Amy Gillespie (Uganda)

Amy is currently a graduate student at New York University earning her MPH with a concentration in Global Health Leadership. She also earned her MSW from Simmons College, where she took her first trip to Uganda to work with local NGOs around issue related to HIV/AIDS and women's rights. Amy has several years of experience working as a social worker in various settings such as hospitals and homeless shelters. Her experiences motivated her to want to learn how to research, evaluate and create programs to provide support to vulnerable populations. She has taken the time back in school to explore many areas of public health and is currently interning at the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene assisting with research around foodborne diseases as well as working as a Researcher Assistant with the NYU EMPOWER lab, focusing on women who have been victims of sexual trafficking and abuse. After her fellowship, Amy wrote: "This fellowship was not always easy but 'easy' things don't help you learn or push yourself. Over the course of the summer I've learned a lot about myself personally and professionally and I will take those lessons with me for the rest of me life."

Acholi culture, Alan Jackson and All About Toilets

19 Jun

I’ve finished up my first week at the GDPU and yesterday marked one week in Gulu. Fortunately there haven’t been anymore gunshots since last Sunday but I’m continuing to be cautious and listen to what is going on around me.

Like any first week at a new job, I’ve had to get acclimated to my new surroundings and tasks at the GDPU. The staff has been incredibly welcoming and much of this week has been about getting to know them and the work that they do. The project I came to do, building the accessible toilet, is just one of many other projects that the organization has been working on. Several of the staff are doing research and brining skills-based training to individuals with disabilities to help them gain skills they can use in the workforce and improve their lives.

I’ve been doing my best to “shut up and listen” and I’m grateful that the staff has been willing to share aspects of their culture and teach me how things are done. They’ve also been interested to know more about things in the US and we’ve had some great conversations about similarities and differences between our two cultures.

Dixon, Gulu's biggest Alan Jackson fan

Dixon, Gulu’s biggest Alan Jackson fan

A few days ago I was surprised to hear a country music version of the 1998 98 Degrees hit “I do” coming from my co-worker’s computer. It turns out he is a big country music fan and listed Alan Jackson and Kenny Chesney as two of his favorites. Although my interest in country music pretty much begins and ends with Johnny Cash, I was amazed to hear how my co-worker, who is an Acholi, related to some aspects of American country music. “They are farmers and stay close to their family” he said and it made more sense to me. Alan Jackson, if you are reading this you have a fan here in Gulu who would LOVE for you to come and play a concert.


The Head Mistress of Tochi showing us that toilet is still in good working condition

Getting back to the focus of my project here, I was thrilled to get to go to a field visit to Tochi Primary School where the accessible toilet was put in last year. I met with the wonderful Head Mistress, Ms. Christine and the dedicated group of teachers there. Overall the toilet has been a success, their enrollment has increased and children with disabilities from other schools have been transferring there because of the accessible facilities. They’ve also hired 5 new teachers since last year to accommodate the increase in size.




The interior of the toilet before the project was completed and after


I spoke with two students more in depth to get a better sense of how the program, meaning the accessible toilet as well as the inclusive curriculum, has impacted them over the last year. Ivan has a physical disability and he said that before the project came to his school he used to feel worry about what would happen if he needed to use the bathroom and also had to deal with bullying from other students whenever he needed to go. He said since the new facility he has been put in he doesn’t worry about what happens when he uses the bathroom and says it’s helped other students with disabilities remain in school.


Ivan who feels at ease going to school now

Both Ivan and another student who is able-bodied report that bullying has improved since the program last year. Deo, the able-bodied student said that the curriculum helped him realized that students with disabilities deserve to be treated in the same way that other students do. He said he also learned about better hygiene practices which is important for all students at Tochi.

Next week, Patrick (the Director) and I will be doing site visits at the new school to get the process started. There is a lot of work ahead but I’m looking forward to all of it.

Posted By Amy Gillespie (Uganda)

Posted Jun 19th, 2016


  • richard

    June 19, 2016


    Love your blogs. You are doing important work and I am very proud of you. Love you Dad

  • Mattea Cumoletti

    June 27, 2016


    So cool Amy! You know how much I love reading about toilets 😉

  • Rita

    July 7, 2016


    Amy, thank you for sharing GDPU’s approach and the impact it has generated. Very glad to learn about the increased enrollment and reduced bullying in school with the installation of an accessible toilet.

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