I am wrapping up this week of orientation with The Advocacy Project as a visitor in Washington DC. It was less than a week ago that I arrived as a New Yorker in a city that, although smaller than Manhattan, was unfamiliar to me. While being somewhat intimidated by using public transportation and unsure how to navigate myself I was reminded that each city is different and has its own unique culture. This thought is one that I’m reflecting on even more as I prepare to travel to Uganda to work with the Gulu Disabled Persons Union (GDPU) this summer. Every culture has its own traits and as a visitor this week I’m reminded of the importance of listening and observing those distinctions rather than assuming control.
(Photo taken by previous AP Fellow at GDPU)
My fellowship this summer will be the second time I have had the opportunity to spend time in Uganda. My first trip was 7 years ago as a social work student at Simmons College. It was my first time going anywhere in Africa and added to the handful of times I had been out of the U.S. I didn’t change the world in the 4 weeks that I was there but the experience added to my growth as a person and taught me an important lesson that I will be taking with me on my return: shut up and listen.
Before going to Uganda, my American mind had conjured images of what it would be like when I got there. For so long I had heard stories of the AIDS epidemic and the continent of Africa had become synonymous with poverty and sickness. Try as I might, I couldn’t shake the crude images I had seen on TV ads until I actually arrived. While the country has its share of issues they do not define it. Uganda is filled with smart, capable and kind individuals who are working hard at solving their own problems. It is not a country in need of a white knight to save them. They are helping themselves but are open to assistance.
(Me and some students from my 2009 trip)
My first experience in Uganda taught me to shut up and listen, then and only then should I attempt to act. This is an invaluable lesson, which has continued to guide me as a social worker and public health professional. I have tools that I can provide to others but it’s important to first learn how to best put them to use.
While there is a lot of work to do this summer I need to remember my role: I’m a visitor and a fellow not a savior. I’ve learned many new skills during this week of orientation but I know that none of them will be as effective as they can be unless I first shut up and listen.
Posted By Amy Gillespie (Uganda)
Posted May 27th, 2016
May 27, 2016
Great first blog! Look forward to reading lots more to come. Great to have you at training.
May 27, 2016
Great message Amy and awesome first blog Amy. Good luck on your trip and looking forward to reading all about it!
June 3, 2016
Great first post! Your takeaway from your 2009 trip to Uganda is one of great importance that will surely benefit you during the next ten weeks and beyond. I look forward to continue reading your blog!
June 8, 2016
Great blog Amy. Your previous time in Uganda will certainly serve you well for this important trip. I was the Uganda Fellow in ’13, and I look forward to following along. Best of luck working towards this incredibly important cause!
June 9, 2016
I think you shared a lot of great insights Amy! It’s incredible to see all the amazing work that is happening abroad, and I’m glad that you can join them to support their efforts. I’ve always wanted to work in Uganda, so I look forward to hearing about the rest of your experiences.
June 16, 2016
I am looking forward to seeing how your work will improve the lives of people with disabilities.