Friday, July 10, 2009

Ups and downs

Uganda so far has been a variety of things to me. It has been a place where it takes 45 minutes of staring at the bar to NOT send an email or post a blog (hence this is my first post), a place where I've possibly never been happier, a place where frustration emanates from a lot of sources, a place where friends have been made, and a place where the only order one can rely on is that there will be disorder and unpredictability in the future. Every day seems longer and yet before you'll know it, you will have a few weeks left to salvage a bit of accomplishment for the summer. We each came with our own somewhat idealist expectations of what development would look like and how it would be practiced, and I'm sure I'm not alone in having whatever I thought turned on its head.

To be more specific, NGOs are not all created equally. While at first glance, it seems like there are a million NGOs in every town because there is a lot of need for them as well as a hefty collective Ugandan conscience, perhaps part of the less rosy reality is that there is no private sector outside of Kampala to employ qualified graduates. To compound this apparent contradiction, NGOs, as well as enterprising businesspeople in general, tend to want to enter an already saturated tourism industry at a time when global tourism is down in mainstays in South Africa, let alone Uganda. Perhaps what is more disappointing is that the skills that many seem to be garnering from universities do not seem to be sufficient to compete with immigrants that settle in Uganda (Indians) or the global economy at large. Business's outside of Kampala lack basic judgment in very intriguing and unique ways. No one, whether in NGOs or upper middle class hotels, tends to do performance standards to check if their product is meeting client demands or their NGO is operating in an efficient manner. Perhaps the largest culture shock interns should be told to expect is the very anti-American way things operate here in Uganda. Fresh off of our teeming final exam university lives, it is very difficult to adjust to the lack of urgency NGOs show in achieving objectives.

I think this internship, much more than others, really allows people to be thrown into the Ugandan environment to get a look at how things actually work in another country. While other internships that run strict, pre-set American programs may further encourage the American idealistic feelings that we each showed up with, I believe this internship is superior to others offered by UNC because, in forcing us into adverse environments where there is no structure or pre-planned program, it makes us respect the huge task that confronts development. While some internships may set up a health clinic and let students get experience treating patients or give students experience teaching entrepreneurship through a project set up by previous interns, AGRADU makes each intern evaluate the resources at a typical African's disposal when confronting a problem and gives us perspective on the less savory aspects of the society.

And for the reality this internship gives me, I'm thankful to have gotten the opportunity to be here.

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