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

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.