Four students visited Uganda over winter break to bring American and Ugandan students together to learn more about the challenges facing the African country.
This gathering, called the Global Youth Partnership for Africa’s Youth Summit: The Role of Youth in Post-Conflict, brought 13 American college students to meet with Ugandan students and hear from leaders in the country. Four of the students were from GW. The students also produced an action statement describing ways youth from Uganda and youth from the U.S. can help to build sustainable peace.
Although Kris Ansin, Teresa Meoni, Sarah Roquemore, and Lauren Waterhouse did not know each other before the trip, they all went for similar reasons – to experience Uganda firsthand.
“I wanted to go and see it for myself and be able to come back and be a better activist for it,” said Waterhouse, who is majoring in public health. “I first heard about the situation in Uganda two years ago … so since then I’ve been trying to keep up to date with what’s been going on and doing stuff on campus.”
David Shinn, adjunct professor of international affairs, said northern Uganda has been in conflict for about 20 years because of an ongoing rebellion led by the Lord’s Resistance Army against the Ugandan government.
“The conflicts exacerbate economic inequality, poverty, corruption and extremism, leading to a downward spiral for many of the people who live in the region,” said Shinn, who has visited Uganda several times and has served as Ambassador to Ethiopia as well as director of East African affairs at the State Department.
The serious conflict in Uganda has resulted in the abduction of more than 25,000 children for use as child soldiers and the displacement of almost two million civilians, Shinn added.
Waterhouse was surprised by the number of children present in the region, especially in international displaced persons camps.
“Seeing the children is hopeful and heartbreaking. At the same time, you see the future of Uganda, but you also see the devastation that (the war) has caused on their families,” Waterhouse said.
For Waterhouse, the interaction with the Ugandans was the best part of the trip.
“(The Ugandan students are) doing really good things in their communities,” Waterhouse said. “The whole idea of partnership with people from other countries is something I’m really passionate about. Going to other countries is the way we’re really going to have people be passionate about bringing changes to these areas.”
Ansin, a senior, said the Ugandan students on the trip were youth leaders who have created various programs in their communities such as a newspaper for Ugandan children to voice their ideas and a break-dance project where children learn break dancing and receive education on HIV and AIDS.
“The quality of the Ugandan participants was unbelievable,” said Ansin, a biological anthropology major.
Participants said the trip gave the students the experience of a lifetime and also gave them a unique perspective into a completely different culture,
“It is not possible to teach this kind of experience in the classroom,” said Shinn, who has taught three of the four GW participants in various courses on Africa. “Even if these kinds of exchanges do not help lead to an end to this particular conflict, they enrich all of the participants about the nature of conflict generally and will make each person who took part more effective in dealing with future conflicts.”
Most of the GW students who participated said the trip served as a personal affirmation in their commitment to working for the region.
“The biggest thing was just the confirmation that … world development is something that really peaks my interest and something I’d really like to be involved with,” Ansin said.
Global Youth Partnership for Africa is beginning to plan more trips this summer including two to Ugandan and one to Cameroon.