Professor Leads Uganda Service Learning Project
Thursday, Aug. 07, 2014
Be the change that you wish to see in the world.
The Service Learning Scholars program at Utah State University allows students to have experiences such as the SEEEME (Sustainable Engineering, Education and Economics) experience in Uganda.
During summer 2014, USU faculty member Sonia Manuel-Dupont and a travel team of 12 students, teachers and engineers spent a month in Uganda on a humanitarian trip to several orphanages. They travelled with SEEEME, founded by William Grenney, USU faculty emeritus of civil engineering.
The travel group consisted of individuals, aged 14 to 76, who shared a common vision of what could be accomplished in a short period of time. Each had a unique skill set that was put to the challenge to accomplish the team goals. Thus, teachers learned to lay bricks, students built assistive technology equipment for babies, engineers read stories to preschoolers and everyone led seminars and distributed birthing kits, deworming medicines, eyeglasses, reading materials and reusable sanitary pads. The latter allows girls to attend school rather than remain at home several days each month.
The trip began with a frantic rebalancing of 28 50-pound suitcases at the SLC airport. Books were traded for soccer balls; baby blankets were used to cushion drilling equipment and medical supplies were mingled with wooden cars until the weight of each suitcase was acceptable. The supplies came from neighborhoods, churches, elementary schools, USU fundraisers and individual donations and represented hundreds of hours of work by groups who saw a need, researched a viable and sustainable solution and gathered resources to get the job done.
After 35 hours and three continents, the group arrived at Entebbe airport in Uganda at midnight. The air was heavy with smoke from vendors burning their daily trash in the streets. On the drive to Kampala, the team travelled past families walking home, vendors selling everything imaginable, bicycles and motor cycles weaving in and out of traffic — a scene full of life and movement in the middle of the night — a time when it was cool enough to be outside.
This nightlife, the necessary mosquito netting on the beds, the daily malaria medications, the lack of potable or hot water and a shortage of electricity all became a part of the way the team approached each day.
“Sure, we had some deprivations, but the incredible friendliness of the people, the enthusiasm and excitement with which we were greeted at every stop, and the generosity of a people who struggle to meet their most basic needs everyday made the experience so worthwhile,” said professor Manuel-Dupont.
Over the next four weeks, the intrepid team traveled to northern Uganda to Lira and Gulu to conduct eye clinics, women’s and girl’s health seminars. The team also delivered educational materials to a school for the blind, a school for the Deaf, an orphanage for babies under the age of 3 and several training schools for young women who had been raped and/or sold into the sex slavery trade by the Lord’s Resistance Army in the previous decade. From there, they travelled southward to Masaka to train teachers, deliver educational materials, drill wells, repair solar panels and build a three-room preschool.
“A person cannot make a trip like this and return unchanged,” Manuel-Dupont said. “There were of course things that did not work because they weren’t deemed necessary or useful and there were things that we hadn’t planned that were wildly successful.”
The students involved said that they left with images that will remain prominent in their memories: the 12-month old babies walking outside unsupervised; the elderly obtaining glasses and being able to see things they had not seen for decades; 50 preschool children standing in the brick line with them, moving bricks, one at a time, to build their school; the memorials to entire villages destroyed in the north; and the tears of joy from the girls and young women when they were given the sanitary pads that would help them stay in school.
Manuel-Dupont is a long-term advocate of service learning, a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities. Utah Campus Compact honored her in 2010 as USU’s Civically Engaged Scholar. She leads the summer international experience in Uganda.
“Yes, it will be nice to have a hot shower and drink water from the tap, but we left behind hundreds of new friends who will probably not experience this in their lifetimes,” she said. “We accomplished a few things, but we had seen so much more that needed to be done.”
Contact: Sonia Manuel-Dupont, (435) 797-1340, firstname.lastname@example.org