Global May Uganda has challenged my understanding of the concept of human security and what it takes to maintain; a constant battle for health, social, economic, environmental, political, and cultural well-being. I was totally immersed into the culture; learning about different lifestyles, aspirations, struggles, and prosperities through a home-stay experience, visits to the urban capital, slums, rural towns, and villages, touring a refugee settlement, excursions to Murchison Falls and the River Nile, and volunteering at a primary school. I’ve witnessed how successful Uganda is supporting its people with dignified livelihoods and how it continues to battle with government corruption and fear of change, pushing for a good quality of life.
Beyond my comfort zone is where I am most challenged, where the most growth happens. In a new country, I must continuously protect my own dignity and well-being; thriving within a culture very different from mine means I will be in a new environment with new exposures. I developed new health protocol, standard awareness, and social manners. I’ve been challenged to seek new perspectives of life with purpose, maintaining my own cultural identity whilst trying to acclimatize with another. Being able to overcome challenges like these, I’ve developed new insights, ways of living, and instilled deep, meaningful connections. Most importantly, I have found strengths in my weaknesses; to overcome many stressors and cultural barriers and thrive happily in my host country.
In the United States, basic security was never a challenge for me. Aside from a six-month span housed with my grandmother, relying on government aid because my father was unemployed, basic needs were never hard to obtain. I always had warm showers, clean running water, food on my plate, and a stable roof over my head. After arriving in my host country, I learned that what I consider “necessities” in my daily life are real “luxuries” in a low-developed country such as Uganda. Acclimatization to the daily Ugandan lifestyle brought constant efforts to feel safe and secure both inside and outside the home, as well as handling the culture shock in a positive manner.
The most transformational of my experiences came with overcoming this culture shock in a multitude of ways through personal interactions, events, building relationships and functioning effectively during my stay. A major jaw-dropping aspect of the area was witnessing the obvious contrast between poverty and the wealthy. Socioeconomic status is entirely more divided and apparent than back home. An individual in Uganda can be considered “middle class” and still not have the means to install running water for washrooms. Moreover, while poverty in the United States still ensures housing and food on the table through government welfare, poverty in Uganda is much more extreme. An impoverished individual in Uganda lacks a lot of quality in their life; constantly threatened by extreme weather conditions, with the potential of losing their homes, and even risking death. Hard work usually leads to very small economic turnover.
Ugandan life is manual labor-centered; building houses, maintaining agriculture, and managing a multitude of crafts markets to make a living. It is hard to feel secure and thrive when your own state cannot offer much more than what the people must push to instill themselves. Markets and personal stores are comfortable ways to make an income in a place like Uganda. A lot of individuals in the United States would surely prefer to be self-employed if it were as easy to do. Regardless of obtaining an education, the nation has so much potential to grow in the trade and agricultural industries. Despite this, the unemployment rates continue to climb. However, just like the United States, even those with education still struggle to get a job after graduation. I have learned that economic security is the biggest and most constant battle for a low-developed country like Uganda, and continues to inhibit the development of the nation. Just like the United States, Uganda is the product of colonization from a world power: Great Britain. However, unlike the United States, the colonizers were only interested in exploiting the land, not developing the people. This is what set Uganda’s development so far back. The people were pushed in a direction they were not ready for; influenced by promises that were never truly upheld. Therefore, Uganda is lacking efficiency in a multitude of ways.
I traveled throughout the capital, witnessing that traffic patterns in the city are disorganized and hazardous; no emergency vehicle has any easy way of getting through. I’ve visited a Women’s Gender Violence Shelter, learning that present-day Uganda is much more comparable to 1800s United States in terms of women’s development and opportunity. After having multiple conversations about Ugandan politics with my Host Mama and her family, I realized that individuals push for change in legislation, but the government heavily lacks reinforcement and follow up. I traveled to Kapchorwa, a place where coffee fields are the main agricultural turnover, and painfully learned the struggles of coffee farmers working for a market in such high economic demand. Since the consumer chain is blinding to both consuming and producing ends, these farmers are stuck in a never-ending loop of back-breaking labor in the unfulfilling agricultural market. I visited a malnutrition unit and became sick with pain to know that single, impoverished mothers are the biggest targets for malnourished children simply because they are not educated on proper nutrition nor have the means to access the foods that are ironically in such abundance in the country. It is no wonder that Uganda is behind on many policies like accessible healthcare, gender equality, and economic stability, for through my experiences, the Ugandans are constantly battling with keeping the tradition and moving forward towards industrialized capitalism.
I’ve been challenged with the responsibility to learn how to supersede many barriers of language, idealizations, public relations, and other facets of a different culture. I received a guideline of basic Luganda language to be able to communicate with native individuals as I met them; shopping at markets and taking taxis across town was especially intimidating. However, with time and using lots of visual cues, I became very comfortable with traveling the area and talking to the people. Social etiquette was another challenging aspect of life in my host country, especially remembering to incorporate common greetings, modes of dress, and social manners. I have learned that a lot of what I consider appropriate in the United States is not acceptable in Uganda. Likewise, what is acceptable in Uganda and not in the U.S., like constantly being stared at and being called “Muzungu”. However, the hospitality of the people made it especially easy to fit into the new culture. I feel especially lucky to have been a temporary part of such an empathetic and uplifting community; completely unjudged and accepted with open arms, regardless of where I come from.
This program has been a transformative opportunity to instill a deeper connection and form parallels between myself and a different culture. It provided the educational experience to understand the effects the environment, economy, politics, and urbanization have on cultural growth and security. I’ve fostered practical skills that will allow me to succeed in my professional career, academic and personal success; expanding social boundaries and solidifying public relations. I’ve become a more well-rounded, culturally aware individual; discovering how Uganda, an example of an ethnic melting pot similar to the U.S., lives with inclusive and diverse harmony and provides for the people and the land they live on. I have strengthened my ability to conquer failure and barriers with resilience, compassion, and determination while becoming a better token and caretaker of humanity. I have formed a clear connection between the power and influence all cultures have on each other. As I fulfill my dream of becoming a Cardiothoracic Surgeon, I will apply my knowledge of human nature and new perspectives of livelihood to nurture and heal all people in a more personal and understanding way. The Ugandan experience has enriched how I want to live more meaningfully; to make a difference in global public health and push the people of low-developed countries like Uganda to build up and sustain themselves, lessening the reliance on foreign help. Uganda is capable of so much more success and prosperity than they even realize!