Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Alumni post: Emilia Martinez!!

USP Alumna, Emilia Martinez was a senior social worker in the Social Work Emphasis in Spring 2015. She has since returned to Uganda as a Peace Corps volunteer, and is currently working in Gulu, Northern Uganda. 

As a USP student, I repeatedly heard how the experience had the ability to change my life.  While I believed it to be a generally true statement, I did not know exactly how my semester in Uganda really would change the course of my life.   

We learn a lot of concepts as USP students - one degree changes, development, flexibility, social justice, humble learning, cultural conflict, minimalism. There are plenty of opportunities to put these concepts into action throughout the semester, especially in host homes or practicum sites, but I was eager to dive in deeper; the semester was not long enough for me to truly understand the concepts in the way that I had wanted to learn them.  Upon returning home, I did the one thing that I knew I could at the time:  trust the process.  And I needed all the trust I could get as a senior who had no plans after graduation.


USP social work cohort of Spring 2015. 

Emilia with Ugandan friends, Innocent and Lawrence during her semester abroad.

I began to explore options to continue the learning that felt halted at the surprising end of my semester. It was important to me to find a way back to Uganda because I had developed a strong connection to the country. But it is not easy to find international work without international connections. This is how I learned about the Peace Corps. I had heard about the volunteer program before, but I had never truly understood it until after my experience with USP. If I were to become a volunteer, I would have the opportunity to put into practice those USP concepts and continue my desired expansion of knowledge.

Emilia spending time in her community as a Peace Corps volunteer.

Fast forward two years after the end of my semester, I am well into my Peace Corps service in the-one-and-only Uganda. It was a lengthy process to get to the place I am at today, but well worth all of the struggle. One of the reasons I picked Peace Corps over other opportunities abroad was its commitment to community development. During my USP experience, I was convicted by the way people used international funding for the sake of "development". Now, I am practicing hands-on community development in a meaningful, tangible way and it is much more difficult than I could have imagined. My learning is not limited to the workplace. It was also important to me to learn the meaning of minimalism and fight the American instinct of consumerism. Every day I live with less and have tested ways to purposefully minimize my consumption.  


Emilia practicing the local language with primary students during her time in the Peace Corps.

My time as a Peace Corps volunteer is exactly what I needed to allow me the space to further process my USP experience. And my time as a Peace Corps volunteer would likely not have happened without my time as a USP student. All of the knowledge that I have gained and all of the personal growth I have endured is a result of the foundation that I built during my semester. 

At the end of my Peace Corps service, I will be satisfied with what I came to do and will leave Uganda again, but with much more peace of mind this time around. For the first time in two years, I have a plan and feel good about it. I would not have been able to reach this place had I not let go of my sense of control and learned that not all is lost when life doesn't work out as planned.  


Emilia with her host family.
I almost did not do USP because I was afraid. But thanks to a special friend (shout out to Clara Williams) and some courage, I took a leap of faith. Now, I seek to live boldly every day. Many call me brave for this commitment, but it is merely a response to what I learned as a USP student; meaningful education changes us. I used to wonder how USP would really change my life and I don't have to look back very far to see just how it has changed me. It is no longer a question I need to ponder, only one that makes me excited for all that the future will hold.  

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Rural Homestays: Serere

Every semester the students spend a week in a Ugandan village doing a rural homestay. Each student lives with a family for the week, learning about life in a rural Ugandan context. This gives students the opportunity to learn about a different culture and way of life within Uganda. This semester we went to warm and beautiful Serere, in eastern Uganda.  


Driving to Serere - almost there! 

Some students have the opportunity to stay in grass thatched huts

Olivia meeting her new host mama

Bryson embracing his new host mama

Paige being welcomed by her new host grandmother

Jenna with her new host family
Their Experiences
During their week, the students stepped outside of their comfort zones by trying and learning many new things, including language, food, work and living environments. Since every family is different, each of the students had a unique experience. Some students had the opportunity to milk cows, while others learned how to kill a chicken. Some students swept the compounds, while others learned how to fetch and carry water on their heads. Some students tried digging in the garden, while others learned how to shell groundnuts. Each family provided their new son or daughter with many things to try and learn. 


Maya shelling ground nuts (peanuts) with her host family

Rebecca learning how to fetch & carry water on her head

Hannah learning how to kill a chicken!

Caitlin dressed up in a gomesi, the tradition Ugandan dress for women


Debrief Retreat
After picking up the students from their families’ homes, we then traveled further east to Sipi Falls, a breathtaking place in the foothills of Mt. Elgon, for debrief. We spent time reflecting on and processing all the students experienced during their rural homestays. We then hiked to three waterfalls and took an in-depth tour of one of a local coffee farm. On our last morning we had a sunrise worship service from a beautiful spot overlooking the plains below. It was a wonderful weekend spent together, debriefing rural homestay experiences, and enjoying one another. 

One of the beautiful Sipi Falls waterfalls

Being up close is when you see can just how big the falls are!

Hiking in Sipi Falls

Hiking in Sipi Falls
Learning about the coffee process from start to finish: picking, roasting and 
grinding the beans to making and drinking a fresh cup of coffee!


Sunrise worship time on top of a little mountain
Glorious views...

Monday, 27 February 2017

Spotlight on Social Work Students

This semester 12 of our 18 students are Social Work majors who have joined USP to complete their junior or senior level field placements. As part of the Social Work Emphasis (SWE), they also participate in USP's Social Work Seminar, taught by Lisa Tokpa, MSW, which accompanies their field placements and supports their cross-cultural learning. SWE students dedicate a lot of their time to their practicums; juniors complete 150 practicum placement hours and seniors year complete between 400– 450 hours (depending on their school’s requirements). 

Each student is placed at one of USP's partner organizations and works with a specific population in the Ugandan context, under a Ugandan supervisor. Three SWE students share some of their thoughts on their practicum placements thus far this semester:


Alexis Conkle
Alexis Conkle is a current USP student from Messiah College in her junior year. Her practicum is at Reach One Touch One Ministries (ROTOM) which is a Ugandan run organization in Mukono that primarily serves the elderly population in order to give them dignified lives. They also have programs for children and young adult girls who have been raised by their grandparents.  Alexis, who was uncertain about her placement initially, was pleasantly surprised to find that the jajas (the elderly, or grandmothers and grandfathers) they work with are incredibly upbeat and energetic.

Alexis has found she especially enjoys the office community at ROTOM. The staff are friendly and close-knit. One of the staff members at ROTOM who Alexis finds particularly inspiring is the driver, who she says is passionate about his job and confidently sees his role of transporting jajas and staff where they need to go as part of God’s work for his community.

Doing her practicum at ROTOM, Alexis has been learning how life and work in another culture can be very different. For example, in the ROTOM Bible Study that she attends each Tuesday morning, she has found that people can read the Bible differently based on their cultural context. She also says that poverty and the approach to alleviating poverty can look very different in Uganda from what she has seen in the United States. Alexis has also learned that culture does not have to be a barrier that comes in between relationships. She has had the opportunity to meet with some of the college students that ROTOM supports and finds them easy to relate to and not dissimilar to college students in the U.S.


USP social work junior, Alexis Conkle


Bryson Barefoot
Bryson, a senior from Southeastern University, is doing his practicum is at Noah’s Ark, an international organization that serves vulnerable children in Mukono. Bryson says so far he has experienced several stages at his practicum. The first weeks were extremely busy with so many kids needing attention. However, a number of programs have since started up at Noah’s Ark, and the days have settled into a steady rhythm. Bryson is thankful for those busy days earlier in the semester because they gave him a chance to get to know the kids. His relationships with them have grown and he now has an automatic connection with the kids when they approach him. “At this point,” Bryson says “there is nowhere else I’d rather be for my practicum.”

Bryson has learned a lot from his supervisor at Noah’s Ark, from his example and how he invests in each child. He says his supervisor is extremely good at what he does and has a wealth of knowledge about each of the children he works with.

Initially Bryson was concerned that the skills he is learning in Uganda would not be transferable back in the U.S.; however, after being at his internship for over a month, he now feels that he will have an advantage in the U.S. when it comes to working cross-culturally and being comfortable with diversity.


USP social work senior, Bryson Barefoot

Delaina Peek
Delaina, also a senior from Southeastern University, is completing her practicum at Butabika National and Teaching Hospital, which serves the mentally ill. This is the first semester USP has partnered with Butabika for social work placements. From the first day, Delaina’s supervisor has given her opportunities to interact with clients and learn about mental health in Uganda. Looking back, Delaina feels these opportunities to learn ‘on the job’ have been the best possible way to learn. From day one, Delaina has been overwhelmed with knowledge that is opening her eyes to the realities of mental illness. 

Working with the patients at Butabika is about authenticity and can be messy. “It’s not glamorous,” Delaina says, “most cases that are presented do not have clear answers or solutions.”

Despite the many challenges she is seeing each day, her practicum has many great moments. Delaina has enjoyed doing ward rounds with staff members from various disciplines, learning about play therapy, making assessments, and having the ability to practice presence with the patients she meets.


USP social work senior, Delaina Peek

The experiences the social work students gain at their practicum sites can be both incredibly challenging and deeply rewarding. They leave their time in Uganda more culturally humble, aware, and adaptable; as they return home, they take with them skills and experiences that they would not have had they not spent a semester in Uganda, learning from Ugandan practitioners working in oftentimes very challenging situations.  

For anyone interested in learning more about the USP Social Work Emphasis, check out our website