CCPA Students Discuss Their Experience in Uganda: Stephanie Fedler, Whitney Bartels and Carolyn Angiolillo Talk About the Impactful Trip
May 07, 2010by Michelle Yoby (B.A. CCPA ‘10)
Three Corporate Communications and Public Affairs (CCPA) students in Dr. Maria Dixon’s mustangconsulting class, Carolyn Angiolillo, Whitney Bartels and Stephanie Fedler, traveled to Uganda for six days during spring break to work with the nonprofit Ugandan American Partnership Organization. Founded by SMU alumna Brittany Merrill, UAPO supports the communities in Uganda through a variety of projects. The students had spent months working on promotional ideas for UAPO before the trip, and plan to work with the organization to bring student volunteers to Uganda on a regular basis. They talked about their experiences with fellow CCPA student Michelle Yoby as well as The Dallas Morning News.
Q: What were your expectations prior to the trip? What did you think your experience would be like? What were you feeling?
Stephanie Fedler: I expected to get a better understanding of the inner-workings of UAPO, which I definitely did. I gained a new respect for the people running this organization. Brittany Merrill and Blake Smith are doing some incredible work in Uganda and being able to see it first-hand was amazing.
Q: What was the most memorable part of your trip and why?
Whitney Bartels: Meeting Alice Dramundru and the 21 orphans she cares for was the most memorable part of the trip. We spent the first evening enjoying a traditional Ugandan meal and learned about how Alice became involved with UAPO. Her story was incredible. Her husband had died of AIDS 16 years ago, yet she tested HIV negative. Feeling as though she had been spared from the disease, she committed her life to serving others – orphans and children.
Stephanie Fedler: When we arrived at the Buwala Village, we were greeted with traditional song and dance. The Ugandans were so excited for us to be there and it really showed the amount of trust that the people of UAPO have gained with the Ugandan villagers. These relationships are what this organization is built on.
Q: How did the trip impact your life?
Whitney Bartels: I returned to the states content with my circumstances, appreciative of my blessings and determined not to forget the people I met in Africa. Their humility, simplicity, and sacrificial love for one another are contagious and I only hope to return again to serve the people of Uganda.
Carolyn Angiolillo: I was given the chance to continue working for an organization that I have invested so much time and effort into and see first hand, how many people in Uganda depend on what we’re doing to survive.
- Dallas Morning News: SMU student volunteers aid widows, children in Uganda project
An update from Carolyn, a senior CCPA major; Whitney, a senior CCPA major, with minors in business and Spanish; and Stephanie, a senior majoring in CCPA and psychology:
As we write this we are currently sitting in the Entebbe Airport in Kampala, Uganda, awaiting our flight to “London Town.” We have a lot of time on our hands so we are using it to reflect on our trip.
On our last full day in Jinja we traveled to the Buwala Village one last time. We first visited the home of Paul and Rose (the proud owners of UAPO’s first project, the Buwala Orphanage, home to 21 orphans). After meeting up with Paul, he walked us down the road to both the local schools. At the schools we helped the children with their English and passed out writing books and pencils supplied by Dr. Dixon and Dr. McPhail.
It was amazing to see how excited these kids were over a simple pad of paper and a pencil. Upon giving them the supplies, Dr. Dixon made them promise that they would always do their best. Seeing the kids’ excitement over mere school supplies was a humbling experience. The fact that they were so happy and eager to learn is a reminder of the value of education not only in America but also in small African villages.
Before we left the village we also had the opportunity to meet one-on-one with some of the Ugandan women who are members of the Akola Project. We met with them in order to hear more about their stories and understand the impact the Akola Project has had on their lives. We were surprised to learn that they use their extra money from necklace sales to buy salt, soap and school fees for their children. The things we consider necessities are luxuries to these hard-working women.
The fact that we were able to meet with these women in their own homes proves the genuine trust and relationships that UAPO has developed in the past 5 years. As we made our final departure from the village, we left with a better appreciation for the work UAPO is doing and the impact it has on the lives of these women. The stories we witnessed will resonate with us long after we leave Uganda.
For our last dinner we traveled to Bujugali Falls to watch the sunset over the Nile River and eat a traditional Ugandan meal. We had the pleasure of dining at Mama Joyce’s Fine African Cuisine. As it turned out, Mama Joyce’s was a one-table hut lighted by only a few lanterns. The dinner was served family-style by Mama Joyce’s adorable, hard-working children. We feasted on rice, cabbage, greens, “chips” (French fries), beans, sweet potatoes, chicken, maize, and “matoke” (mashed banana - a Ugandan favorite!). For entertainment, the local children serenaded us with some traditional African songs. While some of us were skeptical at first, the dinner turned out to be quite delightful.
Friday we woke up with heavy hearts since it was our last day in Uganda. We started the day with a yummy breakfast at The Source Cafe, followed by some last-minute shopping in Jinja. We boarded the bus for Kampala and had the opportunity to feel the equatorial shift one last time. Upon our arrival in Kampala, we ate a quick bite at a different Hotel Triangle and had 50 minutes to “power shop.” After power shopping, we had some time to shower and prepare for our 24-hour-long trip home.
During our bus ride we have had a chance to reflect on the trip and re-evaluate our future endeavors. As seniors we are most grateful for this experience because it reminds us that there are many things we want to accomplish upon leaving SMU and entering the “real world.” We will always remember our experiences in Uganda, the friends we’ve made, and the difference we can all make in the world.
An update from Carolyn, a senior CCPA major; Whitney, a senior CCPA major, with minors in business and Spanish; and Stephanie, a senior majoring in CCPA and psychology:
After a great meal by the boys on Women’s Day, we headed to “ATV it up” and got a chance to get a little dirty and tour the rural villages of Uganda from a four-wheeler. It was almost like we were on a parade because the villagers all came to the edge of the road to wave as we flew on by.
On Tuesday, we woke up early to head out to the Buwala Village to spend the day with the women of the Akola Project. As soon as we pulled in, the women greeted us with traditional song and dance. We all can agree that we have never received such a warm welcome in our entire lives.
After the greeting, we introduced ourselves to the women by telling them about our majors and the work we have been doing for UAPO. The best part of the day was having the opportunity to experience the process of paying the women for the necklaces that they made as well as supplying them with paper to make more necklaces. We also got to play with the local children who treated us like celebrities just because we were “mzungus.” After a long day at the village we headed back to enjoy a late dinner with the entire group.
At work in the garden
Wednesday morning we headed back out to the village to help with the farming initiatives and learn more about the women’s stories. Once again we were greeted with the traditional warm Ugandan welcome and had the opportunity to see the Buwala orphanage.
After learning more about the project, we headed over to the new garden site and worked alongside the women as they prepared their garden. This gave us a chance to learn more about their personal story, the hardships they have had to overcome, and the joy the Akola Project has brought to them.
On the way home our bus broke down, but luckily Stephanie had food in her backpack provided by Carolyn’s grandma and various Dallas grocery stores. After getting over the fact we had no cellphone service, the bus driver fixed the problem by pulling a random steel pipe from the engine.
The power of one
After the situation was settled, we headed back to Jinja, where we met up with the UAPO gang for dinner and got to speak with Valence over dinner. Valence has worked hard for everything he has. He had a vision to change Uganda for the better from a very young age. At age 9, he lost his mother, categorizing him as an orphan. He managed to make it through primary and secondary school and then paid his way through university.
At the ripe age of 16, he recognized the need to assist his fellow Ugandans. This led to the start of his nonprofit, Youth Focus African Foundation, which consists of four projects in four separate villages in Uganda. It is truly amazing to speak with these young founders of such important and powerful organizations. It really makes you think about what we all are capable of.
Tomorrow we are looking forward to heading back to the village one last time, to help teach English to Ugandan children at their local school.
The heart of Africa was full of surprises for a group of Dallas students who spent their spring break volunteering in Uganda .
But there were also reminders of home.
“I was surprised at how developed it was, there were lots of skyscrapers,” said Stephanie Fedler, one of seven SMU students who spent a week in March in Central Africa as part of the Ugandan American Partnership Organization’s Akola Project.
Gridlock was another similarity, although traffic laws appeared to be optional.
“The traffic was ridiculous,” Fedler said. “There are basically no rules, which was kind of scary.”
But nearly 50 miles outside of the capital, Kampala, it felt like another world, the students said. They traveled through a rain forest and passed the Equator during the slow journey to five sites where the project provides relief to local widows.
When the bus of American students pulled up to the first village, they were greeted by a group of women who performed a song and dance for them in traditional garb.
“It was the warmest welcome of my life,” Fedler said.
One day, the group helped women make necklaces, which they sell as part of the project.
“These women work so hard to give back to their families,” said Carolyn Angiolillo, a senior. “They sacrifice so much, yet they are so happy.”
Another day was spent at local schools, where the SMU students helped children practice their English and passed out writing books and pencils.
“It makes you sit back and think about what’s important,” said Angiolillo, after witnessing a schoolboy sharpening his pencil with a large knife that he brought to school.
The students went off the grid for a week, leaving behind cellphones and computers, and living with limited access to the Internet.
“It’s a little uncomfortable at first,” senior Whitney Bartels said, “but after you get used to it, it can actually be quite liberating.”
The students said they never felt unsafe and always felt welcome.
“Whether we were walking through the villages or riding on our bus through town,” Bartels said, “the people - especially the children - would always stop what they were doing and run up to us to wave or give us a hug.”
The students were excited about their efforts but said further support is needed. They hope to market the trip to other college students to continue the mission in Uganda.
After traveling for nearly 24 hours, we arrived in Uganda late Saturday night. We spent Saturday night in the capital city, Kampala. After catching up on some sleep, we enjoyed a delicious fruit breakfast at the ARA Hotel.
We also got to meet Caleb, the UAPO’s program director in Uganda. Caleb shared with us his vision for UAPO as well as his goals for us on this trip. He told us that relationships were the most important thing we could give to Ugandans. This idea of relationships comes from the UAPO’s mission to build partnerships between Americans and Ugandans.
Caleb is an inspiration to Ugandans because he is working towards his master’s degree. Even though Caleb grew up on the streets, he had someone who believed in him so he was able to receive an education. Last, Caleb shared with us the importance of a hug from a “mzungu.” In Uganda, “mzungu” means “white” (but not in a derogatory way). Caleb told us that receiving a hug from a mzungu was so special to him because it made him feel like he was somebody.
We departed Kampala in the afternoon by bus to Jinja, a Ugandan city on the bank of the Nile River. Even though Jinja is only 50 miles from Kampala, the journey took us nearly three hours because of traffic. Ugandan traffic can only be defined as organized chaos. The bus ride gave us a chance to absorb the Ugandan culture. En route to Jinja, we drove through a rainforest and even passed the equator, where we could feel a distinct drop in temperature!
Finally, we arrived at Hotel Triangle, our home for the next 5 days. Hotel Triangle overlooks the Nile River - not a bad view! After settling in, we joined the other UAPO employees and volunteers for dinner at Alice Dramundru’s house. Alice is the inspiration for the UAPO Akola Project.
The Akola Project is one of five UAPO initiatives that focuses on empowering women through teaching them how to make jewelry from recycled paper. UAPO provides training, fellowship and income for the women involved in the Akola Project. Alice became inspired to make a difference in her community when her husband died 16 years ago.
Alice’s husband was HIV positive, so Alice assumed that she, too, would be positive. After many visits to the doctor, however, Alice was assured that she was negative. Feeling that she had been spared from the disease, Alice knew there was much to accomplish.
Today, Alice is “mom” to 21 orphans. She works hard every day making jewelry and other crafts in order to provide for her children. She has also gotten the opportunity to travel the world teaching other women crafting skills and offering them hope. Alice is a mother, a counselor and an inspiration to all she meets. She served us a traditional dinner of sweet potatoes and beans while sharing with us her story. We also got to play with all 21 children she has taken in. At the end of the night, it was hard to say goodbye!
In photos with children: Whitney (above right) and Stephanie (above left)
On Monday morning, after a long night filled with tropical rainstorms and mosquitoes, we headed down the road to the UAPO house to celebrate Women’s Day. Women’s Day in Uganda is the only day of the year that honors Ugandan women for all that they do. We had an opportunity to work alongside the women to make the beads for the Akola Project while also learning more about their stories. For lunch, since it is Women’s Day, the boys are responsible for cooking! We will see how that goes …
This afternoon, if the rain clears up, we plan to go ATV riding alongside the Nile. Tomorrow will be our first day in the Buwala Village. We are excited to continue to build relationships with our Ugandan friends!
By COLIN HOGAN / The Dallas Morning NewsRelated items
At a time when many college students will be flying south for fun in the sun, a group from SMU is spending spring break volunteering in an altogether different locale: the heart of Africa.
Today seven students and three faculty members from Southern Methodist University will travel to Uganda as part of the Ugandan American Partnership Organization’s Akola Project.
“It’s definitely not the typical spring break trip,” said Whitney Bartels, an SMU senior who will take part in the weeklong trip. “Most of my friends are going to Cabo this year.”
The students will participate in a wide range of volunteer activities through the project, which offers relief for widows in rural villages. The project employs women in war-torn areas to make necklaces that are sold in Ugandan markets and the U.S.
Bartels first learned about the partnership in her Philanthropy and Donor Communication class at SMU’s school for corporate communication and public affairs.
Students in the class were assigned projects to help develop communications strategy and define fundraising goals for the organization. After a semester helping from the U.S., several students decided to go to Uganda themselves, paying their own way.
“It’s a once in a lifetime experience,” said Bartels, who will help chronicle the trip in a blog on the university’s Web site. “I don’t know if I’ll have this opportunity again.”
This time last year I was preparing to travel to Uganda with some friends and mentor for a trip that would change my life forever. Over the next few weeks I am going to re-blog and post some new photos to let y’all see what it is really like over there. The trip was eye opening and I couldn’t have spent my last spring break any other way.
After doing consulting work for the non-profit, The UAPO (The Ugandan American Partnership Organization) since the summer going into Senior year, this trip to many of us was coming full circle with all the work we had done, crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s for the end of our project as well as the end of our time at SMU.
The first thing I am going to post and leave you with is the first press release we wrote for the trip exactly a year ago today.
SMU to Partner with the Ugandan American Partnership Organization
First Annual Uganda Trip Expands on Work Done Through Mustang Consultin
While most college students spend spring break vacationing in the latest tropical hotspot, eight SMU students and three faculty members will travel to Uganda to partner with The Uganda American Partnership Organization (UAPO) for the first annual volunteer trip. The trip will offer students the opportunity to serve the impoverished Ugandan community while learning more about The UAPO.
The UAPO began when SMU alumna Brittany Merrill spent the summer of 2004 serving in Uganda. After she briefly met Sarah Kamara, a poor Ugandan mother who cared for 24 orphans, the three-month trip transformed into a lifelong mission to bring Americans and Ugandans together. Four years and more than $800,000 in donations later, Merrill’s efforts are coming full circle as the group of SMU students prepare to collaborate in a trip to advance UAPO’s mission.
SMU became involved with The UAPO in July 2009 through a student-run organization called Mustang Consulting. Since 2005, Mustang Consulting has counseled organizations and companies ranging from Southwest Airlines to the Dance Theatre of Harlem. Supervised by Dr. Maria Dixon, assistant professor in the Division of Corporate Communications and Public Affairs in the Meadows School of the Arts, the organization is dedicated to providing students with real-world experience. The UAPO became a client of Mustang Consulting when Merrill decided to contact Dr. Dixon, the first professor who inspired her to start her own nonprofit. Dr. Dixon passed the project on to seniors Carolyn Angiolillo, Whitney Bartels, and Stephanie Fedler and junior Amanda Lipscomb. The group has spent the last seven months reworking The UAPO’s messaging campaign, brainstorming fundraising efforts, formulating promotional documents and more. In a few short days, the group will finally get to see the culmination of their efforts first-hand in the villages of Uganda.
“After working with The UAPO since July, the four of us are overwhelmed with excitement to finally make the trip to Uganda,” said Angiolillo. “We hope to not only learn more about our client, but strategize and market an annual Uganda trip through The UAPO so that other college students can experience the great things The UAPO is doing.”
Mustang Consulting students will be joined by Dr. Dixon; Dr. Mark McPhail, chair of the Corporate Communications and Public Affairs Division; Susan Kress, head of SMU Study Abroad; journalism student Brooks Powell; and three members of the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority, Genny Weaver, Natalie Sherman and Grace Roberts.
The group will spend spring break working with the Ugandan community on three of UAPO’s current community projects, which provide hope to hundreds of Ugandan children. The students will direct the majority of their efforts to UAPO’s Akola Project, which offers economic development and relief for Ugandan widows in rural villages.
The Akola Project empowers more than 150 impoverished women in Eastern and Northern Uganda to uplift the lives of their families and community through income generating crafts. UAPO trains Akola women to make necklaces from recycled paper. The jewelry is then sold throughout the U.S. and at local Ugandan markets. The Akola Project has generated more than $100,000 of revenue for the Ugandan women since its inception in 2007.
As the first annual volunteer trip for college students approaches, SMU and The UAPO are hopeful that the experience will inspire students to make a difference in Uganda just as it did for Merrill on her first trip six years ago.
The Ugandan American Partnership Organization
The Ugandan American Partnership Organization is a 501c3 nonprofit based out of Atlanta, Georgia, which partners with women and children in Uganda. The UAPO aims to foster relationships with Ugandan women and help rebuild Ugandan communities through various projects. Its mission is to believe in the women in Uganda and to inspire them to do good for their community and to work together to transform the nation. For more information, please visit www.theuapo.org.
Mustang Consulting is a student-run organization at Southern Methodist University that offers students the opportunity to work with real-world clients. Each semester the students advise their clients using strategies grounded in research and theory. For more information contact email@example.com.