Patrick Maxwell Reflects on Internship in Uganda

Patrick Maxwell '17, a junior pursuing a self-designed bachelor of science in international business and economics and a bachelor of arts in global studies, reflects on his one-month summer microfinance internship in the small Ugandan village of Sitabaale. 

My initial interest in the field of international development commenced after discussing economic development in Principles of Macroeconomics with Dr. Kshama Harpankar, assistant professor of economics. The following winter break, I researched economic growth, development initiatives around the globe, and non-government organizations (NGO). Convinced international development was the area of study in which I wished to build a career, I began probing the web for international development internships. I unearthed Global Nomadic, the non-profit organization that matched me with Tokamalirawo Aids Support and Action Group Awareness (TASAAGA) NGO in Uganda. 

Before accounting for the highlights of my internship experience, I believe it is imperative to detail the outstanding work TASAAGA undertakes across Uganda. Bruhan Mubiru, executive director of the organization, has aided in the fight against poverty by mobilizing the support of individuals to institute real change in rural areas. TASAAGA’s projects include: an annual soccer tournament, which offers education about HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections; a school for orphans in the village of Sitabaale; a youth information center that grants youth access to counseling, technology, and educational enrichment activities; a medical clinic on the remote Kimi Island; and microcredit opportunities for women to empower them to pull themselves out of poverty. Although there is a small number of professional staff, the organization receives most of its help from international interns and volunteers like myself. 

The bulk of my time in Uganda was spent on two projects. First was the project I intended to complete, the Growing Resources Opportunities and Wealth for Women (GROWW) Microfinance project. The second was a new, malleable project focusing on the design and implementation of an agriculture-based information and communication technology center that would serve the five villages surrounding Sitabaale. 

My assignments provided firsthand experiences and required a breadth of research and critical thinking skills, ones Lebanon Valley College has aided in cultivating. To elaborate briefly, microfinance is the process of lending a small collateral-free loan to an impoverished individual so they can start or expand a business. The idea is that with the loan, they will increase their income and enhance their living standards. TASAAGA’s GROWW project specifically aims to provide these loans to widows and single mothers in order to make a better life for their children. 

My involvement with this project started at the beginning of a new cycle in the lending process. I first was given the responsibility of selecting five women from the applicant pool, interviewing them to ensure the accuracy of their applications. (One of the fees I paid to the organization included the capital that would finance their loans.) In addition to field work, I was asked to design, develop, and author a training manual that would be used to educate the women in the basics of business. Hoping to increase the impact of this manual, I designed the course to be interactive. Throughout the course, a participant will learn the basics of business, management, economics, and accounting while writing their own personalized business plan. 

Recognizing agriculture as the primary source of income for those in poverty, TASAAGA launched a new agriculture project to educate farmers on the basics of planting, harvesting, and animal husbandry. Concurrently the project will transmit information about impending epidemics or natural disasters, allowing farmers to combat these threats to their livelihood. 

Since the project was in the planning stage, I focused on conducting field research and outreach to help TASAAGA deduce the needs this new center must address. After developing a survey, we walked to the five neighboring villages and asked questions ranging from the number of seasons in Africa to their self-described hardest struggle. This data will be used to formulate the goals and services of the center as well as research for grant proposals.

My work in Uganda and other developing nations has just begun. 

While in Uganda, I had the opportunity to talk to many people and inquire about their needs. Most of the children want to continue their education to the college level; however, with the cost of schooling relative to their family’s income, this is not a reality for many of them. A strong advocate that education is a birthright, I feel responsible to make their dreams a reality. 

In addition, I have just begun an internship with the Eastern Pennsylvania branch of the American Red Cross’s International Services Department where I work on expanding family reunification services. LVC’s support of individualism and education has allowed me to forge my life’s path. I will continue to use education as a guidepost in the fight against global suffering.

Read more about Maxwell's experience on his blog http://patricktmaxwell.weebly.com/travel-blog.