Syracuse University Magazine

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Nourish International students gather with primary school students in the Oyam district, northern Uganda, to teach lessons on sanitation and hygiene. 

Photo courtesy of Kelsey Modica



Nourishing Hope in Uganda

Residents in the rural district of Oyam in northern Uganda were at first unsure about Alexandra Schmidt ’16 and her fellow interns with Nourish International. Working in partnership with Global Health Network (Uganda), the students from the Syracuse University chapter of Nourish traveled to the east African nation in May for six weeks to help with health pro­jects and livelihood initiatives. The area is recovering from a long civil war that, along with the loss of life and devastation, disrupted the livelihoods of the residents. Often there can be skepticism about the intention of Westerners bringing their own values or just giving handouts, Schmidt says. “Throughout the six weeks, we were able to work with them, live in their homes, and be part of their families. We were there as equals,” Schmidt says. “Several residents told us, ‘We realized even though we may be different in appearance, we have the same blood, and we’re still family and everyone can work together.’ That was one of the most rewarding things for me, to give that sense of hope, build those relationships, and possibly work with them in the future.”

Schmidt, who joined Nourish last fall, was the project leader for the student group, which also included Makayla Dearborn ’17, Kelsey Modica ’15, Jessie Ringiewicz ’16, Olivia Sage ’16, Karla Vera ’18, Brad White ’17, and Lynsey Cooper ’16, who were selected to participate in the trip after applying. The student chapter, which was organized two years ago, works with Nourish International, based out of North Carolina with chapters throughout the country, to select a chapter partner. This is the second year of a two-year partnership with Global Health Network (Uganda) (GHN(U)).

GHN(U) provided information on the community’s needs to the students, who then planned for three initiatives—establishment of three piggeries that would house pigs to generate income, health education, and a sewing project to help the women create reusable cloth sanitary pads. “In general, we were helping to promote holistic health, hygiene, and sanitation through education and livelihood initiatives,” Modica says.
After arriving in the country, students traveled to the city of Loro. They stayed in a guest house and then later lived with host families. “I developed such a close relationship with my family and an extreme admiration for their resilience,” Modica says. The students underwent orientation through members of GHN(U), who gave them information about understanding and adapting to the culture before beginning their projects. Along with the work, it was the simple joys of sharing a meal and activities with the residents that made a huge impact. “Once we went to the homestay, it was great to come back after a day of work and get an insight of what life was like for our host families,” Schmidt says.

Modica, who graduated with bachelor’s degrees in French and international relations, plans to take what she’s learned from the experience and pursue a career working for the government, the United Nations, or a nonprofit organization. It also validated Schmidt’s life goals. “This is what I really want to do with my life,” says Schmidt, who is studying supply chain management and management. “I can work with an organization that helps people with sustainable projects on a larger scale and really make an impact on people’s lives.”    —Kathleen Haley