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.

The beginning of our journey’s end

An update from Carolyn, a senior CCPA major; Whitney, a senior CCPA major, with minors in business and Spanish; and Stephanie, a senior majoring in CCPA and psychology:

As we write this we are currently sitting in the Entebbe Airport in Kampala, Uganda, awaiting our flight to “London Town.” We have a lot of time on our hands so we are using it to reflect on our trip.

Uganda1.JPG On our last full day in Jinja we traveled to the Buwala Village one last time. We first visited the home of Paul and Rose (the proud owners of UAPO’s first project, the Buwala Orphanage, home to 21 orphans). After meeting up with Paul, he walked us down the road to both the local schools. At the schools we helped the children with their English and passed out writing books and pencils supplied by Dr. Dixon and Dr. McPhail.

It was amazing to see how excited these kids were over a simple pad of paper and a pencil. Upon giving them the supplies, Dr. Dixon made them promise that they would always do their best. Seeing the kids’ excitement over mere school supplies was a humbling experience. The fact that they were so happy and eager to learn is a reminder of the value of education not only in America but also in small African villages.

Uganda2.JPG Before we left the village we also had the opportunity to meet one-on-one with some of the Ugandan women who are members of the Akola Project. We met with them in order to hear more about their stories and understand the impact the Akola Project has had on their lives. We were surprised to learn that they use their extra money from necklace sales to buy salt, soap and school fees for their children. The things we consider necessities are luxuries to these hard-working women.

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 5 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.

For our last dinner we traveled to Bujugali Falls to watch the sunset over the Nile River and eat a traditional Ugandan meal. We had the pleasure of dining at Mama Joyce’s Fine African Cuisine. As it turned out, Mama Joyce’s was a one-table hut lighted by only a few lanterns. The dinner was served family-style by Mama Joyce’s adorable, hard-working children. We feasted on rice, cabbage, greens, “chips” (French fries), beans, sweet potatoes, chicken, maize, and “matoke” (mashed banana – a Ugandan favorite!). For entertainment, the local children serenaded us with some traditional African songs. While some of us were skeptical at first, the dinner turned out to be quite delightful.

Friday we woke up with heavy hearts since it was our last day in Uganda. We started the day with a yummy breakfast at The Source Cafe, followed by some last-minute shopping in Jinja. We boarded the bus for Kampala and had the opportunity to feel the equatorial shift one last time. Upon our arrival in Kampala, we ate a quick bite at a different Hotel Triangle and had 50 minutes to “power shop.” After power shopping, we had some time to shower and prepare for our 24-hour-long trip home.

During our bus ride we have had a chance to reflect on the trip and re-evaluate our future endeavors. As seniors we are most grateful for this experience because it reminds us that there are many things we want to accomplish upon leaving SMU and entering the “real world.” We will always remember our experiences in Uganda, the friends we’ve made, and the difference we can all make in the world.

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The Buwala Village

An update from Carolyn, a senior CCPA major; Whitney, a senior CCPA major, with minors in business and Spanish; and Stephanie, a senior majoring in CCPA and psychology:

After a great meal by the boys on Women’s Day, we headed to “ATV it up” and got a chance to get a little dirty and tour the rural villages of Uganda from a four-wheeler. It was almost like we were on a parade because the villagers all came to the edge of the road to wave as we flew on by.

On Tuesday, we woke up early to head out to the Buwala Village to spend the day with the women of the Akola Project. As soon as we pulled in, the women greeted us with traditional song and dance. We all can agree that we have never received such a warm welcome in our entire lives.

After the greeting, we introduced ourselves to the women by telling them about our majors and the work we have been doing for UAPO. The best part of the day was having the opportunity to experience the process of paying the women for the necklaces that they made as well as supplying them with paper to make more necklaces. We also got to play with the local children who treated us like celebrities just because we were “mzungus.” After a long day at the village we headed back to enjoy a late dinner with the entire group.

At work in the garden

Wednesday morning we headed back out to the village to help with the farming initiatives and learn more about the women’s stories. Once again we were greeted with the traditional warm Ugandan welcome and had the opportunity to see the Buwala orphanage.

After learning more about the project, we headed over to the new garden site and worked alongside the women as they prepared their garden. This gave us a chance to learn more about their personal story, the hardships they have had to overcome, and the joy the Akola Project has brought to them.

On the way home our bus broke down, but luckily Stephanie had food in her backpack provided by Carolyn’s grandma and various Dallas grocery stores. After getting over the fact we had no cellphone service, the bus driver fixed the problem by pulling a random steel pipe from the engine.

The power of one

After the situation was settled, we headed back to Jinja, where we met up with the UAPO gang for dinner and got to speak with Valence over dinner. Valence has worked hard for everything he has. He had a vision to change Uganda for the better from a very young age. At age 9, he lost his mother, categorizing him as an orphan. He managed to make it through primary and secondary school and then paid his way through university.

At the ripe age of 16, he recognized the need to assist his fellow Ugandans. This led to the start of his nonprofit, Youth Focus African Foundation, which consists of four projects in four separate villages in Uganda. It is truly amazing to speak with these young founders of such important and powerful organizations. It really makes you think about what we all are capable of.

Tomorrow we are looking forward to heading back to the village one last time, to help teach English to Ugandan children at their local school.

(Note on photos: UAPO retains the rights to these images and forbids their use for any other purpose.)

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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.

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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