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."

Ooooh I’m halfway there…

17 Jul

I’m at the halfway point of this fellowship and so far I’ve been reluctant to make these blogs too personal because I really want to put the focus on the GDPU and the people of Gulu. However, this week has been one of preparation for new activities and I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on what I’ve done thus far and what is still to come while I’m here.

I’ve met some wonderful people here, both Acholi and other Americans who are doing research and internships here. Recently, I was chatting/processing some experiences with a few American friends and we realized that often people leave out an important piece of information in talking about their international work experience to others and that’s this: it can be really hard. I could frame this experience in any way I want to the outside world and could just post about the good stuff- and there is plenty of that. But this blog is for anyone else struggling while doing international work or thinking about it- It’s an honest report of my experience here.

When I say “this is hard” I mean it is a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions that I don’t know how to deal with. It’s more than just power going out or having crappy wifi, you get used to that stuff pretty quickly. It’s the guilt, anger, frustration, homesickness, stress, boredom, happiness, gratitude and excitement that happens in so many different ways and sometimes at the same time.

Obviously, my intention in coming here is to help and to do something good for the GDPU and the people it serves but “help” is such a broad term. Everyone at home tells me how much good I’m doing by being here but that’s where the first challenge to my brain comes in. As much as I would like to think it, me just being here in Gulu isn’t helping things. It’s true that my intentions are wonderful but good intentions can do a lot of damage if they aren’t managed properly. Being here I’m surrounded by so many issues and needs that it is overwhelming and at times and it feels as though this one project I’m here to do barely scratches the surface. There is also the bridging the ideas that I have as an American with the realities of what and how things are done here in Gulu.

One of the rural schools I've gone to with eroded buildings and limited resources

One of the rural schools I’ve gone to with eroded buildings and limited resources

I go from feeing like I know nothing about how this culture works and can’t do anything, to laughing all day with co-workers and feeling totally accepted, to wanting to scream “STOP STARING AT ME” when I walk down the street ( I haven’t…yet 😉 ). I miss things at home and feel guilty for missing them. I want to cry sometimes but then feel like my problems are nothing in comparison to some of the things that people have been through here. Some of the downs are really down. I felt this way when I was here in 2009 but I guess I forgot the intensity of those feelings or thought I could manage it better now. It’s still hard.

The flip side of it is that I’ve had some amazing experiences here. I love the people I work with at the GDPU and some of the best days have been spent talking and learning about each other. I’ve learned so much about the school system here and I’m excited to bring inclusion training to teachers who seem really motivated to make improvements and learn.


My moment of Glory with Tony, the big winner who is about to go race in the Olympic trials.

I also had a brush with fame last week after a strong performance in a 4 mile race/ ‘marathon” landed me on the local news. I came in first place for the ladies and was at the top of the pack overall- there was some cheating in the form of riding boda bodas during the race so it’s unclear what I placed overall but I’m pretty sure I was top 10. I was running with a pack of guys and we were both competitive and motivating of each other throughout the race. They were all impressed by the little Mzungu lady and there was an indescribable connection that we had at the end of it. It was an extra good feeling that made me forget about some of those downs.

As I come into the second half of the fellowship I think some things are getting easier but some of the emotional challenges will always be there. It’s important to talk about this because it’s a huge part of this type of work and not acknowledging your emotions can impact the work you are able to do. Being mindful of your feelings and how they fit with another culture can be the difference in putting in a successful program or doing something that may not be sustainable or even harmful. And to everyone back home, I’m so thankful for you. Your support has helped me here more than you can image. Thank you all so much for reading my blogs, emailing me, liking my photos and….. for letting me cry in front of you when I get back home .


Me having an extra good day at the top of Murchison Falls. So grateful to be able to experience this amazing place

Posted By Amy Gillespie (Uganda)

Posted Jul 17th, 2016


  • Laura Stateler

    July 18, 2016


    Thank you for your honesty and vulnerability with this blog post! It is crazy to think that your fellowship is halfway done. You bring up a very important topic when it comes to international work and I think it is awesome that you have found peace with the fact that it is “okay to not be okay”. I look forward to hearing more of your adventures!

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