“Historically, this has been one of the most contaminated water sources we have ever tested,” Professor Peter Scull mentioned as one of my classmates collected a sample from the murky stream. Suddenly we heard a joyous shout and turned just in time to see a small boy perform a cannonball directly into the middle of the stream. In a lot of ways this symbolizes the challenges encountered by the 2015 Benton Scholars on our trip to Uganda this past May. With Professor Scull, biology professor Frank Frey, and political science professor Tim Byrnes as our leaders, we visited Rwanda and Uganda with the primary intention of helping Bwindi Community Hospital (BCH) in Buhoma, Uganda conduct water testing and household sanitation surveys.
After landing in Kigali, Rwanda and visiting Parliament and the Genocide Memorial, we faced a hair-raising drive north along the edges of cliffs to BCH in southwestern Uganda. We worked alongside the BCH staff for the next two weeks to devise and conduct household sanitation surveys across seven villages. In presenting our findings to the hospital, we hoped to provide the BCH staff with the data needed to plan and implement effective sanitation initiatives in the surrounding villages. Besides our hospital work we took several opportunities to play soccer against a few local teams, including an ongoing rivalry with Colgate FC based in Buhoma (they don former Colgate uniforms). After parting ways with our newfound friends at the hospital, we drove north to Queen Elizabeth National Park and then east to Kampala, where we met with Colgate’s expert on Africa President Herbst; there we discussed Uganda’s economic and social future with a number of business and political figures, including a high-ranking general, the Minister of Trade, and the owner of a coffee factory.
I can assuredly say that I was wholly impressed by the challenges we took on as a group and the lasting bonds we formed with people we met along the way (many of us continue to chat frequently with the friends we made via Facebook). My classmates showed a deep respect for the local culture, and our enthusiasm in conducting the sanitation surveys made the work all the easier in the humid equatorial climate. Although our work at the hospital comprised an invaluable portion of the experience, I believe some of the greatest opportunities to learn about and learn from the local residents came through service projects conducted separately from our hospital work. The Photo Project aimed to provide children at a local school and mothers at the hospital with pictures of themselves; a fundraiser conducted prior to the trip raised enough money to provide 4000 condoms to the hospital; and a soccer club in Massachusetts donated 90 pairs of cleats to the local soccer clubs.
Our journey was at the same time eye-opening and thoroughly enjoyable; we were able to come face to face with some of the starkest challenges facing this portion of the world, but the possibilities for improvement in health and standard of living have never been greater. Everyone we met along the way was excited about taking on these challenges, from the hospital staff to our faithful drivers to the political figures in Kampala. I am honored that the Benton Scholars class of 2015 so enthusiastically worked alongside Ugandans to tackle these problems, and we will strive to spread the message of Uganda’s bright future throughout Colgate’s ca mpus and beyond.
’15 Benton Scholar