As a Global Engagement Fellow at OU, I get to go abroad not just once, but twice. I did my longer trip almost 2 years ago to China, and decided that this summer might be a good time to go on my shorter trip. OU has a lot of options for summer study abroad programs, and it took me a long time to sift through them all. I had it narrowed down to a few in China and Taiwan, but actually ended up taking my study abroad advisor’s advice and applying for a program in Uganda. The program I’ll be participating in is three weeks at St. Monica’s Girl’s School in Gulu, Uganda. Though I miss China, I’m glad that I’ll be taking this opportunity to go someplace that I’m much less likely to go to after I graduate college. The program also has an Engineering track, and is part of a cooperative development effort between OU and St. Monica’s.
I’m excited to go abroad again, but this will be a lot different than China. I’m pretty nervous about going there because I know so little about what it will be like. When I went to China, I was a little nervous, but I had spent several years learning about Chinese language and culture. I kind of knew what I was getting myself into. I don’t know a lot about Ugandan culture or history, but I do know that since gaining independence from Britain in 1962, Uganda has gone through a lot of violence. I’m nervous about being about being able to interact effectively and sensitively with people whose culture I understand so little and who have been through so much recent violence. You can bet that I’ll be reading a lot of books on Uganda in the next few weeks.
The school we are staying at, St. Monica’s Girl’s School, was actually founded to help victims of violence, particularly victims of a rebel group called the Lord’s Resistance Army led by Joseph Kony. The group abducted between 30,000 and 40,000 children who were either killed or forced to become child soldiers and sex slaves. Children who did manage to escape were stigmatized and rarely accepted back into their communities. St. Monica’s was established to teach skills to young women who escaped the LRA and were stigmatized by their communities so that they could provide for themselves. The school teaches tailoring, catering, and hairdressing, and was founded by Sister Rosemary Niyrumbe. The original school is in Gulu, but there is another campus in Atiak that was recently opened.
The part we will play in all of this is in helping to provide St. Monica’s with enough water. Last year, OU students surveyed people at St. Monica’s and in the areas around Gulu and Atiak to determine what their water needs were. Basically, they found out that everyone has trouble getting water, and that the burden of getting water primarily affects women. This year, we will be building a protected spring box for an agricultural farm owned by St. Monica’s, as well as work on a few other projects to improve the water situation at St. Monica’s. I’m definitely nervous about it, but also excited to be doing something that is useful and bigger than just me going someplace interesting.