Future Peace Corps worker helps villages obtain clean water, improve health
by Rachel Baruch Yackley
In spring, students throughout the country are pondering what college to go to, and on what path their choices will take them.
St. Charles East High School graduate Elizabeth Chadwick, who attends University of Wisconsin-Madison, probably never imagined her choices would take her across the world to Africa.
Chadwick, a 2007 graduate of St. Charles East, recently spent three weeks in the country of Uganda. Uganda is in the East African plateau, just south of Sudan, and just west of Kenya. While there, she was able to share her experiences with the Daily Herald, via e-mail.
Q. Where exactly are you, and what are you doing in Uganda?
A. “Oli Otya” (“hello” in Luganda language) from a bustling Internet cafe overlooking the chaotic streets of Kampala, Uganda! “Agande” means hello in Rukiga, a language spoken in the west, which is where I was when I e-mailed you last.
I just got back to the capital city of this east African country after spending 11 days in the rural southwest part of the country. (Seventeen) undergraduate students, including myself, have come here to study international health and nutrition for three weeks, as part of a study abroad program with the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Last semester we had seminars about Uganda’s health care system and general issues of public health and social issues that Uganda is currently facing. After learning about all these things “textbook” style, we finally arrived here and got to see the reality of these issues.
Q. What are you doing on this trip?
A. We spent the time touring public hospitals, health clinics, malnutrition clinics, and meeting traditional healers (including a bone-setter). After touring Mulago (Hospital, in Kampala), the national referral hospital, we traveled west through the highlands along the Rwandan and Congolese borders to study rural health care.
Along the journey we hiked through a tropical rain forest, swam in Uganda’s deepest lake, visited the source of the Nile River, walked along the equator, helped construct a rainwater collection tank, played many games of football (soccer) with the locals, saw many wild animals (including a hippo grazing in front of my door after arriving home after a New Year’s celebration in a national park), endured frequent power outages, and slept peacefully every night under a mosquito net.
Q. Why did you pick Uganda, and with whom did you go?
A. At UW-Madison I have been involved with a student organization/nonprofit called the Village Health Project, which raises money for clean water and health projects in rural Uganda. Many of the projects we work on are in collaboration with this study abroad program. I knew that I needed to come here and see Uganda for myself.
All of the students are from UW-Madison and a few of us have been involved with VHP. Some of the information I learned here will be used to write a grant for a new VHP project to help provide healthy food for students at a primary school.
Q. What were your biggest challenges, personally, in Uganda?
A. One of the biggest challenges for me was seeing malnourished children in the rural villages; it just breaks your heart. Many of these children were orphans whose grandmothers were now taking care of them, but didn’t have the means to feed them, or weren’t feeding them nutritious foods. Most of them couldn’t afford to take their children to the hospital (everything within the hospital itself is free, but transport there is too expensive for people).
When you see those situations you want to empty your wallet to help, but that’s not a solution, especially when these situations are the result of much bigger, systemic problems. Why was that child orphaned in the first place? Was it AIDS? Why wasn’t the grandmother buying or growing nutritious foods? How come the hospital isn’t easily accessible?
Q. What were your greatest moments?
A. One of the greatest moments for me was visiting the home of a community health worker who had a rainwater collection tank in her back yard. The tank was built using funds from the Village Health Project and it was an incredible feeling to see how our fundraising work in Madison had been transformed into a life changing water system for a family in Uganda.
Most people must walk great distances to get their drinking water, which is usually from very contaminated, stagnant ponds. However, the rainwater collection tank gathers water from a gutter system on the roof of the house when it rains and can last through the dry season. I was elated to hear how thankful the family was for the tank and how much it has benefited them and their neighbors.
Q. How does a typical village in Uganda compare to St. Charles? And how does the city of Kampala compare to Chicago?
A. It’s nearly impossible to compare any village in Uganda to a town in the U.S. If St. Charles were made up of red, dirt roads without stoplights, little electricity, thousands of bicycles, banana trees instead of oak trees, goats instead of squirrels, and outdoor fruit markets instead of restaurants, it just might look like a town in western Uganda.
Kampala and Chicago are similar only in that they both have terrible traffic jams. Most of the roads in Kampala are single lanes with few functional stoplights. There aren’t many tall buildings in the city and despite its urban setting it is very green and lush. The streets are lined with markets and people. People selling newspapers and fresh fruits weave in and out of traffic looking to sell their goods to commuters. Huge Marabou storks are perched on top of every building and circle in the skies above when not busy munching on garbage.
Aside from cars, there are also matatus (public mini-buses), boda-bodas (motorbikes), and bicycles.
Q. Was this your first trip to Africa?
A. This is my second trip to Africa. In spring 2010 I studied abroad for a semester at the University of Cape Town, South Africa. However this is my first time to Uganda.
Q. What are you studying at UW-Madison?
A. I’m majoring in biology and getting a certificate in global cultures. I love biology because the complexity and beauty of living organisms is fascinating to me. I chose global cultures because I think learning about other people, places, languages and cultures is important for having a balanced perspective of people and the world.
Q. When will you graduate, and what are your plans?
A. I’m graduating this May. I’ve already accepted a job with the Peace Corps as a secondary (high school) science teacher in French-speaking West Africa (country to be determined). After that … who knows.
At this point I see myself going to medical school or getting a master’s (degree) in public health, but I expect that my Peace Corps experience will have a lot of influence on the direction I head, afterward.