Thursday, 7 February 2019

Thinking about applying to be a Program Assistant? You should!

Are you thinking about applying to be a PA for the 2019-2020 year? 
Well, take it from a current PA... I really think that you should! 😊

My name is Jessica Mount. I studied with USP in the fall of 2017 and never imagined that I would be back so soon. My time as a student in Uganda was filled with so much joy, challenge, and growth... and I knew I wanted to return someday as soon as I arrived back in the states. When I saw the PA application open, I began praying and discerning if this was a good path for me and I quickly realized how much I waned to come back and work on staff with USP. I'm so thankful that I chose to apply and so thankful for the incredible experience that this has been. So, if you're thinking about applying or curious about the position, here is a glimpse at what my year as a Program Assistant has looked like! 
There's nothing a milkshake can't cure!
Kevin Domanski after a long day
at Nakasero Hospital.

Student Care: As a PA, a lot of your time will be spent with USP students as they discover Uganda and all the wonderful things that they will learn. Journeying with students and supporting them in that is a huge part of this role. Sometimes that means late night conversations when a student is processing something challenging, other times it means taking a Saturday afternoon to bake cookies to bring them in class on Monday! Student care includes venturing out to Kampala with them for the first time to show them around the city, and it also includes venturing to Kampala with them when their stomach's aren't feeling quite right. Whether it's spending long hours in a hospital, or long hours on a taxi, both are opportunities for deeper engagement with students! Student care includes eating meals and introducing them to your Ugandan friends so they can join your for dinner. It means visiting them at their homestays, orchestrating events for them, and helping them acclimate to life here. This aspect of the job can be tiring at times, but it's so rewarding to see students grow throughout the semester!

Kate Ivancic and Peter (our current
Ugandan PA) eating chicken after a
day spent in Kampala)

Many evenings spent in the USP apartment
as we prepared for Thanksgiving!

An outing in Rwanda with all my Eddie,
John, Rev. Thomas, and Rev. Emmanuel

Being on Staff: Being on team of 11 other USP staff members has shaped my year profoundly. I've seen first hand how the staff depends on each other to meet every need and activity that comes up. I learned so much from the staff when I was a student, but I've learned even more getting to work so closely with them. Their passion for this program, for what they teach about, and for cultural engagement really helps to frame what this program is all about. Working with a team that was is so passionate about helping American college students engage well in this context has made me even more passionate about what USP teaches them as well. I've learned and grown so much through mentorship, friendship, and the wisdom of each staff member!

Staff of USP Spring 2019

Professional Development: Having studied in the Social Work emphasis, I work very closely on a daily basis with USP Social Work Coordinator, Lisa Tokpa. I've continued to learn so much about the profession from her by helping with the seminar class and through conversation of what students are learning. I've helped facilitate class discussions and Cross Culture Social Work meetings, graded journals, and conducted mid semester site visits! In my year of being a PA and working closely with Lisa and all the staff, I feel I have a clearer idea of what I am called to and what I hope to do with my degree. I've also gained so much confidence this year in how USP has equipped me to be successful in the future!

Fall 2018 Cross Cultural Social Work Meeting.
Hannah Wagar and her supervisor Rose
at a mid semester site visit.

 Other parts of the job: This is a position that will keep you busy and keep you on your toes! There are many moving pieces and there's always something to be doing! A large part of the PA role is prepping and helping out on trips, including rural homestays and Rwanda. This includes stocking med kits, filling jerry cans, making lunches, and many other responsibilities. PA's are also responsible for updating social media, like Instagram, Twitter, and this blog! There's never a dull day and there are so many reasons we want you to be a part of this team! You will play an important part in the semesters to come!

PA Reunion at Thanksgiving dinner in 2018.
Want to join this PA family (dynasty😉)
I know you do! Apply today!

If you are a USP alum, a recent college graduate and looking for an awesome opportunity to grow, learn and support others on the journey-- apply now and join the USP team!

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Pilgrims and Monks

Katie Ivancic with her host sister Miriam
The 28 students of Spring 2019 have been here just shy of one month. In the process of adjusting to life in Uganda, they have been challenged and rewarded by diving headfirst into new relationships with people that will shape their time here and continue to shape them far beyond this semester. UCU roommates, students of the Honor's College, host families, practicum supervisors, and many others eagerly invite students to enter the space of their daily lives. 

A framework that we continuously use here at USP is one of a pilgrimage. We borrow language from two theologians, William Cavanaugh and Emmanuel Katongole, as we encourage students to view themselves as pilgrims on a journey in search of significance and authenticity; seeking to move toward a center in communion with others and with God. The pilgrim looks inward to discover that home is often not stationary, but a road that runs straight through the heart. The pilgrim recognizes that it is in communing with others made in the image of God, that the character of God is revealed. Another key aspect of this pilgrimage journey is that a pilgrim must be dependent on their monks; the individuals that welcome them in as strangers, freely offering unwavering love and support. 
Sophie Olmstead with her family
Rev. Frefrick and Mirica Kisitu

For our 28 students, as they continue their search for significance, many will be looking to their new host families to be their monks. Our USP host families are an exhibit of Ugandan hospitality when they generously receive their new sons and daughters for the next four months. These families welcome our students into one the most vulnerable spaces of their lives, their homes. Our students depend on their families to provide for them and to teach them about the significance of culture.

The following is a poem we share with students before they meet some of the most pivotal monks in their journeys.

Tourist or Pilgrim?
"I stand at the edge of myself and wonder
Where is home? Oh! Where is the place
Where beauty will last? When will I be safe? And where?
My tourist heart is wearing me out. I am so tired of seeking

For treasures that tarnish. How much longer, Lord?Oh! Which is the way home?
My luggage is heavy. It is weighing me down
I am hungry for the Holy Ground of home.
Then suddenly, overpowering me with the truth,
A voice within me gently says:‘There is a power in you, a truth in youThat has not yet been tapped.
You are blinded with a blindness that is deep,
For you have not loved the pilgrim in you yet
There is a road that runs straight through your heart.
Walk on it.’
To be a pilgrim means to be on the move, slowly,
To notice your luggage becoming lighter,
To seek for treasures that do not rust
To be comfortable with your heart’s questions,
To be moving toward the Holy Ground of home with empty hands and bare feet.
And yet, you cannot reach that home until you have loved the pilgrim in you.
One must be comfortable as a pilgrim before one’s feet can touch the homeland.
Do you want to go home?
There’s a road that runs straight through your heart
Walk on it."
~Macrina Wiederkehr

For the 28 students of spring 2019, they have began walking the road that runs through their heart, leading them home. In the great communion created by their new families, our students often begin to find their center; discovering that God is living within the monk and the spaces that they create. 

Annie Green with her host mom Monica Wanzala 

Tuesday, 15 January 2019


Friends and Families of USP,

Happy New Year! We hope that your time has been marked with rest and presence with those you love, and we are very happy to announce that our new Spring 2019 cohort has been on the ground in Uganda a few weeks now and are finding their "sea legs" quickly!

Today, I'd like to take a minute to talk about thresholds. These moments of time where we find ourselves briefly within two important seasons, not yet fully exited from previous one but also entering another, and where we find ourselves frozen for a moment. Not fully in either place. Armed with the perspective and time to try to answer the questions of where we've come from and where we're going. The threshold metaphor is part of the language that we use to talk about the experience of USP. During debrief, our director begins one of our processing sessions with the following quote:

"A threshold is not a simple boundary; it is a frontier that divides two different territories, rhythms, and atmospheres. Indeed, it is a lovely testimony to the fullness and integrity of an experience or a stage of life that it intensified toward the end into a real frontier that cannot be crossed without the heart being passionately engaged and woken up. 
At this threshold a great complexity of emotion comes alive: confusion, fear, sadness, hope. This is one reason why such vital crossings were always clothed in ritual. It is wise in your own life to be able to recognize and acknowledge the key thresholds: to take your time, to feel all the varieties of presence that accrue there, to listen inwards with complete attention until you hear the inner voice calling you forward. 
The time has come to cross."
                     // John O'Donohue

In our fast-paced American culture, it can be all too easy to wrap up important seasons in our lives and jump into the next one with all our strength immediately. We forcibly shorten these thresholds and ignore them into nonexistence, hopeful that if we just never stop moving, we'll never have to face the emotions that come from the loss of these closing chapters. But embracing thresholds and taking the time to just *be* is a huge lesson that many of us learn during our time in Uganda. Taking time to be fully aware of our lives as they happen to us is a new experience for many of us as we come to Uganda, and an incredibly important piece of the fabric of USP.

There are a few thresholds that are built in to our time at USP, where we carve out time between the end of one thing and the beginning of something else in order to take inventory of our hearts and center ourselves before moving forward. We have a few days set aside after we return from Rwanda and Rural Homestays in order to rest and reflect, and the culmination of our entire semester is almost five days in Entebbe answering the questions of "what just happened to me?" and "what now?" and enjoying the love and community of a group of people who came as strangers but are leaving as family.

And finally, we are experiencing a new sort of threshold in USP right now: the threshold of firsts. Students are spending their first nights with their host families, and going to their practicums for the first time, and are making their first forays into Mukono town for markets, great food, and swimming with host siblings. All these things that feel so unfamiliar and overwhelming right now, but students are engaging all the same.

I think we can all feel it, when we're on the edge of something big. This threshold we're in right now is one of new beginnings, and we're so very excited to see what happens next.

This is Louise, signing off for the year. Thanks for reading :)
Stay tuned for some new developments from PA Jessica Mount.

Thursday, 6 December 2018

FA18 Farewell Dinner! Celebrating 15 years

Last night we celebrated the Fall 2018 semester Farewell Dinner with our host families, practicum site supervisors and coworkers, lecturers, drivers, staff and of course students. We are so proud of this group of students and their hard work this semester!

As is customary, among the many speeches of the evening, we have a staff speech. This year we shared collectively, speaking to the many things we are thankful for, and particularly God's faithfulness these 15 years. 

You can watch our full staff speech-- all 30 minutes, full of kids, cats, fading sunlight, cell phones and of course your USP staff, OR if you're interested you can flip to the various highlights:

Our Beginnings and Our students! (start) 
USP Director, Rachel Robinson 
The beautiful country of Uganda (3:33) 
USP Office Attendant, Lydia Koma
15 years of partnership with UCU (4:57) 
USP Program Administrator, Lydia Wankuma
Host Families! (6:52)
Homestay Coordinator, Eddie Tokpa
Honors College Partnership (9:04)
USP Program Assistant, Becky Nairuba
Practicum Sites and Supervisors (11:50)
USP Social Work Coordinator, Lisa Tokpa
Academics, our lecturers (15:20) 
Global Health Emphasis Coordinator, Micah Hughes
Safety! (18:23) 
USP Driver, John Kabugo
Rwanda (19:42) 
Program Assistant, Louise Clark 
Alumni (21:05) 
Program Assistant, Jessica Mount
The Gift of Life (24:14) 
USP nurse Avrey Hughes
God's faithfulness (25:52) 
USP Administrative Assistant, Innocent Atimango

Just a few images of an evening full of goodness:

"Presence. Actively seeking to be present in each moment of each day is difficult, but so rewarding. I've struggled with perfectionism and anxiety for so long, and practicing presence is the best way for me to seek the Lord in the most overwhelming moments. I'm so thankful for the way that Uganda and USP softened my heart and gave me the gift of  living life a little slower That's what it's all about, right? Living life together with faith, hope and love."
~USP Alum, Katelyn Springer (SP'11)

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

The Night Shift

Mukono Church of Uganda Hospital main entrance in Mukono town.
Imagine this:
It's 6:00pm on a Friday night. The sun is setting behind Mukono hill, and campus is quieting down for the weekend. Homestay students are headed for the gates of UCU, home to their families for the weekend, and on-campus students are headed down to the dining hall for dinner. But you're a Global Health student and you're about to embark on a 12-hour hospital night shift. You have the name of the nurse midwife and the doctor on call, and so you pull on your USP Global Health student scrubs, grab a cup of coffee--and head into town with a friend for your first night shift at the Church of Uganda Mukono Hospital.

As part of the Global Health Emphasis, all students do a 150-hour internship at a local healthcare organization in Uganda. USP partners with a diverse array of organizations offering internships in a variety of areas and specialties like nutrition, maternal health, physical therapy and geriatric care. The Mukono Church of Uganda Hospital, located in close proximity to Uganda Christian University, has a long-standing relationship with USP and is a significant part of the Global Health Emphasis. It is the internship site for several GHE students in any given semester, students taking Microbiology do their lab at the hospital, and others take the unique opportunity to shadow doctors, nurses, and other hospital staff from 7:00pm— 7:00am: The Night Shift. Over the twelve-hour shift, students experience what it's like to work at a hospital overnight and the diversity of cases that keep a hospital busy around the clock.

It's 2:00am. Since you arrived at the hospital, you've been in the operating theatre during an emergency C-section, a nurse has explained her perspective on the cultural and socioeconomic complexities of maternal health in Uganda, and you've taken tea with the surgeon on call. You're about to take a brief nap on a hospital cot when a patient comes in to the emergency department with a broken leg from a motorcycle accident. Adrenaline infuses your body with life again as you help the hospital team to care for this emergency. At the end of the night, you collapse in the back of the USP van as it travels back up the hill to UCU, exhausted but with a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the work of nurses and doctors throughout the long night hours. 

Spending a night at the hospital is an unique opportunity in many ways. When it's busy, you are able to observe procedures you may not be able to during the day. When it's slow--and it often is--you have the opportunity to spend real time with Ugandan healthcare professionals, learning through conversation and quality time in the wee hours of the night. The night shift at Mukono Hospital is above all a time to practice presence, being with patients who are in pain, being with health care professionals as they care for the patients, and being open to whatever happens--or doesn't happen--during a normal 12-hour day shift at the hospital.

Whether learning about maternal health on a night shift or sitting under a Mango tree learning about clean water, the Global Health Emphasis brings together observation, experience, and academic coursework with the goal of transformational learning.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

In Recognition of Social Work Supervisors

This week's blog is guest-written by Lisa Tokpa, the Social Work Coordinator for Uganda Studies Program. Lisa maintains relationships with all the organizations where USP social work students intern, teaches the social work practicum class, and supports social work students during their time at USP. You also may be lucky enough to end up in one of her general studies practicum classes! Thanks Lisa!

“You will know your vocation by the joy that it gives you.” 
~ Dorothy Day
Every semester USP students embark on an adventure marked by growth that can only happen through relationships. One of these key relationships is between students and their supervisors. For senior social work students conducting at least 400 practicum hours, this relationship has even more potential to be transformative. But this doesn’t come without work. Just like any relationship, it takes honest communication and time, but can reap rewards even beyond expectations.

Fall 2018 Social Work Practicum Site Supervisors.

Before students step foot in Uganda, supervisors gather together to connect and learn from one another’s experiences supervising American social work undergraduate students. It’s not an easy thing -- connecting with and teaching students from a very different context with expectations that have been forming over years, seeing exciting growth as they fully invest in one student who all-too-quickly leaves to make way for the next. But these professionals keep committing to a process that we are all committed to at USP – teaching the next generation the value of difference and diversity, and how to effectively engage in a globalized world. 

Working in the midst of incredible suffering, students are challenged by the joy that is emitted by these Ugandan mentors. With fascination, they can’t help but ask, “How do you keep going?” Supervisor’s responses, both verbal and in action every day, teach students about the power of community, humility in acknowledging our limitations, sustaining compassion, and continuing to be joyful in this broken world.  

We, as USP, are incredibly grateful to these amazing people who continue to be patient with our students, investing in their learning every day, and inspire them with a joy that cannot be explained. 

“I have learned so much about social work in Uganda and just being a social worker in general through my supervisor and coworkers. My supervisor is a strong, courageous woman who knows who she is and what her mission is in life. She has deep passion for working with children through Compassion and specifically for working with their mothers and fathers to ensure that their family is healthy and able to make the best life for them. She challenges me to be bold when working with clients and she has showed me how to deal with social issues related to Ugandan families, specifically domestic violence, within this cultural context. I want to be like her when I “grow up”. Social work practice here looks like a family welcoming you into their home, sitting with them in the comfort of their own house instead of in an office setting, maybe hitting guavas out of the guava tree in their yard and checking out their pigs and sheep, as well as maybe leaving their home with a giant papaya or stalk of sugar cane. They [co-workers] teach me to relax a little more in my role as a social worker; being open to the families we are working with while also maintaining professional boundaries.” 
 ~Suzanna Knarr (Senior SWE)
Suzanna and her supervisor Liz Nanseko.
"Doing my practicum at Kisoga Child Development Center has become my second home here in Uganda. My supervisor Miriam has helped me gain confidence to be open and comfortable when working with diverse clients. She shows humility to everyone she encounters and it is truly inspiring to see the hard work she does for her clients. She is so personable and relatable, and she plays a big part in my growth in the field of social work. "
~Kasey Wood (Senior SWE)

Kasey and her supervisor, Miriam Kiwanuka.

"When Rose greets someone, she greets them with love. When she speaks to someone, she speaks to them in love. When she is present with people, she is present in love. Over the past months I have had the opportunity to encounter what it means to love on a deeper level from my supervisor, Rose. From highlighting the importance of connections in relationships throughout the healing journey of patients and families, to being open about the concern for the well being of all people that walk through Acheru's doors; whether they are in the age bracket or not; Rose is present in love. Over the course of this semester, we have been using language around who our "monks" are while we are here in Uganda. These monks can be classified as people who accept and invite you on this season of life with them and guide you along patterns of living in Uganda. Rose has been a monk to me, and I am so grateful for her insight, humility, and presence of love as I venture on this pilgrimage through life in Uganda."
~Hannah Wagar (Junior SWE) 

Hannah Wagar and her supervisor, Rose Nakabugo at Acheru.

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Snapshots of Kapchorwa Homestays

Last Friday morning, we loaded students and staff into the USP van and bus and left the slowly growing comfort of the Uganda Christian University campus, our Mukono host families, and our internships to learn about life in rural Uganda. As we leave Mukono, we quickly notice the houses and buildings growing smaller and more spread out. There are vast fields and swamps as far as we can see. Then we cross the source of the Nile River in Jinja. And finally, after a day of travelling, we turn up the small mountain road to Kapchorwa and the little van begins to climb into the clouds.

We’ve said before that homestays are the lifeblood of the Uganda Studies Program, but it’s so true that we’ll say it again. We learn so much more deeply about places like rural Uganda when we’ve also experienced what it’s like to really live there. Whether it’s up on the mountain in Kapchorwa or out in the grassy flatlands in Soroti, USP students experience a new way of living—and therefore a new way of loving—through the wonderful host families who welcome them in.

Emily Bartel showing PA Becky Nairuba how she washes dishes at her Kapchorwa homestay.

This week, we bring you a tiny snapshot of some Fall 2018 students’ experience with their families in Kapchorwa and Sipi:

“My favorite memory with my host family was going on a hike with my sister to see a waterfall and visit family…and learning to make chapati and passionfruit juice!”
—Emma Cann (Patrick & Violet Mutai)

“The best moments for me during the week were sitting with my mama in the kitchen hut every night making dinner and having the best conversations.”
—Payton Dierkes (Mama Judith & David)

“Beauty was found in the simplest of things last week. I look back with so much joy on sitting out eating lunch with my siblings during a rainstorm, and taking a walk with my brother to a waterfall, both of which were filled with laughter and meaningful conversations that further made us family.”
—Richard Guinta (Chebet Joel & Joselline)

“It was a time to reflect and experience God’s amazing beauty in the middle of the semester.”
—Derek Twinney

“Picking coffee every day…really makes you appreciate that cup a day even more.”
—Alexa Spandrio (Maliche Martin & Mercyline)

Kevin Domanski with his host niece.
USP is a program built around relationships. Everything we do here, we do in the context of relationships of friends, roommates, professors, supervisors and families who welcome us in. The experience of waking up on Mount Elgon, learning how to pick and roast coffee right where it’s grown, and live life at a "rural pace" with Ugandans would not be possible without the deep ties of these relationships with host families.

We love you, and thank you for all you do, host families!

Miriam Thurber and her host mama.
Daniel Kim with his host mama, Jocelyn Kaptire.
It's not a birthday in Uganda without being "showered"! Rachel, Eddie, and the PAs made a special visit to Madi Shae Thompson's homestay to deliver a few birthday surprises.
Rachel Baker smiling with her host family as the USP van stops by on the main road.
We made good use of the mud on our hike to see all three of the Sipi Falls!

Hiking Sipi on our debrief weekend.

Richard Guinta preparing to lead a USP worship service for students on the edge of the world.