I am really excited to announce that I will be traveling to Uganda once again. OU will be continuing its relationship with Sister Rosemary and St. Monica Tailoring School for girls. I couldn’t be more excited! I cannot wait to see what progress we are able to make on the water and sanitation development of the compound, Gulu town, Adjumani, and Atiak. These locations were our main focus last summer, so it will be great to get to see the residents again and continue developing relationships with them. This summer, I really want to keep a journal of the Acholi language, which is spoken mostly in Gulu (of the places we visited). I would love to keep a journal of the language because I want to incorporate language into my Fulbright Research Idea. I have really been thinking about the Fulbright and what I might want to focus my research on, and I would like to continue working in Uganda. I plan to go to Uganda for three summers during my undergraduate years at OU. If I do decide to pursue a masters degree at OU, hopefully I would get to travel there again. For Summer 2017, I really want to take many more pictures. I feel like I didn’t get enough pictures for me to remember a lot of the details about my trip. One plus to going again is that now I know what I really need to bring on the trip ( it also helps that I have a lot of the clothing and supplies I bought for last summer still in my possession).
As a Resident Advisor in the Cate Residence hall, I am also responsible for putting on small scale and large scale events for the residents to enjoy. For the most part, my supervisor Jordan Weaver, who is in charge of alternative programming, is in charge of planning events, but we have weekly meetings where all of the RAs get together to discuss possible programming ideas. During Hispanic Heritage Month, Sep 15th to Oct 15th, Cate hosted a Mariachi Band as well as traditional Mexican food. We had items such as pollo con arroz (chicken and rice), flan ( which is like a saucy caramel cake), and a few more traditional dishes. It was great to see some traditional food instead of tacos, burritos, and quesadillas, which many people think are the main, traditional Mexican foods. I was also really pleased with the Mariachi band. I hadn’t had the chance to hear a live mariachi band since my last cousin’s quinceanera, which was probably like six years ago. I really love it when people get to experience traditional Mexican culture, because I really value it and I want others to value it too. It was so great to see so many students truly enjoying the traditional Mariachi music, and I hope that we can put on some other events that showcase the aspects of other cultures! My favorite part of the event was when people would come up and ask what exactly the food was and what was in it, and I was able to actually answer them because these are foods that I have been eating my entire life. Several of the students remarked that they didn’t know that this is what they eat in Mexico, and it was funny and saddening at the same time. It really is a shame how little we know about other cultures, even from countries like Mexico that is so close to the United States. Hopefully, we can use our programming to educate the students on other traditions from around the world!
I have previously written about my experience with Sooners Without Borders, and I am here to do a little update on my experience with the program this past semester. As I said in my previous post, Sooners without borders used to be called Engineers without Borders, but the name of the program was changed so it would appeal to students of all majors. It really helped to bring more students into the program. A lot of the members are older, and many are even graduate students. Meetings still don’t happen every week, which I wish they did, but instead are based on when the group has a speaker. The president of the group will send out an email alerting everyone that there will be a meeting that week. We still have a relationship with Earth Rebirth, and the group still takes a spring break trip to El Salvador. Unfortunately, I will not be attending the El Salvador trip this spring. It is so interesting how last spring semester we discussed doing a bottle house fundraiser for Sister Rosemary, and then I actually got to go to Uganda and see a bottle house in person. It was amazing how at the time I really didn’t know anything about Sister Rosemary, but a few months later I developed a personal relationship with her that will continue for many years to come. Collection of water bottles for these houses is really important because the houses are truly built from thousands of water bottles, and in Uganda it is extremely expensive to buy bottles of water. Soda is actually cheaper in Uganda, so most of the houses are built from recycled soda bottles. Fun Fact: The bottle houses are really cool inside, even when it is extremely hot outside, and there is no air conditioning in these houses. Last years meeting have really come full circle since we decided to try to do a Water Walk to show how far some people have to walk to get water. In Uganda we walked over a mile to get to a borehole, and in comparison in my house I have to walk a couple of feet to the refrigerator in my room to get a nice, cold bottle of water. I am excited to see how far this program moves next semester!
I am officially done with my third semester at The University of Oklahoma. I am halfway through my sophomore year at the university. This past semester has been my hardest semester yet. I have been very overwhelmed the entire semester, and I think I had bitten off more than it was healthy to chew. This was my first semester as a Resident Advisor, and boy, I did not expect the time commitment to be as much as it was. I truly love the position, the people I work with, and the experience, but it is a lot to have to work from 8pm to 2am several nights a week and then have to get up at 3 am when residents lock themselves out of their rooms. Although the job can be tough, I wouldn’t trade it. I will continue as a Resident Advisor for the spring semester. I will be returning back to Norman on January 2nd. This means I only get a two week winter vacation. I have to be back early in January because of spring training. Other than RA, I was very busy during the semester with my classes. I enjoyed most of my classes, but I sure am ready to start a new set of classes this spring semester. Unfortunately, the end of my semester was met with some really tough and heartbreaking news. On thanksgiving day, one of my good friends from high school passed away in her sleep due to diabetic complications. I had known Dariana for four years, and had dance class with her everyday for three years. It is extremely hard to see a person who was such a star on stage and had so much greatness ahead of them be cut short of their future potential. Our whole school was in a state of disbelief. There was a memorial service held outside of the school the next day where hundreds of people gathered. This was our third Booker T. angel in just a little over a year. The following day, another student from Booker T. lost her long-term battle with depression. This really shook everyone up. We had four Booker T. angels in one year. After learning of all of this news, I found myself really sad. It wasn’t the way I would have wanted to end the semester. It was even worse because I couldn’t attend the memorial services that weekend because I was working at school. The whole situation just really made me think that any day could be our last day, and any time could be my last time with my family, my friends, and at OU. Although my semester was really difficult, I am looking forward to a fresh, new semester.
During this trip, I expect to be overwhelmed by the cultural difference, saddened by some of the issues Ugandans face on a daily basis, and to broaden my knowledge of the technical aspects of water and also broaden my knowledge of how water affects daily routines. I think that I really need to forget about US standards in order to fully experience Northern Uganda’s culture. I know the difference between US culture and Northern Uganda culture will be overwhelming, but in my opinion there is no value to visiting/working in a country that has an extremely similar culture to your home country’s. I have little knowledge of the role water plays in Northern Uganda, but I know that paying attention during our interviews will better help me understand just how important water is.
Planning and design professionals play an important role in community based projects. When planning and design professionals from outside of the community come into a new place to work on a project, it is necessary for the professionals to understand the needs of the community. It is vital that the professionals listen to all of the input of the community members and not to bring in, in our case, views that only pertain to the US. Professionals must let go of our own experiences with water, because they are so different than the experiences of Northern Ugandans, and focus on the information gathered from the community members.
Planning and design professionals listen to a community by asking open ended questions, taking in the community’s response without altering their words, allowing the community members to add input that we did not ask about, allowing community members to discuss together the issues at hand, and taking all of this information and compiling it without passing judgments on what is important and what is not important.
It is definitely possible to build knowledge and solutions together with a community. I believe the community should bring the experiences and struggles with water while the professionals bring their technical knowledge of how water technologies work.
I had a very significant encounter with one of the hair dressing students that our group interviewed on Sunday, June 12th. Our group had a girl that shared the hardships she has faced with her family. The girl explained to us that she was in school and was given a set amount of money for transportation home, except that she got sick and had to use the money for her medicine. Her dad would not five her more money because he had other children to worry about. She explained how even though a few of her siblings, and I believe mother had dies (Dad had a second wife), they still had a family of eight. She ended up running into a guy she sort of knew who offered to drive her home once morning arrived. She agreed and spent the night at his home, but the next day he was now where to be found. This happened for a few more days. Eventually when she was allowed to leave, and she arrived at home, the community and her family shunned her because they thought she had a relationship with this guy. She told her that because her family wouldn’t talk to her and wouldn’t let her go to school, she fell in love with a boy. She ended up getting pregnant. The boy ran away. She was left alone. Eventually she was sent to St. Monica and is in her third term here.
One of the main cultural differences that I notice is that in Uganda, going to school is a privilege. In the United States education is required, at least up to a certain age, but in Uganda taking a kid out of school is used as a punishment. Unfortunately in the United States, many children take school for granted and would be happy to skip classes for a while. One similarity that is shown is that both Uganda and the United States have a problem of teenage pregnancy. This is a difficult issue to resolve, but the United States does promote abstinence, while northern Uganda promotes condom use to prevent from sexually transmitted diseases, especially HIV/AIDS.
Also on Sunday, we heard several gunshots. Coming from Dallas, more specifically Oak Cliff, which is known as a pretty rough neighborhood, I am fairly confident I know what gunshots sound like. I was in my room talking to my mom on Sunday night when I heard what was later confirmed as gunshots. It seems like there were at least 20 shots in a row. I frantically walked outside to see where the rest of the group was, but to my surprise they were standing outside looking at the sky. They announced the sounds were “fireworks.” We knew there was a concert that night that we were originally planning to go to, so I think people thought the sounds were part of the concert. The night ended being absolutely crazy. I remember hiding under my bed, scared to death, thinking I may never see my family again. And then…eventually I fell asleep. Fortunately, the next day we learned how we were misinformed about what was going on. We shouldn’t have been as frantic and scared as we were. I cannot imagine what it would be like to live in and raise a family in war torn areas where shooting is a regular occurrence. I would be scared for my life and the lives of my family everyday. I would be scared to leave my house, and would probably decide not to have children in such a dangerous area/time.
The people we are interviewing definitely have less freedom with their personal choices than we have in the United States. There is definitely an expectation of dressing. Women are expected to wear knee length skirts or longer while in the United States we are able to wear pants, skirts, and shorts. Their eating habits depend on what the environment can produce, while our eating habits are dependent on which restaurant we choose to go to on a particular night. The people we are interviewing seem to have to use their time gathering the necessities. They spend a lot of their time gathering and boiling water, dealing with the garden, and cleaning their homes while in the United States we use our time to make money.
When I received the email that the Global Engagement Fellowship program was putting together an advisory board, I couldn’t wait to apply. I applied to be a member of the Recruitment team because I really want to help promote the program to high school students. I love talking to younger students about activities that I am passionate about, and I am truly passionate about the GEF program. I am studying abroad this summer in Uganda for three weeks, and I had the idea to film my experience, vlogging style, and put together a short video that could be used basically as a recruitment video to get younger students interested in studying abroad. The GEF program is an amazing opportunity for anyone who wants to travel. and I want as many high schoolers as possible to apply for the program. I just happened to stumble upon this opportunity when I was on my OU account, but I hadn’t heard of it until right before the application was due. I was very lucky to notice a little blurb about the program, but I am sure many people missed the opportunity to apply because they didn’t know about the program. I really want every student applying to OU to be aware of the program. My goal is to make a recruitment video that shows how awesome it is to go abroad, and basically inspire people to not only apply to the program if they are eligible, but also to get those students who are already at OU, who aren’t eligible for the program, to study abroad anyway. I think we really need to go out and speak to high schoolers so they know how relevant the program is. Without the GEF program, I wouldn’t be able to study abroad, so I want every student to have the opportunity to visit other countries and learn about different cultures. I cannot wait to go to Uganda in June and vlog my entire experience. I plan to make several short clips to post on here, but my actual recruitment video will be more action (go pro) style.
Sooners without borders, previously known as Engineers without Borders is an international group on Campus. Meetings are Thursday night, but they don’t happen every week. During the first semester, the group had some speakers from local organizations such as Earth Rebirth and we also focused on the spring break trip to El Salvador. Unfortunately, I was not able to go on this trip. At the first meeting of the second semester, we discussed a Bottle House Fundraiser for Sister Rosemary, the trip to El Salvador, and future trips as well as some community awareness activities. The organization was really looking for people to work with the Engineers Without Borders group in Iowa City to work with in El Salvador in May. This is not the same trip to El Salvador as the Spring Break trip. At one of the next meetings we discussed the Rose Rock Aquaponics System. We were originally going to do an aquaponics system, but our “client” is unsure about this and only knows for sure that he wants to use the pool as a water source for a future orchard. We also discussed doing a “Water Walk” activity for World Water Day. This demonstration would help to show the OU community how far some people have to walk to get water. The Bottle House fundraiser for Sister Rosemary is to be for one day during Greek Week. For the fundraiser, Sooners Without Borders would be building a scaled down version of the houses Sister Rosemary builds in Uganda. These houses are made out of plastic bottles. All of the proceeds will go to Sister Rosemary’s school in Uganda. At a meeting we also discussed a couple of event taking place at OU regarding water and social justice. The first of those was an “Indigenous Peoples and Climate Justice.” The second was “Water and Social Justice: Flint, Oklahoma, and Beyond.” Although I wasn’t able to attend these discussions, I feel they would have been very interesting and beneficial to attend. The last meeting of the year consisted of an election of officers for next year. The officer positions include President, Vice President, Event Coordinator, Promoter, Project Leader, Grant Writer, and Treasurer. The meeting ended pup being canceled due to bad weather. Instead of having an election meeting, those wanting to apply for an officer position submitted an application via email. Due to the bad weather and then dead week/finals week, we never really had an official “last meeting.”
Wadjda was shown at the Gray Owl Cafe at the beginning of the second semester. This is a Saudi Arabian film. I have only seen one or two international films before, so I was extremely excited to watch this one. An interesting fact about this movie is that it was the first “feature-length” film directed by a Saudi Arabian woman. The film follows a young girl who desperately wants to own a bicycle so she can race against her friend. However, riding bicycles is not an appropriate activity for girls, so Wadjda’s mother refuses to buy her a bicycle. The story also shows the crumbling marriage between Wadjda’s mother and father because Wadjda’s father is looking for a second wife. Wadjda comes up with the idea to compete in a competition over the Quran in order to win the cash prize and use it to buy a bike. Wadjda studies the Quran extensively. When Wadjda ends up winning the competition, she announces she is going to use the prize money to buy herself a bike. The entire school staff is in shock when they hear this announcement. Wadjda is then told that her prize money will not go toward a bike, but will be donated to Palestine instead. After the competition, when Wadjda returns home, she sees that her father has married a second woman. Overlooking her father’s wedding from her house’s balcony, Wadjda is presented with a bicycle. The next afternoon, Wadjda races against her friend and wins. Some of the moments from the movie that I found most interesting were reflective of the Saudi Arabian culture. One of the scenes in the movie, when Wadjda goes to school, is about Wadjda not conforming to the expected clothing wear. Wadjda is quickly told to get a new pair of all black shoes, and that if she doesn’t come covered tomorrow, then the head of the school will leave Wadjda in the sun. Leaving Wadjda in the sun is a punishment because it would lead to Wadjda’s skin darkening. This scene implies that in the Saudi Arabian culture, and many other cultures too, that the darker the skin, the less beautiful a person is. Whiteness is the epitome of beauty. For the most part, we see this in American culture. It is interesting that tanning, a process of making your skin darker, is so popular in the United States. If whiteness is what is beautiful, then why do people with fairer skin try to become darker? Another interesting scene from the movie is that girls are not supposed to/allowed to ride bikes. The third interesting scene of this movie shows that only men’s names are present on the family trees. This shows how the Saudi Arabian culture is still dominated by men. The households are also dominated by men. In the United States, men definitely have more power than women, but women are still acknowledged to be an important part of the family. Watching this movie gave some great insight into the different cultures from around the world.