Mustang Consulting in Uganda

During Spring Break 2010, students and faculty are volunteering in Uganda with the Ugandan American Partnership Organization (UAPO), a nonprofit founded by SMU graduate Brittany Merrill ’07 that supports women and children in their communities.

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The adventure begins

IMG_6878.jpgAn update from Carolyn, a senior CCPA major (in photo, left); Whitney, a senior CCPA major, with minors in business and Spanish; and Stephanie, a senior majoring in CCPA and psychology:

After traveling for nearly 24 hours, we arrived in Uganda late Saturday night. We spent Saturday night in the capital city, Kampala. After catching up on some sleep, we enjoyed a delicious fruit breakfast at the ARA Hotel.

We also got to meet Caleb, the UAPO’s program director in Uganda. Caleb shared with us his vision for UAPO as well as his goals for us on this trip. He told us that relationships were the most important thing we could give to Ugandans. This idea of relationships comes from the UAPO’s mission to build partnerships between Americans and Ugandans.

Caleb is an inspiration to Ugandans because he is working towards his master’s degree. Even though Caleb grew up on the streets, he had someone who believed in him so he was able to receive an education. Last, Caleb shared with us the importance of a hug from a “mzungu.” In Uganda, “mzungu” means “white” (but not in a derogatory way). Caleb told us that receiving a hug from a mzungu was so special to him because it made him feel like he was somebody.

We departed Kampala in the afternoon by bus to Jinja, a Ugandan city on the bank of the Nile River. Even though Jinja is only 50 miles from Kampala, the journey took us nearly three hours because of traffic. Ugandan traffic can only be defined as organized chaos. The bus ride gave us a chance to absorb the Ugandan culture. En route to Jinja, we drove through a rainforest and even passed the equator, where we could feel a distinct drop in temperature!

IMG_6870.jpg Alice’s inspiration

Finally, we arrived at Hotel Triangle, our home for the next 5 days. Hotel Triangle overlooks the Nile River – not a bad view! After settling in, we joined the other UAPO employees and volunteers for dinner at Alice Dramundru’s house. Alice is the inspiration for the UAPO Akola Project.

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The Akola Project is one of five UAPO initiatives that focuses on empowering women through teaching them how to make jewelry from recycled paper. UAPO provides training, fellowship and income for the women involved in the Akola Project. Alice became inspired to make a difference in her community when her husband died 16 years ago.

Alice’s husband was HIV positive, so Alice assumed that she, too, would be positive. After many visits to the doctor, however, Alice was assured that she was negative. Feeling that she had been spared from the disease, Alice knew there was much to accomplish.

Today, Alice is “mom” to 21 orphans. She works hard every day making jewelry and other crafts in order to provide for her children. She has also gotten the opportunity to travel the world teaching other women crafting skills and offering them hope. Alice is a mother, a counselor and an inspiration to all she meets. She served us a traditional dinner of sweet potatoes and beans while sharing with us her story. We also got to play with all 21 children she has taken in. At the end of the night, it was hard to say goodbye!

In photos with children: Whitney (above right) and Stephanie (above left)

Celebrating women

On Monday morning, after a long night filled with tropical rainstorms and mosquitoes, we headed down the road to the UAPO house to celebrate Women’s Day. Women’s Day in Uganda is the only day of the year that honors Ugandan women for all that they do. We had an opportunity to work alongside the women to make the beads for the Akola Project while also learning more about their stories. For lunch, since it is Women’s Day, the boys are responsible for cooking! We will see how that goes …

This afternoon, if the rain clears up, we plan to go ATV riding alongside the Nile. Tomorrow will be our first day in the Buwala Village. We are excited to continue to build relationships with our Ugandan friends!

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