Being fortunate enough to say that I am a world citizen, traveling and living in developing countries is something that I see. It is part of how I define myself. I may be a Belgian citizen because I have a Belgian passport (and my extended family lives there), but that’s where my Belgian identity ends. I grew up traveling, living in different places and experiencing the good and bad in the world. This summer I have been fortunate enough to continue doing this, but this time by myself, without my family and with the purpose of working as an intern at the Children of Bududa program. Having never been to Africa, Uganda has treated me well, and after only one short month, it has already given me countless memories that I will treasure forever.
My very first impression of Uganda, as I got off the plane with my co-worker Jessica was that it posed a strikingly similar resemblance to India. The fluorescent lights, covered with a swarm of moths and mosquitoes, as well as the shockingly abundant amount of security guards with really scary guns made the unfamiliar territory of the Entebbe airport appear a little more familiar because of this resemblance. The chaos of city life and traffic also created a form of nostalgia for India, but that’s basically where the resemblance stops. Many people say that all developing countries look the same, and though it seemed like this at first, Uganda is unlike anything I have ever experienced.
Being an intern in an organization that is actively trying to directly help local community members gives an entirely original perspective on life in Bududa. Everyone in the district is super friendly on our morning walks, and always giggles and politely replies when we say “Mulembe.” As a first-timer working in Africa, the concept of “African time” gave me a bit of culture shock. Coming from a more Westernized world, 10 minutes means 10 minutes, but here it can range from 10 minutes to half an hour. It was frustrating at first, but I’ve adjusted quite well, and now I understand why the word “stress” isn’t in the Lugishu vocabulary. Everyone here takes their time, there’s no rush and they do things when they can, without continually worrying about it. As an intern, one of our responsibilities is to conduct fieldwork and home visits of the children in the program. This was particularly hard for me, because though I have lived in various poor countries and I have been exposed to a lot of poverty, I have never entered the home of someone who falls below the poverty line. I’ve now watching those who are stuck in the poverty trap that we so often learn about in school. Being faced with a latrine that is on the verge of collapsing, a roof that consistently leaks, various sleeping quarters that don’t have a mosquito net or mattress and knowing that the children live in these kinds of environments is a hard thing to process. Working for an organization that tries to help in the best ways can gives me a good feeling, but I still struggle with being faced with such extreme conditions, even after a month.
“It’s all part of the experience” has become the catch phrase of this trip for the three McGill interns, and I think it correctly encompasses our mindset. We are all very opened-minded to the hardships that we may or may not face, and we are all close enough to be able to share our experiences and deal with them as a group. It has been a great month working for the Bududa Learning Center, and I cannot wait to see what the next month has in store.
Submitted by: ANNE-SOPHIE DROESHOUT
International Development intern