By Charles Chandia & Prof. Monica Swahn
As we were wrapping up our study abroad course on alcohol & harm in Uganda for which I (Charles) was the course facilitator, I felt I should also write a blog of my experiences and reactions. Most of all, as a Ugandan, I am so very proud of the opportunity to show the students my country. They get to see the finest and most exciting of our country, staying in a luxury safari lodge and seeing exotic animals up close at a national game park. But, they also get to walk through the slums of Kampala and talk to youth at risk for alcohol and harm, hearing their hopes, pain and suffering first hand. We design a study abroad program that let our students see the real Uganda. My role in the study abroad program is to serve as a course facilitator, to ensure our program is completed smoothly and to handle the logistics on the ground. This was my second year serving in this capacity, and both years I had the opportunity to meet the students in the US, at Georgia State University before they traveled to Uganda. Since I am also the Director for the Twekembe Slum Project (http://twekembe.org), a community based organization to uplift people in the slums of Makindye, our students spend time with us to learn about our activities.
At Twekembe Slum Project we have four main activities; we support education, sanitation, social entrepreneurship and fundraising. In terms of education, we have several initiatives. We support the Parent’s Academy, a local community school serving nearly 400 poor children in the slums, most of which are orphans, who cannot afford school fees. We also support a small community preparatory school for the very youngest and those who have not yet learned the basic skills to attend the Parent’s Academy. Additionally, we provide education and outreach programs for those most vulnerable, such as empowering single mothers with HIV/AIDS and organizing sports tournaments for children and youth. Our Georgia State students visited both schools and saw how a school served by volunteers can function in the most limited of circumstances. Their reactions were profound and several wrote about these visits in their own blogs. In particular, they were surprised to see how very excited the children were to receive new books we had brought with us through our donation drive in the US.
In terms of sanitation we are very proud of the wells we have constructed with community members to serve hundreds of people who can now access water closer to their homes. The students got to see for themselves what a well can look like and to learn the steps needed to construct wells like these. As public health students, they know the importance of access to water and the key barrier poor sanitation is to the well-being of community members which is why it is a key priority for us.
Our social entrepreneurship is in forms of vocational training and mentoring of craft making, particularly wood carving and jewelry making. Our students visited one of the shops where community members sell their crafts and got a chance to talk to our craftsmen and women.
Finally, Twekembe has several fundraising activities to support our initiatives. Our last big fundraiser was in October 2016 as we hosted a charity bike ride with http://www.gofreeuganda.com/ in Kampala to support building a kitchen for the Parent’s Academy school to enable them to serve breakfast and lunch to the growing number of students attending the school.
We also provide computer and internet classes at our main office and other business services to provide funds for our operations. Most of what we do and accomplish is through teamwork and volunteers. It was great for us to share these strategies with the students and to showcase our community activities. We hope it inspired the students to see how little it sometimes take to make a difference.