Intern Emelia Williams ’15 offers service, hope to Ugandan children
Last week, rising senior Emelia Williams found herself in a tiny clinic in Kampala, Uganda, helping a 10-year-old child who had been hit by a motorbike. The boy, Disan, is a student at a program run by Uganda Hands for Hope, a non-profit organization where Williams is interning for the summer.
“We were walking home after teaching when we noticed Disan crying and stumbling around with all our students surrounding him,” relates Williams. The child had a deep gash in his leg, and it was bleeding profusely. Another teacher managed to carry him to the nearest clinic, where he clung to Williams as his wound was stitched.
Not every day of teaching has been so eventful, but Williams’ internship in Uganda has given her many opportunities to interact with children like Disan in Namuwongo, an informal urban settlement in southeast Kampala.
Hands for Hope was created to provide education, healthcare and other relief and development services to Namuwongo’s most vulnerable residents. The settlement is home to nearly 10,000 people, most of whom live below the absolute poverty line.
“Communities throughout Kampala are confronted with a number of social and economic challenges, including school fees for education, employment opportunities and population growth,” says Jonathon Earle, visiting professor of history at Centre. “This summer, Emelia has the opportunity to partner with local communities and help develop culturally appropriate responses to some of these obstacles.”
Williams, a double major in environmental studies and international studies from Murray, Ky., first became interested in Africa in the fall of 2013, when she enrolled in a class on Sub-Saharan politics. “I immersed myself in the topic,” says Williams.
She went on to take a course on religion and political violence in Africa taught by Earle. “The course explored instabilities throughout the continent and emphasized the long, complicated histories behind a number of case studies,” says Earle. “Blending philanthropic practice with historical context will be challenging,” he continues, “but an excellent opportunity for Emelia.”
While interning at Hands for Hope, Williams assists Ugandan social workers who identify Namuwongo’s neediest families and children, and she is planning an HIV/AIDs awareness day with fellow volunteers. She is also involved in helping Congolese and Sudanese refugees complete the legal registration process so that they can access key services.
For the most part, however, Williams’ time is devoted to working with children. She helps run the Hands for Hope afternoon program for children ages five to 14, many of whom do not attend school. “Our primary goal is to provide a place other than the slum for them to spend time,” she says. “We provide a warm meal and teach them basic reading, writing and math.”
The children in Hands for Hope programs face significant short- and long-term challenges, but “the kids are just kids,” says Williams. “They all have different personalities and skills and stories. They giggle when they teach me Luganda phrases and take the daily soccer matches very seriously.”
It is difficult, says Williams, to know that she is unable to address some of the most pressing issues. “What can you do about more than 100 kids who will never be able to afford school?” she asks. “I recognize my limitations, but it is still heartbreaking.”
Williams says that her courses at Centre have helped her recognize some of the practical and ethical intricacies of development work. “My education has helped me develop a critical and discerning eye,” she says. “It has helped me realize the complexity that exists in every person and situation.”
In the coming academic year, Williams will return to Africa as part of a CentreTerm study abroad program in Cameroon, and she would like to work in African development after graduation.
“This summer is giving me a real look at the issues on the ground,” she says. “I’m learning how NGOs fit in the puzzle of development and getting a glimpse of the reality of life in Kampala.”
by Laurie Pierce
photo: Emelia Williams ’15 (second from left) and fellow afternoon program volunteers pose with children from Uganda Hands for Hope during a recent outing.
photo credit: Uganda Hands for Hope Facebook page