When I first told my family that I was thinking of volunteering in Uganda for my first co-op, the responses I received were of fear and apprehension. I assured them that Ebola was far, far away (some 3000 miles or so), and that the country is, in fact, civilized and not at war. I informed them that the people in Uganda don’t live in huts and can speak English, contrary to the African tribal people characterized in BBC documentaries.
Nonetheless, I was still unsure of what to expect myself. Although I knew Ugandans don’t live in huts, I didn’t quite know if my host home would have Internet access, running water, or electricity. I went in with an open, but cautious, mind, equipped with my bottles of hand sanitizer, bug repellant, and anti-malarial drugs.
I found this volunteer program in Uganda through an organization called ELI, abbreviated for Experiential Learning International. It seemed to be the most hands-on and culturally immersing program, as well as the most affordable, out of all the ones I researched prior to applying. It offers experiences in microfinance, women’s empowerment, environmental care, orphanages, and hospitals, and I was immediately attracted to the opportunity to work in a hospital. Although there are countless hospitals in the Boston area, I wanted to combine my love for traveling and experiencing new cultures with a focus on healthcare in a challenging environment.
When I reached the airport in Entebbe and subsequently, my host home, I was very pleasantly surprised. I could buy 3G for my phone and a modem for my laptop for Internet connection, and my home had running water, electricity, and even mosquito nets to keep the bugs away during the night. Upon arrival, I met my local coordinator and his lovely family, as well as a couple of other American volunteers – one completing her last year of medical school in the US and another working in Uganda developing her bowtie manufacturing company Lion’s Thread. The area around Iganga is beautiful and green, with goats and chickens hanging around the red dirt roads, women selling homegrown vegetables behind their small roadside stands, and children playing in groups by the water pumps. When evening fell, I was amazed by the vastness of the sky and the clarity of the stars that were unclouded by the air or light pollution of a big city.
Although I’ve only just begun my adventure in Iganga, Uganda, I have the feeling that this will be an incredible educational and cultural experience. While Uganda’s economy is still emerging and stabilizing in terms of employment and education, there is so much opportunity in any field for people and organizations to grow and become a part of. At this point, I have only been working in the hospital for a few weeks, so I’ll write more about the work environment in future blog posts. This is just a quick summary of my first impressions, but if you or someone you know is planning to travel to or work in this part of Africa, rest assured and know that you/they would have a wonderful time.
Mika White is a second year biochemistry major at Northeastern expecting to graduate in 2018. This semester she’s on her first co-op in Uganda interning at a rural hospital in the town of Iganga. Mika loves to travel, read, and run. Feel free to reach out to her at email@example.com and check out her personal blog for more a more detailed account of her experiences.