Thursday, March 24, 2011

They're baaack!

Douglas alumni Brent Harris and Laura Richard say their experiences in Uganda changed them for the better.

By Tamara Letkeman, doug Editor

After five months working in hospitals, HIV-AIDS outreach agencies, libraries and more, the 15 young Canadians who went to work in Uganda are back on Canadian soil.

In October the participants, all aged 30 and under, embarked on a paid internship funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), part of the ongoing Uganda Project at Douglas College. Douglas partnered with both CIDA and the country of Uganda to make the project a reality.

Participants worked in maternal and child health care, HIV-AIDS outreach, community village libraries and mental health and other hospital-based programs. The people they worked with included (on literacy projects) schoolchildren and adults; they also worked with street children, pregnant teen mothers and children who have been abused.

One of the participants, former Douglas student Brent Harris, who graduated from the Marketing and Management Diploma program last year, says the experience was instrumental in helping him pinpoint what he wanted to do with his life: help others. To wit, next month Brent heads to the Northwest Territories with the federal government to do administration and developmental work with an Aboriginal community.

“My experience in Uganda really opened my eyes to the fact that Canada is not 100 percent,” he says. “There are many opportunities to stay here and work with Aboriginal communities. I’d love to go back to Uganda, but I’m really motivated to do some good here.”

Laura Richard,a graduate of the Community Social Service Worker Program in 2009, says the experience – she’d been to Uganda once before – has changed her life for the better.

“I have a deeper love and understanding of the culture, a greater connection to it – and to the way that things work and don’t work as well, the challenges and the struggles,” Laura says. “One of the biggest things I’ve learned is not to let my expectations guide my experience. Working where I worked, there are certain systemic barriers that you face as well as interpersonal ones. I expected a certain way of doing things and it didn’t come out that way. So you really have to be open-minded.”

John Fox, an instructor from the Community Social Service Worker Program and Coordinator of the Uganda Project, says participants’ experience in Africa will contribute to an enhanced world view and commitment to global improvement and equality, which will impact these young people in their personal and professional lives.

“Experience has taught us that employers are not only looking for specific skills and knowledge – which are most often taught at Canadian universities and colleges – but also seeking employees with significant commitment to the communities they serve.

“Public and personal responsibility cannot be taught, and experiences such as these will contribute significantly to both. We all benefit.”

Douglas College has a strong foundation of experience in Uganda. Since 2006, more than two dozen students from the Community Social Service Worker Program, and more recently from the Co-Occurring Disorders, Early Childhood Education, and Dental Assisting programs, have travelled to Uganda for 10-week field learning practicum placements with various agencies as part of their education.

The College also has other long-term commitments to Uganda. In 2006 it established the Uganda Endowment Fund to provide funding for social service agencies in Uganda with a focus on inspiring children, strengthening families and building community resources.