Student Ashley Metelus blogged during her research trip to Uganda throughout the summer. Metelus joined Dr. Lynn McBrien for research on the war-torn country of Uganda and its affect on children and families. Support from several generous donors from our community made this trip possible.
I am back from Uganda now and I am missing it more and more everyday. It was definitely an experience that I will cherish for the rest of my life. Although this was an educational trip, it has taught me to appreciate all the educational opportunities that we have in America and appreciate the life that I am living here.
We left on July 11th, and it was a long journey. Our flights were to Atlanta, to Amsterdam, to Rwanda, then to Uganda. It was over 20 hours of flying but thank goodness I was able to sit next to some friendly people where I was able to practice my German and learn about the Ugandan culture. We arrived in Entebbe around 11:00 p.m. and then had to drive to Kampala to our hotel (so you can imagine the fatigue we had). Overall, the stay at Kampala was great. I was able to attend a social development conference where Dr. McBrien and her colleagues were able to present their book and what the women of Uganda do on an everyday basis. The women traveled from Lira to attend this conference, so they were able to experience a life they have never experienced before.
In Uganda, the people do not know how to swim so the ladies were able to get their first swimming lesson. That was fun to watch and an experience they would never forget. I felt a bit spoiled at the hotel since I had air conditioning and hot water, but I was ready to pack up my things and get a true sense for what Uganda was like.
The women and I were on our way to Lira, which was about a 6-hour journey. On the way there, we were able to pass the Nile River but we were not able to take pictures since there were soldiers standing guard with their big guns. While passing the Nile River, we came across some baboons. That was quite a sight since they were just in the street! We finally arrived at the house that I would stay at. The Dutch interns were on their safari so I had the house to myself with the landlord for a couple of hours. When I walked into the house, I was not shocked at what I saw. I had to sleep under a mosquito net, there was no hot water, no air conditioning, and since it was rainy season we barely had electricity. We spent about a week without electricity. We all lived as if we were Ugandan. We walked everywhere; we pumped water, attempted to rake the grass, washed our clothes by hand, and washed our dishes in front of the house. We really tried to adjust to the culture; we even attempted to carry water and foods on our heads like the women. Everyone thought I was Ugandan so they did not bother me as much. The people would sometimes ask what tribe did I originate from. I even got my hair braided like the Ugandan women. It was an amazing experience. We met some great friends while being in Uganda and they were very helpful.
The first week I was there, I had some free time where I was able to interact with the children on our street. I was sort of like their mother. They would always come over and we would play with the kids. It was like our house was a daycare for the students to come after school. We played games, made balloons, blew bubbles, played tag, and had a water balloon fight. It was very sad to leave the children. I received an email today saying the children are still waiting for us at the house.
During that week, I was able to help out at a counseling training for Family Therapy. I had to type word for word what they were typing for four days. It was quite exhausting, but it was interesting to learn how to counsel people. The group was very fun and outgoing.
The following week, I was off to do my research, which I was a bit nervous about. My research topic was Educational Challenges During and Post War in Uganda. I wanted to interview both teachers and students who experienced the war and are still teaching and pursuing education. I first interviewed two of the women that were with me in Kampala because they were former teachers during the war. I interviewed 10 students from the Rachelle Comprehensive School, which was a rehabilitation center for children who were formerly abducted, but now it is a boarding school. The ages were from 14-20 and classes Senior 1 through Senior 3. I also interviewed a manager from an organization named Child Restoration Outreach Center, which is a day program for street children to come and get basic education.
The findings of my research were that paying schools fees is the number one issue that hinders children from getting a solid education. There is the Universal Primary Education policy that states that children can go for free but that isn’t the case. Most parents have to pay for other materials such as uniforms and scholastic materials. The teachers were not hesitant to state the problems that the children face during school; the students were afraid to tell me what really happens during school. More issues arise in school such as bullying, teachers beating students, teachers going on strike, sexual abuse among the young women, and the inequality among boys and girls. The dropout rate is high among young women due to menstruation.
I learned many things during my trip but the number one thing that I will always remember is that education is valued in Uganda. Many of the students when I was interviewing them stated that without education they would gain nothing in this world. Even the organization that gives children basic education, those children want to go back to school but have no money to go back to school. In Uganda, there were too many young children on the street during the day because they could not afford to go to school; it is a sad thing to watch because I believe every child should have the opportunity to go to school.
It was sad to leave Uganda but I had to go home. I still keep in contact with the people of Uganda. From Entebbe, to Amsterdam, to Detroit, to Florida on August 7th, I was finally home and reflecting on my trip.