Friday, 28 November 2014

Cross Cultural Practicum: Andrea Bouwense

Andrea Bouwense is one of our current on-campus students enrolled in the 
Cross Cultural Practicum Class:

Andrea Bouwense
As a nonprofit administration major from Cornerstone University, I have benefitted from and learned an immense amount by doing a cross-cultural practicum in Uganda through the Uganda Studies Program. I am doing my practicum at an organization called Empower and Care Organization (EACO), which is a grassroots, Ugandan-founded and run community-based organization near Uganda Christian University.  EACO focuses on the areas of empowering community members through income generating activities, water and sanitation solutions, and HIV/AIDS patient care.  My roles there include overseeing and communicating with online volunteers, writing and editing grant proposals, and assisting on visits and assessments in the communities we work in.

Recently, I sat down with my supervisor, Shadrak Kyobe, who is also the founder of the Empower and Care Organization for my midterm interview.  The following is an excerpt from my interview with him:

The idea of founding EACO began in 2004, but the inspiration had begun long before. Shadrak grew up in a very poor village where he noticed how hard life was for women and children. This led him to believe that everyone deserves equal opportunities and the ability to enjoy life. He shared how he was inspired and supported by his family and some close friends. After a couple years of dreaming and planning, EACO was founded as a community based organization in 2006.
            EACO started by implementing programs such as Vocational and Life Skills Training for vulnerable women and grandmothers raising children. Another program EACO began was Restoring Hope for the Marginalized which also works with grandmothers and orphans through programs such as providing healthy lunches for orphans and other vulnerable children at school. Lastly, they also focused on the area of sexual/reproductive health by providing outreach and guidance and counseling in areas of HIV/AIDS, family planning, STIs, and life skills planning. In 2011, EACO added a Water and Sanitation program to provide latrines and clean water to improve lives. In the last several years, EACO has expanded many of these programs by adding many new projects to each of them as they see new needs and are provided with funds. They have also expanded these programs into many new villages. Today, EACO works alongside seventy-five communities in Mukono and part of Buikwe districts. Within each of those communities there are three to six villages they work with.
            EACO employs seven staff members, four full-time and three part-time. These positions are program director, chairperson, project coordinator, accountant, trainer/counselor, secretary, and field officer. I asked Shadrak what aspect he found to be the most difficult in running the organization. He shared how difficult it can be to sustain the staff while also using money to mobilize the resources in order to maintain operational. Most of the staff wants to be paid a high wage, yet there is very little money donated toward administration costs. Over 90% of the donor money is required to be used on specific projects in order to please the donor. This is a challenge that I believe most NGOs face both here as well as in the States. I predict this will always be a struggle because unless the donor money is going directly to implementing projects and helping communities, they feel it is not being used well. In reality, as Shadrak also said if the NGO does not have sufficient skills from the employees, then donors will be less inclined to give.
            Many of the things that were shared in the interview I already picked up on over the course of the last six weeks, but I still find it incredibly interesting to learn about how one man’s ideas have been blessed and expanded to positively impact the lives of hundreds of Ugandans. Comparing and contrasting my understanding of American based nonprofits and what I am witnessing with this grassroots community based organization in such a different culture and context has been enriching in the sense that I can see that there is more than one way to be effective. I have loved learning about the various programs that EACO is implementing in different communities. I admire how they see a need and create a program to fit that community. They truly are an organization for the people of the surrounding communities implemented by the people.

            I was not planning on doing my practicum this semester, but when I found out about the variety of unique organizations that they partner with I could not pass up the opportunity.  It has been such a blessing and an amazing experience to be able to work with a Ugandan organization. I have not only learned about the different aspects of nonprofit management, but also about culture and my own interests and skills. I have been able to begin to develop skills in researching and surveying community needs, as well as grant proposal writing. These skills are useful not only in a Ugandan context but also in the communities that I will return to in America and in my career in the future. I would highly recommend doing a cross-cultural practicum to any future USP student.

Andrea near the bee hives in one of the communities - this is one of
EACO's income generating projects.  

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