5 Things I’ve Learned as an Intern in Uganda
My final week in Uganda is nowhere and while I’m extremely sad to be leaving, I am so grateful for the three months that I did have interning for Uganda for Her. I came into this experience with no expectations whatsoever and learned an incredible amount along the way. While I couldn’t count how many things I’ve learned and memories I’ve made, I have written about five of the most the prominent lessons in my time.
Count on African time
For those unfamiliar, African time refers to the cultural norm around Uganda and other African countries of how no one arrives on time. If you ask to meet someone at 5, don’t expect to see them until at least 5:30, but more than likely 6. For many schools we visited with Uganda for Her, we would wait over an hour until we were able to give our lesson. Timeliness is very important to me back home, so this took some time to adjust to, but helped me become much more flexible and not become upset or annoyed at the differences.
Eat Plenty and Often
I cannot overstate how delicious the food in Kampala was. Upon recollection, I can’t think of a single bad meal that I had! There are numerous different cuisines to try across Kampala with some of the best Italian, Ethiopian, and Mediterranean food I’ve ever had. My coworker Anittah made delicious Ugandan food for lunch every day, complete with rice, matooke, and, my personal favorite, groundnut sauce. It will be difficult to go back to my mediocre cooking skills back in the US!
Culture of Kindness
I come from a small town in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where it is common to chat with strangers you pass by and come together as a community to help. What I did not expect was to also find this in Kampala with a population of over 1,500,000 people! Many co-workers, acquaintances, and even strangers went out of their way to help me when I was feeling lost or confused. Of course in any city, you must always be vigilant, but I surprised myself with how easily I was able to trust others within Uganda.
As a student in the United States, I live a frugal lifestyle and work multiple jobs in order to afford living expenses, tuition, and more. However, even with this, I still hold an immense amount of privilege as a student abroad. Many East Africans still live for under a dollar a day and most students we visited did not have access to basic sanitary supplies during their period. Even in my most financial unsound times at home, I never had to worry about not affording tampons or pads each month. This put many things in perspective, and I learned much more from the community around me just by listening rather than talking.
One Person Makes the Difference
As a political science major, I see and learn about change from a macro perspective, regarding policy and legislation. From my work with Uganda for Her, I have learned how change on a micro level, from person to person, can make a huge difference as well. One of my most prominent memories from my work will be meeting a student named Josephine. She only had one pad to use for her period each month, and she did not want to ask her parents for more as it was not financially possible. Thanks to the work of my fellow coworkers and past interns, I was able to give her a Pads4Her pack my coworker Joy created and train her on how to use it. I reminded her that periods are very normal and that she is a strong woman, and she responded, “Of course I am, I am African.” I am thankful for the work Ben and many others have done to make Uganda for Her as successful and effective as it is today. I look forward to the future of Uganda for Her and the continued positive impact it has on Ugandan girls and even foreign volunteers such as myself.
Of course there has been downs, such as frequent power outages, stolen property, and frustration regarding education surrounding reproductive health for girls and boys, but the ups are what I will take back with me when I return back to Michigan. Presently, I am not sad to leave Uganda, as I know it will not be long before I return again to my new home within Kampala and Uganda for Her.