Study Abroad: Volunteering in Uganda

Uganda is often referred to as “the pearl of Africa,” in reference to its striking natural beauty which is evident throughout the entire country. The vibrancy of the Ugandan people shines amidst the abject poverty many face every day. Their desire to learn and succeed is apparent, and the excitement we received from them was humbling. I was one of eight Geneseo students and 30 other interns participating in the Foundation for Sustainable Development’s summer 2014 internship focused on sustainability. My internship was concentrated on microfinance and microenterprise practices to provide training and economic opportunities to a community.

The internship was located in Jinja, Uganda, a small city with a population of 110,000 people located at the source of the Nile River. I lived in a town about 20 minutes outside of the city Mbikko, where I lived with an amazing host family. I had two host parents and six host siblings who ranged in age from 1-13 years old.

There is no experience quite like living with a host family; you get authentic knowledge about the culture and day-to-day life of wherever you are. Another important factor was safety––the fellow interns and I never felt like we were in danger, as Jinja is a very safe city.

All of the interns were generally paired up—I had the pleasure to work with Atosa Ghasripoor ‘14—and performed a “community assessment” to establish a specific need in a community of our choice. Ghasripoor and I worked directly with the non-governmental organization Organization for Rural Development, which services rural farmers and helps with saving techniques and funding various agricultural projects.

While surveying the communities, there was an overwhelming desire for a mushroom growing project. We hired an experienced mushroom farmer and designed three sessions where rural farmers came to the headquarters in Jinja to learn various harvesting, packaging and marketing techniques. We built a “mother garden” at the headquarters containing 250 mushroom gardens and showed the farmers step-by-step how to perform each task so they would be able to recreate it in their home communities.

Uganda as a whole is very diverse and has an incredible amount of tourist destinations. Every weekend we did some type of activity, ranging from whitewater rafting on the Nile River, a three-day safari in Northern Uganda, hiking to various waterfalls in eastern Uganda and enjoying the nightlife of Jinja. Because Jinja is located at the source of the Nile, the tourism economy is strong and there was never a lack of things to do.

As an economics major, this experience provided me with valuable skills such as writing work plans and incorporating saving strategies to invest in long-term enterprise growth, along with getting to immerse myself in a new culture.