to children and families impacted by HIV. Their mission is simple – to limit the suffering of families and children impacted by HIV by providing equitable access to comprehensive HIV/AIDS services and supporting the development of healthy and productive families. In addition, CAFU offers counseling and healthcare services for infected and affected individuals, families, and communities.

My visit to CAFU was very heartwarming. We met with Dr. Jackson – director and Jacquelyne Alesi – program manager. They gave us a tour of the facility and explained what each department was responsible for doing and allowed us to move around freely throughout the facility to ask questions and meet the staff of the Family Hope Clinic (FHCC). The counselors were the most inspirational to me, they shared stories of HIV/AIDS patients and explained how mothers who transmit the disease to their offspring have difficulties revealing to their child later in life that they are HIV positive. After the tour we were given the opportunity to meet a client and his family that lived in one of the more disadvantaged areas in Kampala. The fact that we were able to meet with him and learn about his story spoke volumes about CAFU. I was so impressed with what they were able to offer their patients with such little resources.  

Certainly, this organization to me is one of the most impactful and hard-hitting establishments I have encountered in my time here in Uganda. As a mother of two it is important for me to ensure that my kids receive good health care so they have a good quality of life. I am stunned by how powerful and resilient these women are despite facing such difficulties. The help that the CAFU staff provides to these patients, families, and the communities are essential to building a healthier tomorrow.

Baha’i and Butabika

            One of the most memorable and interesting cultural experiences of this study abroad was a visit to the Baha’i House of Worship. The Baha’i Faith combines multiple religions, but all believe in one Almighty God. They accept the Holy books given from the different Messengers of religions. In their Faith, the religions represent different points in history and the development of religion. Through the promotion of integration of worship and service to humanity, the Baha’i Faith fills it followers with hope and love for humanity.

The temple in Uganda is currently the only one in all of Africa. When you enter you are to be silent, which really added to the Divine atmosphere of the temple. I had never heard of the faith, so it was beautiful to see they had so much peace while embracing different religions. Especially since religion drives a lot of separation and wars in many countries and all throughout history. It was intriguing to learn about this religion and to be welcomed into their temple during our visit.


                Another memorable experience is our visit to the only government funded mental health institution in the entire country, Butabika Hospital. Knowing that it is the only government funded institution shows that mental health is not prioritized in their society. At this institution, they have an area for those experiencing drug and alcohol addiction, women, men, children, and even for inmates experiencing mental health issues before their sentencing. There are 550 beds, but over 850 patients. For drug and alcohol addiction, there are about 9 other recovery centers in the country. This information was overwhelmingly sad to hear, but the hard work of the doctors, nurses, and leaders who run them was inspiring. To be as understaffed as they are, but willing to work and help these individuals shows true dedication and passion for mental health. We met with psychiatrist, Dr. David Basangwa, the director of Butabika Hospital, who has been working there since 1994. It was truly an honor to meet with one of the few psychiatrists in the continent of Africa and someone who takes mental health seriously. He was joyous to meet with us and tell us about  the institution.  I was astonished at how little resources they had, but glad that they had a mental health facility. There are many stigmas around mental health in Uganda, but the same is true still in America. It is an area that we will have to continue advocate for, and this experience only inspires me more, to pursue this field of work.  

Overall, my takeaway from both experiences is to be open-minded and more aware of my own bias and judgement whether that relates to religion or how someone leads an organization. My experiences have given me another motivation to work. Prior, I wanted to work hard enough, so that I wouldn’t have to work anymore. Now, I want to work hard to help others without an end date.

A HOME away from HOME


I initially joined this study abroad because my ancestry DNA results revealed that a large percentage of my DNA came from the Ugandan and Rwandan regions. Little did I know; I would learn that Uganda is one of the most beautiful places in the world. The green hills, lakes, wildlife and abundant growth of fruits and vegetables would make anyone want to stay long-term. This, paired with the smiling faces, welcoming spirits, kindness, and the genuine love of the Ugandan people made me feel at home from the moment I stepped off the plane.

The sad reality here in Uganda, is that while there are smiling faces and beautiful scenery, there’s a shortage of essentials. The average Ugandan makes less than a dollar a day. There are areas all around Uganda that are poverty stricken, underdeveloped, overcrowded and filthy. These areas are normally filled with underprivileged citizens of Uganda. They live there without clean running water, food, medicine, clothing, and hygiene products. In fact, most of their water is obtained from communal water taps, which are often unreliable. Some families struggle to even afford this water.

Kids gathering water at a communal tap for their families.

My visits to Jinja and Kampala are where I walked the dirt roads into the slums, saw mothers with their hungry children and felt the most sorrow.

A young boy taking an afternoon nap on the streets.

As a mother, seeing the children without the things that my children and I often take for granted was very hard to watch. I felt like I could and should help, so I gave the snacks that I had from the plane. Then I started to box my meals from lunch or dinner and gave them to kids that I saw on the streets. It all sounded good in theory, but the hard reality was that there was never enough to give to everyone who was in need.

  Sisters playing and singing as we walk through the slums.

Although I can’t end the poverty, I’ve decided that I can contribute to the Ugandan people by donating school supplies and clothing that will help the children get the education needed to someday overcome these conditions.

Girls out selling fruit instead of attending school.

What better way to learn more about myself and experience my roots? Now, instead of coming as a tourist, I will be returning with my family to share my home away from home with them. I’ll also be able to share the joy of giving back in honor of my DNA and to support the people that share the little they have so freely, smile endlessly, and more than anything, love unconditionally.


My New Mission

There’s beauty all around Uganda with lush vegetation, flowers and trees around, and the teeming livestock and wild animals everywhere. Then you get to the slum areas, which the name itself would signify that it is not the greatest place to be yet there’s so much beauty. The beauty comes from within. Uganda is a country that has beautiful souls and is a beautiful land. The last leg of the trip visited a school called The Parent’s Academy, located in a slum in Kampala. There are 15 teachers that teach the 350 students enrolled in this school. 

Beautiful Ugandan Sunrise

A view of the Nile River

On our way to the school, I had a vision in my mind of what it would like. Sadly when we got there I wondered to myself if we really were there. The structure was in a deplorable condition that by US standards is not suitable for learning. The children greeted us with excitement and followed us all around throughout our entire time there. We got to tour the different classrooms and they were just in such sad conditions. Touring the classrooms brought back so many memories. I grew up in the Caribbean on a small Island called Antigua and I saw similarities in the education system as it relates to the level of studies in each class. It brought joy to my heart knowing that although resources are limited, the quality of education was still good.

A view of the classroom

We met with one of the directors who was also a teacher, and she spoke about not having many supplies, but they do their best to ensure that the students are well taken care of. Some of the students are orphans and the funds the school is able to collect goes towards feeding and clothing these children.

Assistant director/ teacher Miss Sarah and myself

Some of the students

Something I noticed in Uganda is that education, while it should be a privilege, it is not in this country. Poverty is so prevalent in this country that most people cannot afford to send their children to school because the school fees are so high and is even higher for those who are not employed.

While at the school we got to meet some of the students; some were studying to take their O levels exam and the others came to see us, it was a holiday so not every student was present. We got the opportunity to donate clothing items and seeing the pure joy on the children’s face almost brought me to tears.

Me with Brenda and Joseph who are studying to take their school leaving exam

This experience made me more grateful for what I do have. We live in a world where most people don’t have anything, yet they are full of joy and are grateful for the little they do have. It’s so easy for us to forget how blessed we are and we sometimes find ourselves complaining about simple things that people right here in Uganda are not even privy to.

I’m already thinking of ways I can contribute to these students. I want to help motivate and encourage the kids at the Parent’s Academy to do their best to help them climb the ladder of success and make it out the slum. I want to help these kids so they can live a different life and provide for their families.

This experience made me appreciate how fortunate I am to have the life that I have. It’s heartbreaking to see children without so much, yet they are able to find so much joy. Being in Uganda showed me how important it is to find the joy in the little things especially being as fortunate as I am. Those children will forever hold a special place in my heart and I’m going to make it my mission to come back and to always give back. The people of Uganda are so rich in love and appreciation and I want to embrace this part of the people in my own life.

A day in Namuwongo

First and foremost, when traveling to any country, no matter how developed, you must maintain an open mind and open heart. They must both be fully open to learning, seeing, and experiencing everything there is to offer; this includes both the wonderful experiences that can fill you with laughter and joy as well as the moments that cause your heart to break. Without opening your heart and mind there is very little growth that can occur within you. Instead there can be a hardening of negative stereotypes and an overall negative light on everything you do while abroad. I have waited to write this entry till later in the trip so that I could reflect upon what I have seen while in Uganda and write with a more informed point of view so now it is actually towards the end of our time here in country.

During our time here in Uganda we have been spending a limited part of our time within some of the different slums within the bounds of the city of Kampala. There we have been conducting an examination of the urban environment which includes capturing the location and appearances of alcohol advertisements to aid in future research on the locations of alcohol advertisements and high drinking areas within the slums/city. But why exactly are we doing this you might wonder? Why would we spend the start of our summer traveling half way across the world to Uganda to look at alcohol? Well here in Uganda there is a large part of the population below the age of 35, meaning that there is a very young population who are at high risk of alcohol usage and abuse. Along with this there are high rates of unemployment which also contributes to high rates of alcohol usage. The policies surrounding drinking and alcohol in Uganda are also outdated and hardly (if actually ever) enforced. This is actually surprising itself as they have strict policy on the selling of tobacco which is enforced at a 21+ age limit.

So, the week before we went into the slum areas to conduct the study we spent an afternoon doing a “pilot” trip to one of the areas to practice what we would be doing. It was decided that we would start at the boda boda station, walk along the street for 100m taking note of several items, then walk back to the station and continue 100m in the other direction. This would provide us with a direct overview of the area. After the initial practice it was decided that we would actually go into more of the main slum which would provide us with a better understanding of the environment which a large population lived. Where we walked was one of the main walkways for the slum and was located right on the train tracks.

Anyone who has been to a slum area or even seen pictures can imagine the buildings which make up such an area. It is a tumbling sprawl of buildings made out of all materials you can think of: metal, concrete, mud, wood, tarps, anything that can aid in the construction of a building is used. Where one building ended, another would begin. Most of the buildings did not have windows, and if they did not have a door there was instead a piece of cloth covering the entryway. There were countless shops and stands selling street foods, and dozens of bars selling the locally made alcohol out of tiny plastic bags (kind of like a little illegal adult juice pack), jugs, and even buckets. While walking down the first street we actually encountered a community water source (a photo of which is included below) to active it someone has to come a place a pre-paid card into the water pump which allows the water to be released.

 Overall there was a sense of organized chaos with people running everywhere or sometimes stumbling depending on their sobriety, women standing in their doorways or sitting on mats outside selling different foods, boda bodas roaring past on the dirt street, and dozens of children running around us and walking with us through the community. The children especially were constantly laughing and grabbing for our hands, arms, cameras. They were excited to see people being in their community and being able to share it with them, and they loved selfies. By the time we were about to walk out of Namuwongo we had over 30 children around us shouting and laughing. Later we thought it a tad odd that there were no adults around them but we also discussed the possibility of a lot of these children potentially being orphans or being looked after by grandparents because their parents may have died (most likely from HIV).

It should never be easy walking through a community like this, no matter the number of times you do it. But something that is truly amazing no matter where in the world you go in the world is that in areas such as Namuwongo, it is the people who we think have the least who are the happiest. This is a lesson that we should take from the people we see and meet while abroad, that you do not have to have everything in the world to have a positive outlook on life.


A whole new world

I am loving Uganda more than I could’ve ever imagined.  This country is so rich, and the people are so beautiful and kind. This was my first international trip since I was about 6 years old, so I didn’t know what to expect—especially with traveling with a group of strangers.  In all honesty, I had some negative preconceived notions about what Africa was like, but all of my concerns have been things that have turned out to be myths or things that weren’t as big of a challenge as I expected.  I’ve enjoyed my time with my travel team (Team Wakanda), and I feel like I have made lifelong friends.  The entire program has been such an eye-opening experience.  I’m so thankful and humbled to be here.  The two things that changed my perspective most would be the rich culture and my experience at Ring of Hope. 

            Being an African American, I always felt like I lacked culture.  Not American enough, but not African enough.  My friends from other countries would tell me about their families and cultural traditions they had while growing up, and I always felt like I had little to contribute.  I don’t know anything about the origin of my family other than my great great great grandparents were slaves.  I felt like I lacked a definite culture, so one of the things I noticed first was the rich culture Uganda has.  It was nice driving through the city and seeing so many people wearing Uganda jerseys for sports teams and having so much pride in their country.  I’ve also enjoyed learning new words in Luganda, one of the languages spoken here.  Most people know English, but I like being able to speak some of the basic words to people in their native language.  My favorite word is “webale,” which means thank you; I’ve been using that word quite a bit. 

                This culture overwhelmingly beautiful, but I think my favorite part is how much the Ugandans love music and dancing.  There is so much dancing incorporated into Uganda’s culture.  On the first Sunday we arrived, we went to Ndere’s Cultural Center and watched a 3-hour performance.  It sounds long, but there wasn’t a minute I didn’t enjoy.  The energy of the performers was amazing.  I loved learning about the way the dances varied per tribe, and the origins behind certain dance moves.  I also absolutely loved the two morning African dance lessons we had.  As a dancer myself, there was such a contrast in dance styles.  In American dance, we’re supposed to elongate our bodies to make ourselves look taller and longer.  African style dance is about getting low.  It’s more tough and hard hitting, but I loved it!  The beat of the drum set my soul on fire.  I also loved the dance show we went to that one of our dance teacher’s Robert had.  Being able to participate in Ugandan culture has been a blast! 

            The Ring of Hope was probably the most rewarding experience I’ve had on the trip thus far.  After going to the site in Kakira we were all a little sad about the conditions these women and children were living in with the dangers of the alcohol production site and their lack of resources.  Ring of Hope put everyone back in good spirits.  We received the warmest welcome by a group of girls.  In the words of the assistant director, “entertainment is the greatest form of flattery,” and I was indeed flattered!  I felt a special connection with these girls.  They were taken away from their homes because their parents abused alcohol and were unable to take proper care of them.   The organization was so pure and inspiring. 

              I also loved being able to purchase jewelry and bags from the women that lived there.  I felt like I was directly helping to put food on the table, and it was very rewarding.  After purchasing jewelry, I spent some quality time with the girls that attend Ring of Hope.  We laughed and danced, and they taught me some new words—my favorite being “bonga,” which means fist bump.  They really reminded me of myself when I was younger, cheerful and full of life.  It made me realize that no matter where you are on this earth, we are more alike than different.  It was so refreshing to see that these children had what I would consider so little but were so happy.  This visit really made me reevaluate my priorities.  If you focus on what you don’t have you’ll never have enough.  If you are thankful for what you do have you’ll always be content.  I’m so thankful for this experience, and can’t wait to serve underprivileged populations in the future.