May 7, 2010

While many college students spend spring break vacationing in the latest tropical hotspot, eight students and three faculty members from SMU spent their free time volunteering in Uganda, among several other SMU service trips. The group traveled to that East African country to partner with The Ugandan American Partnership Organization (UAPO).


Senior Whitney Bartels spent time with orphans
in Jinja, Uganda.

The UAPO began when SMU alumna,
Brittany Merrill ’07, spent summer 2004 serving in Uganda. After she met a poor Ugandan mother who cared for 24 orphans, the three-month trip transformed into a life-long mission for Merrill to bring Americans and Ugandans together. Since then, Merrill has raised more than $800,000 in donations to support these efforts.

SMU became involved with The UAPO in 2009 through a student-run organization called Mustang Consulting. Since 2005, Mustang Consulting has counseled organizations and companies ranging from Southwest Airlines to the Dance Theatre of Harlem. Supervised by Maria Dixon, associate professor of corporate communications and public affairs in Meadows School of the Arts, the organization provides students with real-world experience in working with clients.

The UAPO became a client of Mustang Consulting when Merrill contacted Dixon, the first professor who inspired her to start her own nonprofit.

Seniors Carolyn Angiolillo, Whitney Bartels and Stephanie Fedler and junior Amanda Lipscomb spent seven months reworking The UAPO’s messaging campaign, brainstorming on fundraising efforts and developing promotional documents.

In Uganda, the students worked with UAPO’s Akola Project, which empowers more than 150 impoverished women in eastern and northern Uganda to improve the lives of their families and communities by creating income-generating crafts. UAPO trains Akola women to make necklaces from recycled paper, and the jewelry is sold in the United States and local Ugandan markets. The Akola Project has generated more than $100,000 in revenue for the women since its inception in 2007.

During the trip, the students wrote about their experiences on SMU’s Student Adventures site. “The fact that we were able to meet with these women in their own homes proves the genuine trust and relationships that UAPO has developed in the past five years. As we made our final departure from the village, we left with a better appreciation for the work UAPO is doing and the impact it has on the lives of these women. The stories we witnessed will resonate with us long after we leave Uganda.”

Joining Mustang Consulting were Dixon; Mark McPhail, then CCPA Division chair; Susan Kress, director of SMU Abroad; journalism student Brooks Powell; and Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority members Genny Weaver, Natalie Sherman and Grace Roberts.