Change in Thought


July 25, 2017 

Some experiences are difficult to vocalize. For weeks now, I have sat down to write this post, and what I find is that nothing could have prepared me for the experience I had, or even the aftermath of trying to answer the question, “How was Uganda?”

Growing up, I was the stereotypical girl that read books about the effects of international aid in Africa, and how this aid is often detrimental to the local communities “benefitting” from it. Backed with this prior reading and our semester-long class on Global Problems specifically related to Uganda, I, rather ignorantly, felt completely prepared to travel with our group (ha!).

Throughout the trip, our professor David Westfall would continually say that he would push us “to the edge” and pull us back when we were about to reach our breaking point. I thought this was a joke, but it wasn’t.

For the sake of maintaining the integrity of the experiences we had, people we met, and places we traveled, I will write about some lessons I learned on this trip rather than attempt to describe our six weeks in full:

  1. The culture in which we are socialized impacts our every action, thought, and emotion. For anyone that’s lived in a larger town, coming to Emporia may feel rather small, and vice-versa. If you’ve grown up in Emporia your whole life, however, the town is all you know, or the “norm.” Each day, I was struck and humbled by something that I would not consider “normal”- women being considered prostitutes for drinking a beer, children using a ball of garbage as a soccer ball, people openly sharing the little they had with complete strangers – yet I realized that these are facts of life to Ugandans, and to diminish them as “worse” than our own culture would be an ignorant shame. We only see these cultural differences as shocking because we have been socialized into our own western society.
  2. Media superficially displays images of children in Africa as sad, broken, and unable to take care of themselves; however, I have never experienced so much joy and welcome from everyone we encountered. This portrayal is an injustice.
  3. Raising children can be a community event! Others love to hold your baby, and what we found is that children would be roaming the streets alone at age 4, and were doing perfectly fine. Others are incredibly grateful to play even a small role in your child’s life.
  4. School is a blessing. To have the privilege to complain about having homework and attending class is something others long to do. In Kampala, we spoke to some students who fight every day to be able to have school fees to become educated. I met a young girl who told me she, too, wanted to be Student Body President one day. I was humbled.
  5. Nothing-no new pair of shoes, perfect internship, meal at Radius-can replace the power of love. In love, Ugandans taught us, you have much.


For the sake of readers, I’ve limited my lessons to five; however, every single day, hour, and minute brought with it an experience I will never forget.


For anyone considering traveling to Uganda, I urge you: do it. It may not always be the “tourist experience” that everyone longs for on study abroad trips, but Uganda will embrace you. The people live fiercely, full of love and kindness and graciousness.  The arms in which you’re wrapped may feel too tight at times, but they will always be there to take you in. We are all people in this beautiful, enormous, unfair, powerful world, and we must find what binds us rather than divides us. Connection is possible all around the world. All you have to do is choose to place yourself in the way of beauty.


Megan McReynolds



A Change In Scenery

Prequel: I’m Scott Romeiser and I am a sophomore chemistry major at ESU. This summer I got the opportunity to spend 6 weeks in Uganda. Below is a summery of my trip.

Nearly every person dreams of going to Africa, however, very few actually get the opportunity to experience one of the most underdeveloped, mysterious, and stereotyped places in the world; the Dark Continent. The six weeks I’ve spent in Uganda (in Eastern Africa) have (dare I say it) been the best weeks of my life. In this long-awaited blog entry, I will highlight what my group and I did during our stay in Uganda.

Once our 24+ hours of transit were over and we were finally in Uganda, we stayed in Red Chilli Hostel, which is basically a hotel for confused foreigners who need to get acclimated to the country in a western-ish environment before they continue into the bush. During our first day in Uganda, we went to the largest slum in all of Uganda, Namuwongo. Really all I can say about the slums is that it’s a bunch of shacks that are so close together that people are literally living on top of each other. There is no plumbing, there is no sanitation, there is no school; but what the slum does have is a brothel. Fun fact, my tour guide for the slum tour, Rebecca (she is 14), called the brothel a “club” and I was like “do you go to the club?” (thinking that it was like Brickyard or Bourbon Cowboy in Emporia) then she told me that it was a place for prostitution and other bad things. Interestingly enough, Rebecca told me that you had to be 30 to get into the “club”; however, I know for a fact that that is not the case because teenagers (or even younger girls) make up the bulk of the prostitutes. Basically, in summary, American’s lawnmowers are housed in better conditions than the thousands of people living in the slums.

The next day we started the 14-hour (it was supposed to be 8 hours) trek to Ruboni Village in Western Uganda, situated in the middle of the Rwenzori Mountains. During our journey, we crossed the equator twice, ate some sketchy goat, and watched one of our chaperones puke out of a moving vehicle because of the sketchy goat. Once we got to Ruboni, we went to the community camp and crashed in our surprisingly comfortable beds.

The Rwenzori Mountains are the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. The steep sloped mountains poke into the clouds. There are areas on these mountains that seem inhabitable, however, nearly every inch of land is cultivated.

There is a stark contrast to the beauty of the mountains. The people of Ruboni live in mud houses with a thatch or metal roofs. The houses are normally one room and they are very small—about the size of a dorm room. The people have to fetch water from a well and carry it to their house (walking up to 3 kilometers uphill) then once they get it to their house, they have to boil it. The people also have to produce all of the food they eat—they grow maize, matoke, bananas, potatoes, and pumpkin and have to raise chickens, rabbits, goats, pigs, and cows (if they are rich) to survive. The people only have one income (unless they have a special skill like blacksmithing or tailoring) which is coffee, the only cash crop in the area. Harvesting coffee is not an easy task, and the price they sell it for is practically nothing. The next time I drink a cup of Ethiopian coffee at Starbucks I’ll remember the sacrifices a person made, just so I could spend an outrageous amount of money on a cup of coffee I don’t even need.

After spending 2 weeks in the Rwenzori Mountains, we traveled 14 hours to Murchison National Park via dirt road. We visited the most powerful waterfall in the world, Murchison Falls, boated on the Nile, and went on Safari. The entire park was so beautiful. While we were staying in the park (our hotel was of course Red Chilli) Hippos would roam around the grounds and scare all of the white people—it’s interesting, the entire time we were in the park, it was like we were not in Africa anymore. There were so many white people and honestly, I didn’t like it. I didn’t like it because all of the white people weren’t being sensitive to Ugandan culture. Literally the park was full of little kids not respecting their elders, public displays of affection, and booty shorts. The entire reason we were in Uganda was to experience the cultures of the country and the fact that the park was a place where there was no culture honestly shocked me and I didn’t like it. Oh well, at least the safari was cool.

After 2 days on safari we went to Kampala, the largest city in Uganda, where we would spend the last 3 weeks of our time in Uganda.

We stayed in a house that we rented. By Americas standards, it would be a good starter home, however, by Ugandan standards, it’s luxury seeing as a huge portion of the country lives in “homes” with no plumbing.

While in Kampala we helped with the facilitation of Edukey Gender Support Organization and we also did some touristy things like swim in Lake Victoria and white water raft the Nile!

At the end of our stay, it was very hard to tell all of the people we’ve made connections with goodbye, especially the kids. Actually, in hind sight, it wasn’t hard at all to tell people goodbye, I was so ready to leave and see my family. What was hard was the realization that I could leave this country. I could leave this place of gender suppression. I could leave this country with rampant pollution. I could leave this country where there are many infectious diseases that are present. I could leave this country where the standard of living is impossible to fathom. I could leave this country where the victim of sexual assault is silenced. I could leave this country where starvation is a huge issue. I could leave this country where an education is not a right but a privilege. I could leave this country that has corruption in its government. I could leave, but the friends I’ve made couldn’t. I’m privileged enough to be able to go to a developing country, see how these people live, and then leave, never to return. Do you know how messed up that is? This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to come to terms with. I will dig deeper into the realm of privilege in a later blog.

All in all, I’m glad I got to go to Uganda and I will remember the experiences I’ve had for the rest of my life.


Picture: this was the view I woke up to every morning for two weeks. Ruboni Village, Uganda.

Life in the city – Kampala, Uganda


After spending 2 weeks in a rural village near the Rwenzori Mountains, we traveled back to Kampala, Uganda – one of the biggest (and most populated) cities in Uganda, for 2 and a half weeks.


When we got to explore Kampala – it was like watching everything we’d spent a semester studying – a complex culture and society, a language, a way of living – come to life. To me, the city was beautiful, despite all the things that would make many others turn away.

Kampala is BIG, and while we worked and explored different parts of the city, our group stayed in a home right in the middle of a district called Kabalagala – (that means “pancake” in Luganda) which is located next to the Katwe slum. It was this stark contrast that we saw every day – we lived in a home that was protected by a gate and even had electricity some days and then would walk outside the gate and be confronted with poverty and reality.

Have you ever seen the movie Queen of Katwe? We actually watched parts of it in class, as we spent a whole semester preparing for this trip. The movie is fine – it contains glimpses of Ugandan culture mixed with the very American ideal that you can do anything regardless of social status, economic position, or upbringing. But it gave us a glimpse of what we’d see, and at the time, it was just the taste we needed.

In reality, the slums surrounding the city were something we saw every single day, without the lenses of Hollywood or the glamor of Disney productions. We met real people who lived there and learned about the effect it has on their lives.


Uganda lacks a realistic trash disposal service, and when we were in Kampala, we’d pass by on the streets it wasn’t uncommon to see piles of trash every few steps – it’s simply their reality to throw a bottle or wrapper on the ground when they had finished with it. We’d drive through the city on the way to work with an organization called EDUKEY Gender Support, and there would be smog in the air, smoke from burning trash that would burn our throats.


We’d buy breakfast on the side of the street – almost always a Rolex which is a fried egg on Chapati, usually from Ronald’s rolex stand up the road from our house – and hope we didn’t get sick. We did a lot of walking – a car is a luxury the average citizen doesn’t have – and our shoes were quickly stained by the red dirt roads. We spent 6 weeks without air conditioning or cell service and yet I reveled in every single moment, even the hard ones.

And despite all of that… I loved this city anyway. I loved it for all that it was, and even all that it wasn’t. There were always people everywhere – people with stories filled with pasts and futures that I knew nothing about. Shop owners trying to find enough money to survive. Teenagers laughing on their way to school. Kids out playing until dark. The beauty of conversations and stories and the love that was so prevalent in their lives. The kids we’d meet who, at age 12,  have seen and learned and experienced more than me, who were forced to grow up far too soon. I was constantly struck by how human we all are, with feelings and passion and the capacity to love. People are people, everywhere – that’s something that does translate across all cultures.

Camille Abdel-Jawad

Junior, English Major

Uganda 2017



I’ve been in Uganda for nearly seven weeks now. My fellow travel companions have returned home, but for me–still three weeks remain in Uganda. While I was still in the states, when I was deciding if I truly wanted to extend my stay here beyond the planned time, I wondered if it would be worth it. To assist with my decision, I asked many people–family and friends, for their thoughts. But, I quickly learned that from each source came differences in opinions, which compiled–were not as helpful as I had hoped. So, I had to decide for myself.

In choosing to stay, I often wondered what I would do after the others left (something that I still wonder during stagnant times here). However, I don’t regret the decision. Everyday here, I continue to learn. For instance, today as I ran an errand with a friend, I conversed with a woman from Saudi Arabia. She has been in Uganda for about the same amount of time that I have. We joked about some of the Ugandan quirks, such as dangerously speedy boda bodas with drivers who transport possibly one, most likely two, and sometimes even three or more passengers at a time to their intended destinations. On the other hand, if you’re a tourist, they might take you to a completely different location or to the correct one, but they might follow an indirect path, so that they can charge you more, it’s pretty much a gamble! We continued to converse and eventually I asked her about her home country: ” How is it? Would I like to visit there?” And she hesitated. She talked about how Uganda is more “free” than Saudi Arabia.

As she spoke, I realized how different it is reading about gender disparity in textbooks, versus hearing about them first hand, versus experiencing them for yourself. She looked at my clothes–a t-shirt and knee-length shorts and said that in her country, I would not be permitted to wear them. Then, she pointed to her own clothes. “You would wear this–dark colors like this,” she said pointing to her own black, floor length, and long sleeve dress. Saudi Arabia is not as free as Uganda…which is an incredibly hard pill to swallow, not because I was learning this for the first time, but because I was hearing it with a new perspective.

To me, Uganda is not always “free.” Our time in this country began in the west. Durning our time in Rwenzori, more specifically, Ruboni my fellow university students and I had the opportunity to spend a good portion of a couple of days with families from the village community. Additionally, we were able to facilitate leadership training through the honors college with materials adapted from the Kansas Leadership Center located in Wichita, Kansas. Both of these experiences offered a plethora of opportunities to witness and live in a world that accepts gender inequality in way that we do not in the States.

Each student had a different experience when interacting with his or her host family. In my case, I felt incredibly blessed to have been placed in the home that I was. The family welcomed me and always made me feel comfortable. During my time with the family, I shadowed the wives of the household and ATTEMPTED to imitate them as the performed their activities. These tasks included: cooking, gardening, cleaning, and caring for their children. This vague explanation cannot begin to explain the arduous nature of the activities that I mentioned, but for the sake of staying on topic, I will not elaborate. In Ruboni, the men and women have different activities. A man has certain responsibilities and a woman has different ones. The roles are clear and seem rigid. Because we went as students, in an attempt to learn about a different culture, we did our best to respect their cultural norms–often times begrudgingly–and acted within them as best we could.

Durning leadership training, we worked with around a dozen community leaders. Three of the attendees were women. As the training took place, we found it nearly impossible to get the women to speak. In most cases, they remained silent and kept their eyes downcast. When we split into smaller groups, the woman in my group spoke more. During these breakout sessions, the groups were responsible for choosing challenges to address that the people face in the community. Domestic abuse was a topic that 2 of the 4 groups chose to focus on.

During leadership training and home visits, I was able to speak to two women from the village because they spoke English very well. From our conversations, I learned about their cultural expectations. As the woman, if she becomes pregnant, then she must go to the husbands residence to live with him and his family. She will take not only his name, but also his religion. In the village, women are looked at as property. If a woman is married to a husband, then the husband must pay a bride price to her family–typically cows, goats, chickens, etc. In the village especially, but in the cities as well, female drop out rates for school are higher than for males. In the village, we learned that the families of young girls choose to educate the boys before or instead of the girls because schooling for the girls is seen as a wasted investment, since the girl will eventually belong to her husband’s family, rather than her own, thus her skills will be utilized not in the family, but outside of it.

The list goes on and I could explain many more personal experiences and eye witness testimonies regarding gender discrimination in various scenarios, but my point is this…. In the process of running an errand–I met a woman who spoke of how free Uganda is, but as a woman from the states, it is difficult for me to recognize this freedom that she sees. At times, I feel that people can be overzealously patriotic, but–with humility, I can appreciate the freedom that I experience in America. However, this sweet freedom is tainted with a bitter aftertaste as I remember that in America, I am privileged. White. The freedom pool that with my tongue I lap from is not offered to all and many are parched.

Taylor Fuller


Fourteen Days in Rwenzori


Our time here has consisted of several highs and lows. When we arrived to the village, the entire community welcomed us with traditional dances and what we would consider field day games. We attempted to dance with the locals–and looked ridiculous doing so. We also played games with the children from the village.

Since then, we have visited with the families and we have learned about their daily activities and have practiced them by their sides–gardening, peeling vegetables, and washing laundry by hand. Additionally, we have presented course work adapted from the Kansas Leadership Center to provide strategic leadership training to members of the community.

The purpose of the training is to help mobilize the community to make progress on adaptive challenges that are present within their communities and homes. Strikingly, many of the challenges are similar to those that we face in the US. For example, issues they face include the quality of education, safe transportation, and harmony within families.

As our time in Rwenzori has come and now passed… what remains in my heart is the memory of the beautiful beside the ugly, and the good sitting right beside the bad. To explain, we awoke every morning to see beautiful mountains, lush vegetation, and running streams. We were introduced to about one hundred of children–who held our hands and touched our white skin. We shared smiles and traded family photos. But, in the same breath, we encountered many challenges. We learned that here, being born a man gives you a different value in the world than being born a female. We’ve learned that in many cases, education is valued, but unattainable due to fees that are unable to be paid, and basic healthcare is only for the privileged.

At home, I believe our hearts have become hardened in the midst of these challenges. My prayer is that as these words are read, we can be be empathetic. We can let the weight of these challenges press upon our hearts and allow ourselves to feel uncomfortable because connecting to people in this way–emotionally and spiritually–who are separated from us by land and sea is still doing something–even when it feels like there is nothing that can be done.

Taylor Fuller

A Day in the Mountains


For the first two weeks of my six week stay in Uganda, I woke up at the base of the Rwenzori Mountains, where I spent a few full days with a local family to experience the life they live everyday and learn about the culture of the people in a small community called Ruboni.

The first family I visited was huge; two parents and fourteen kids. They live in one house that consisted of four bedrooms and a living room. The entire house was smaller than the size of my living room in my house in America. In order to get to their property, we had to walk up a steep hill for fifteen minutes. That walk is something they do every day, yet I struggled to do it once.

Once I got to their house, they had prepared breakfast for me. They gave be millet bread to dip in a smoked fish and cassava plant leaf soup. The advice their oldest son, Jonathan, gave me was to not chew the bread, but, instead, dip a piece of it in the soup, put it in your mouth and swallow it immediately. Chewing would result in the feeling of a sand-like texture that was found in the bread.

After eating, we began the hard work for the day. We hiked up the steep hill for ten minutes, where they had planted cassava. Here, the whole family pulled up and bagged cassava to bring back down to their house. Immediately upon our return from harvesting the cassava, we started preparing lunch. Pealing the cassava and Irish potatoes for nearly an hour, the food was thrown in a big pot that consisted of boiling water and grounded G nuts (the Ugandan version of a peanut). This is a typical meal for people in the area, as it is filling and all the ingredients grow well in the area.

While eating, the inequality between men and women that can be found in all aspects of life in western Uganda, were very apparent. The men would sit in chairs and eat from a table. The women and kids would sit on the dirt ground to eat. Women in this area are silenced when in the presence of men and women don’t look men in the eyes. These are just a few examples of the oppression women experience everyday.

After lunch, the family immediately started preparing dinner, which consisted of more Irish potatoes. Shortly after, I left to go back to where other students were staying. Collectively as a group, we all spent the evening sharing our experiences and what we learned during our time with different families.

— Trent Reinardy


image.jpegLast night we arrived in Uganda! After a 16+ hour flight, layovers, and many security checks, we finally reached our destination.

Along the way, I connected with several people. At the airport in Kansas City, I connected with a woman who reached out to me because of my Emporia State track and field shirt. This year, she is moving to Emporia. Her children have graduated and she is entering a new stage of her life. I was leaving to travel abroad and also anticipating many new experiences and encounters.

How comforting the experience was… Connecting with a stranger because of shared experiences– both of us adopting Emporia as a home, me leaving the nest as she empties her own, and uncertainty about our futures.

As our journey continued, I connected with women that I sat next to on the plane, moms and babies, and other travelers. Our stories were always different and so were our reasons for traveling, but within our hearts–we always found commonalities.

As our many hours of traveling came to an end, we unpacked our many suitcases, brushed our teeth, and made our way to our beds.

As the night continued, we played cards and shared our favorite moments from the day. This journey has just begun–we are blessed–grateful that we have arrived safely and excited for the future.

-Taylor Fuller