Spring Break Along the Nile

Where is Women in Ag?  Spring Break Along the Nile

By Shana Hilgerson, ISU Women in Ag Student AssistantThe spring break and semester students pose after planting a field of grain amaranthe at a NEC

In 2016, I traveled to Uganda for a six week long study abroad program with Iowa State University.  Iowa State University-Uganda Program (ISU-UP) began in 2004 as a dream from ISU Alumnae who wanted to good in the world.  ISU faculty worked hard to find an area of the world that was in need of assistance that we could provide as a university.  The Kamuli District of Uganda is one of the poorest regions of the country, and almost complete agriculture based.  The Center for Sustainable Rural Livelihoods partnered with these donors and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences to begin building this program. 

Every year ISU sends a cohort of students to work with students from Makerere University, which is located in Kampala, Uganda for six weeks in the summer.  To expand the program and make an impact all year long, ISU-UP is in their inaugural Semester Along the Nile, where seven of my friends are living and working in Kamuli for the spring semester!  They also began a spring break trip a few years ago that they hold whenever possible, in relationship to funding.  This spring I had the opportunity to apply to go back and was so excited to be selected!   I made seven new friends that traveled with me, and was able to convince my friend Kody to come back with me as well.  Kody and I both spent the summer in Uganda in 2016, so it was great to return with a past team member!

The spring break trip lasted for 10 days.  About four full days were travel, Uganda is quite a ways from Iowa, who knew?  The next three days were spent touring Queen Elizabeth National Park, a beautiful place to visit the natural landscape of Uganda and see all their wildlife, including elephants and lions.  After that, we spend the remaining six days in the country working with local people and schools.  We lived in the new training center that was just opened a few weeks ago with the students that are living there for the semester. 

Our first few days were spent at the schools.  We worked in their “gardens,” if you can call them that.  Our team planted about an acre of pumpkins at the first school, and added several trees to their small orchard.  At another school we began to plant orange flesh sweet potatoes, but because of the rain we had to quit early.  These school gardens are very important because they supplement the school feeding programs, which supply lunches to the students.  Grain is provided as school fees from the families, but without the vegetable products from the gardens students don’t receive the nutrients and calories they need to remain focused and fueled to learn.  These gardens also serve as a learning tool, teaching students how to manage and maintain food crops so they can take the knowledge home to families or begin their own garden in the future.  The second school, Namasagali, is located on the riverbanks of the Nile River, so we ate lunch there.

We visited a few Nutrition Education Centers (NECs) as well in the coming days.  These NECs are really amazing.  ISU-UP has eight NECs in the community we work in.  These centers work mainly with mothers to support them in agricultural production or other enterprises.  Mothers come to the center for education and support with personal and child nutrition, and in return receive training and resources to improve their livelihood.  In Uganda, women are the primary housekeeper, caretaker, and farm labor, and are often over-looked because they aren’t the primary decision-maker.  This program accepts male clients, but all the programs are geared towards women, which is amazing!  At the NECs we planted a demonstration garden with crops that go into a nutritionally balanced porridge that is served to pregnant or lactating mothers and malnourished children.  We also had the chance to plant these crops in the gardens of some NEC neighbors, who were clients of the NEC program. 

On the last day, we traveled to a local farm where a NEC client lived.  Through the program, women have the ability to apply to receive livestock, such as pigs or chickens.  This woman was receiving two piglets in the coming weeks, and needed a place to keep them.  Our team came to her farm and finished constructing a small piggery, which consisted of two runs, to keep the pigs.  It was amazing to see the different practices in place in Uganda and compare them to what we are used to in Iowa!  In the future, she will breed the pigs and a portion of the piglets will be given back to the ISU-UP program to be distributed to more women, and the rest will remain with the woman farmer to be kept or sold for her own profit.  This was my favorite day! 

We traveled back to the airport the next day, stopping for lunch in a town called Jinja where we also took a boat tour of Lake Victoria, where the Nile River begins.  I was also fortunate enough to meet with my team from 2016!  Esther worked with us all week as a student leader, and Andrew met us in Jinja for lunch.  Meeting friends that I haven’t seen in two years, and thought I would never see in person again, was really the highlight of my time back in Uganda.Source of the Nile in JinjaEsther, Shana, Andrew, and Kody from 2016

It was amazing to be in a place with so much history and the whole experience is so surreal sometimes I feel it never happened, especially being back in Ames and back in classes so quickly after it even started!

I had the best spring break visiting friends in another country, helping people who need it, and seeing how women in ag work around the world!