Social Work students connect globally and grow individually on trip to Uganda
In Africa for two weeks, Social Work students and faculty forged unique personal connections and deepened Radford University’s international profile.
A team of nine Radford graduate and undergraduate students, led by Social Work Professor Deneen Evans, connected with colleagues from Uganda Christian University and then went into the field to study their Ugandan colleagues’ advocacy efforts on behalf of children and women.
“All of it was jaw-dropping,” said Danielle Johnson, a Master of Social Work (MSW) student from the Roanoke Higher Education Center cohort.
“I came back with humbleness,” said Miracle Davis, a senior biology major from Newport News.
For Davis, a biology major from Newport News, the trip and attendant glow of discovery helped her crystallize the next step in her academic career – graduate school in Radford’s MSW program.
“I learned that I can be my best self. We met so many Ugandan women who talked proudly about their country and overcoming its challenges. Their strength and their comfort in their skin really struck me,” Davis said
The trip was the second consecutive trip to the Republic of Uganda organized by Evans. The first trip was a five-member team in 2017. The 2018 party was again based at Uganda Christian University in Mukuno, near Kampala, Uganda’s capital city.
The world proved to be small as the team encountered two Radford graduates serving at the American Consulate and crossed paths with a Roanoke College contingent in-country. Violet Nkwanzi, an MSW alum and UCU faculty member, again helped Evans coordinate the trip and field experiences.
To experience social work in urban and rural Uganda, the students visited an educational program for children with special needs, an entrepreneurship center for women and a public hospital. During their two-week stay, they consulted with social work colleagues, families, clients, UCU faculty and students about the social work challenges in their respective environments and the challenges their clients face.
“We connected the academic and real worlds. We saw strength and possibilities. We saw resilience and we saw how China is playing a role in the developing world,” said Evans. “It is so fulfilling to see our students hopes change and elevate as their hearts and minds open.”
For both Johnson, the trip culminated a year-long effort to achieve their first international experiences.
Johnson, a program manager at Roanoke’s Intercept Youth Services, also had to be away from her family as the team made a 23-hour flight to the East African country and then went to class and into the field.
“I had daily connection through my phone and my children were excited for me,” said Johnson, who credited her husband and family in Roanoke for keeping the home fires burning while she fulfilled a life-long dream.
“The experience was bigger than I could have imagined. It was very beneficial to me to see that Africa is not at all like I perceived. It is beautiful with lovely people who gave and shared,” Johnson said. “It made me slow down and reflect on my American blessings.”
The team also explored Uganda’s diverse culture and beautiful environment as they safaried in the jungle, toured a mosque and shopped in local markets.
After returning home with newly-expanded personal and professional boundaries, the travelers, led by Evans, mounted the Katunguru Mothers and Children campaign to raise more than $700 for the education of the children of four women who operate a local crafts shop, an entrepreneurial effort to achieve self-reliance.
“I am glad I didn’t bypass the opportunity,” said Davis who was a 2018 McGlothin Travel Award Grant recipient and a Scholar Citizen Award winner “Study abroad is much more than just a class.”