Utah Tech Students Travel to Uganda

By Jake Harber

Seven students, led by Professor Robert Kagabo, took just over three weeks of their summer to travel to Uganda, participate in humanitarian work and learn more about health and social challenges there. The students, majoring in degrees such as pre-med, nursing, biology, and population health, were able to fully immerse themselves in the country and the various cultures found within.

After arriving in Entebbe, home of the country’s only international airport, the group headed to Kampala, the capital and largest city of Uganda. Here, the students stayed with relatives of Professor Kagabo’s – granting them an opportunity to completely embrace and experience the Ugandan culture and way of life. The students explored the city, as well as spent a safari day at Lake Mburo National Park, spotting zebras, hippos, and giraffes.

After their stay in Kampala, the students departed to Arua, a city in northwest Uganda near the border to begin their work. Arua is located near the Rhino Camp Settlement, the refugee camp where the group did humanitarian work. The majority of the refugees had fled from South Sudan due to violence that has ravaged the country for decades.

The group did most of their work at the Rhino Camp High School, where they did community-based participatory research, letting the local community make decisions and the group assisting with those decisions. One of the decisions made was to build a full-size basketball court – which involved clearing a field, measuring and marking lines, and ordering baskets. A previous soccer field and volleyball court that had been overrun with weeds was also cleared, and when the work was done, Utah Tech shirts and frisbees were handed out.

“Most students there only have one or two outfits and they have to wash their outfits every single day,” said Karina Geranios, one of the participants. “So, to get a shirt is an amazing thing and they’re just so grateful.”

The group also learned about the public health challenges that affected the area, like malaria, the West Nile Virus, Ebola, and a rise in teen pregnancy since the instating of a quarantine to protect the public against COVID-19.

Participants emphasized that the people there were extremely happy and grateful for everything. Ugandans love to talk, have friendly debates, and discuss anything.

“It’s actually rude to approach someone without asking, ‘how are you?’ These are all things you hear about, but to actually experience it, you really get a feel for it,” said Geranios. With most of the population in Uganda speaking English different to that of the United States, participants learned to pick up on these differences and, over the weeks, were able to incorporate them in a way that made them easier to understand to the local population.

The group spent their last week experiencing more of the local culture in Kampala, Jinja, and even taking some time to visit Rwanda, a neighboring country nicknamed the “land of a thousand hills.” There, they encountered a cooler climate and higher elevation, accompanied by a green and misty landscape. The group also visited the Kigali Genocide Memoria, which, as Geranios described, was “a haunting but beautiful experience.”

The students returned June 25th after spending just over three weeks out of the country. For more information about Utah Tech’s Study Abroad program, please visit studyabroad.utahtech.edu.