Volunteering in Uganda
How it Changed One Volunteer’s Life Forever
More than 50 gawking, giggling children stood in line, so excited they could hardly stand still, each one trying to see over the one in front, waiting for that first sip of water from a water fountain — the first one they had ever seen in their village in Uganda — and Weber State University geography major Kyia Hill was there to see their faces light up as they slurped the cool water.
Kyia, who was there as part of a three-week service trip hosted by WSU’s Global Community Engaged Learning initiative in June 2018, said the experience changed her.
When Kyia first arrived in Uganda, she felt out of her comfort zone, vulnerable, raw even. Until then, the East African country had been just another dot on the map, but after being enveloped by the welcoming people of Uganda, she soon felt a sense of belonging and a deep connection to this place that was thousands of miles away from home.
“Learning about a place like Uganda in a classroom is a different experience than being completely immersed in the culture,” Kyia said. “You meet the people and learn their stories. You gain an understanding of their living situation. This place was nothing like what we call home. The people, climate, air, food, animals, language, mountains, roads, sky, water, even the sun was different.”
Together, 27 students went to Uganda, accompanied by three community members and three WSU faculty and staff members, including Julie Rich, associate dean of the College of Social & Behavioral Sciences, Jeremy Farner, associate professor of design engineering technology, and Mike Moon, assistant director of the Center for Community Engaged Learning. They worked with the Lee Family Foundation and Hope4Kids International to improve access to education and economic conditions of the people in Uganda.
Group members completed several projects, including constructing a food-storage facility, drinking fountains, a perimeter fence around a health clinic, as well as building a new home for an elderly widow caring for her grandchildren. They improved the housing for school educators and administrators in order to help attract quality teachers to the area. They also worked on education programs and gathered donations for books to be incorporated in the Lee Preparatory Academy classrooms and library.
“I have a new understanding of Uganda — the people, the culture, the needs,” Kyia said. “The trip made me realize that, no matter how different we are, we, as a people, need to drink and eat, to love, laugh and cry. This is what connects us.”