Jessica Dunan was born and raised in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. She has been attending Northern Michigan University since the fall of 2011 and is currently seeking a Bachelor of Social Work with a minor in human behavior. She first gained an interest in Africa through a mission trip with a non-profit organization called World Orphans, where she visited various orphanages bringing supplies to those in need. Her senior social work field placement will be completed during the fall of 2013 at Acres of Hope Orphanage in Uganda. She will be the first social work student from NMU to complete her placement in a developing nation and was awarded the Jackson Scholars Study Abroad scholarship from NMU. Jessica’s involvement in the Student Leadership Fellowship Program inspired her to propose this placement. She plans to graduate in May of 2014.
Blog Update - Aug. 30, 2013
After 18 hours on the plane, three hours on the bus and about two and a half days total of traveling, I arrived in Africa a few days ago. I have not yet made it to my final destination of Acres of Hope. I am staying in Kampala a few nights before departing for the village. Culture shock has already set in with time differences, cultural differences, language barriers and a much slower pace life. I have a lot to get used to.
I knew coming into this journey that I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I had some visions in my head and I can honestly say that nothing I had pictured has taken place. I am so blessed to have arrived safely though. It has now set in why so many people kept calling me brave. I laughed it off in the months leading up to this. I am always less focused on myself and focused more on a task or a goal, and I didn't really let myself think much about danger. But I've had much alone time already to self-reflect and realize it is scary to be here alone and I am brave. I hope I am strong enough to be here for three months, and I really hope that you all enjoy sharing a glimpse of my journey with me through this blog.
Blog Update - Sept. 3, 2013
I have been in Uganda for one week now. I have stayed at five different places since my arrival (three hotels/two homes). My host father’s son accompanied me along my way because my host father has been sick. Although he is now recovering well. We took an eight-hour bus ride to Nebbi, where I will be staying. I saw where I will be living and visited Acres of Hope finally.
I am so blessed to be able to be here. I have learned so much already just through travel and hearing people’s experiences. I, of course, have asked many questions and listened attentively. Ben (my host father’s son), I am sure, is sick of my questions, but he humbly answers them all and every now and then will ask me one in return. One question I asked on the
bus ride was about littering. I asked if in Uganda there were any fines for it, and Ben replied no. I told him how we will be fined if we are caught littering and he was surprised. Just moments later, a nun a few seats up in the front of the bus threw a bunch of rubbish out the window. Ben immediately looked at me and smiled and we laughed. I read that being aware of your differences and embracing them is better than assuming and having miscommunication. I remember learning in another social work class about how it’s important to be culturally sensitive and how something that we may consider respectful may actually be disrespectful to someone else. One of my professors told me that there is one sign that is universal, and that is smiling. I have been smiling a lot and immersing myself in the culture here.
Above is a picture I took along our way to Nebbi. Stopping at a gas station to get snacks and such is not necessary here, because people approach the buses selling goods. I was trying to get a picture of a man selling live chickens to people on the bus. That was my favorite. I could not believe it.
Blog Update - Sept. 18, 2013
Some of you may be wondering what Acres of Hope is. I want to give you a little background as I am now starting the beginning weeks of my internship and will refer to AOH often. Acres of Hope Uganda is a non-profit organization, and it is a growing orphanage and program for vulnerable children. My host father, Geoffrey, is the founder and director of Acres of Hope. He has helped over 100 children and transformed the whole community here by providing jobs, clean water for the community and also, of course, taking in orphans from the surrounding areas. Some of the children in the village don’t live on site but are still receiving sponsorship of school fees to attend AOH’s nursery/primary school. The ultimate plan of Acres of Hope is to give hope for a future to orphans and vulnerable children by providing them with basic needs such as food, shelter, medical care and education. The goal is that these children will mature and become productive, generous citizens who will pay it forward and help others in the community. Currently there are three active pod houses, three house mothers, 115 orphans, school teachers, a home inspector (warden) and various other employees. Acres of Hope has goats and gardens to help sustain itself. The primary funding for this organization is from donations and sponsorship.
I am so grateful to have the opportunity to work with these children and hear all of their unique stories. I have already learned so much. This last week I got to sit in on a couple adoption meetings and got to be a part of the intake process for that. I have also helped distribute supplies for each of the house mothers. It is a blessing to play with the children and answer all their questions. Most want to know if I have both my parents, what siblings I have, do I have a car, what level of school I am in (when I say university their eyes light up) and they want to know my age. They all want to touch my hair and my skin. It is so funny how I am perceived here. I am extremely excited to be starting my social work hours and be able to start contributing to this beautiful organization. The picture on the right is of the two of the pod houses on site at AOH.
Blog Update - Oct. 6, 2013
These last few weeks I have been very busy doing home visits in the village, profiling in the office, and playing with the kids on site at AOH. I have been learning so much of the struggles here in Uganda. Specifically the effects the civil war had on the people here. There is so much still going on. I distributed new mosquito nets that were purchased by my parents to Acres of Hope this week, gave out uniforms that were donated from my hometown high school, handed out dresses made by my grandmother, and underwear that were purchased for the girls by my other grandmother. It truly is a blessing to see how these small donations brought so much joy to the children here. Through all the struggles I have seen here and hearing the testimonies of people that may devastate some, I also see so much beauty in Africa. It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that most of the people here rely on their garden for each day’s meals and they spend all day digging and preparing the meals. I miss Border Grill so much I have dreams about it. I cannot imagine each day having the same food and hoping it rains just enough or not too much so that tomorrow there will be food. I am so grateful to be here to witness this and relay the message back home, we are so blessed.
Blog Update - Oct. 23, 2013
Last week I got to travel to a nearby town called Pakwach. I did several case studies in the village. The guardians of the children under sponsorship walked very far distances to come meet with me. They all waited very patiently for their turn. The level of vulnerability in the village was astronomical. I could hardly comprehend that these families only water source was the Nile River. I asked each one how far the Nile was for them and some said they had to walk as far as four miles to fetch water from the river. Try for a minute to think about how many things you do in a day that use water and how many cans you would need to fetch to just meet your basic needs. What a humbling experience. When I go home and turn on my faucet I will really have a greater appreciation for the resources I have. Below is a picture of my office for the day in the village and then one of me by the Nile.
Blog Update - Nov. 7, 2013
This week I have spent much time traveling. I went from Nebbi to Kampala and from Kampala to Kenya. When I was in Kenya, I visited a village right by the boarder. I was informed there was an epidemic of people infected with Jiggers in the village. Not knowing much about what that was I asked many questions. I found out that jiggers are basically like a flea that live in the dirt/sand and get into peoples bodies by entering under their finger and toe nails. Jiggers live off that person’s blood which causes swelling and severe pain. They reproduce quickly and eggs are dropped out of the body to live in the dirt. The person infected becomes miserable. Due to lack of sanitation and education on what they are and how to treat them, people are really suffering. Not to mention that most people’s homes in the village do not have cement floor. Grass thatched houses are most common which means people sleep on mats on top of the dirt floor. I went to the village and witnessed what was going on. I saw several wounds of people who were infected by these jiggers. I also saw some who were treated and the remains of the exit wounds. It was an enlightening experience because really the problem seems like such an easy thing but really with the lifestyle and conditions many people must live under this problem is bigger than you would think. Many people do not even have close toed shoes to help with the problem. When even thinking about this it makes your skin crawl and makes you want to itch, I know. But it really leaves me wondering what if these were conditions I had to live with, and what if the circumstances I lived under made me feel there was no way out of the suffering from something so treatable and preventable.
Blog Update - Dec. 2, 2013
My journey has come to an end. I am going to be flying out of Entebbe tomorrow and heading home for the holidays. I want to thank everyone who followed my blog. I did not get to write as often as I had anticipated before coming here, with the use of a modem for internet and the constant power outages, it made it hard for me to keep up with the outside world. Even with all of the challenges and barriers, I am hopeful that future social work students will want to choose non-traditional field placements like I did. It really has been an amazing experience. I am so grateful for Northern Michigan’s support and also for Acres of Hope for hosting me and accommodating my internship. I spent my last day with my host family celebrating the completion of my internship and well, just to have fun and say goodbye with smiles by going on a safari. Guess it is time to head back to the cold weather. Have a blessed Christmas everyone & a happy New Year!