Sunday, July 31, 2016

Service-Learning Course Begun in Uganda

Students and faculty from five academic disciplines embarked on a new adventure in June. They spent the entire month in northern Uganda in the first installment of an annual interdisciplinary, service-learning course. The primary objectives of the course were to engage with all pertinent stakeholders connected with Saint Monica's Tailoring School for Girls in Gulu, Uganda, and its smaller sister orphanages. The students spent much of the first week in formal interviews and informal interactions with orphaned girls, Catholic sisters, rural villagers, technicians and business owners. The discussions this first year focused mostly around practices and challenges associated with water and sanitation.

OU students and faculty form a frame around our beloved Sr. Rosemary Nyirumbe, Catholic nun and humanitarian, who watches over the many children in her orphanages in northern Uganda.
Students came from the disciplines of engineering, business, architecture, city and regional planning, and education. After five days of interviewing at five different sites - both rural and urban - students processed and organized their data using "grounded theory" methodologies. In this way, they could uncover cause-and-effect connections regarding water and sanitation needs. The education students helped develop a curriculum of instruction for adult learners in Gulu.

Students learn "grounded theory" techniques to process and organize the data collected from interviewers with hundreds of stakeholders - orphan girls, Catholic sisters, villagers, technicians, and business owners.

Engineering student, Kensi Brown, measures the height of the water outlet pipe at a storage tank.
Dr. Jim Chamberlain, OU WaTER Center Co-Director for Education and Outreach, traveled with the students and saw the transformations that many of them experienced on this first trip. "Students noticed how few choices were available to rural villagers and to orphans. There were limited choices on clothes to wear, food to eat, ways to spend their time. What a difference between life in Uganda and life in the U.S. where we can often define ourselves by our choices."
Students visit a rural borehole well in northern Uganda.

The needs are so great, and the time in country is so limited. One student felt frustrated that we could not do more: "One of the (orphan) girls we interviewed said that candida was rampant by the end of the term because so many people have to share toilets, and they often ran out of medicine to treat it. This was really hard to hear. The students were desperate for more toilets, saying that even pit latrines would do.... I feel pretty useless not helping such a large number of students with an issue they feel so strongly about." If all goes as planned, there will be another cohort of students and faculty back again next year, and the next year, and the year after that. Perhaps . . . one by one . . . and in cooperation with others . . . all of the challenges may one day be met. 

An OU student plays soccer with children in Saint Monica's Orphanage - Atiak, Uganda.