Often times when people think of development work the first things that come to mind is building wells, constructing schools, and providing medical services. While these are all incredibly important aspects of development work I’ve come to realize that those projects are the exception and not the norm. They make the best photo opportunities but what is hard to capture is the months of prep work that made those projects possible and the importance of education in prepping communities, securing community buy in, and ensuring a sustainable impact.
Providing education in development work is often overlooked and done begrudgingly, or at least I know I have felt that way at times. Lesson planning, struggling through language barriers, wading through cultural differences, and overcoming the fear of public speaking don’t make glamorous Instagram posts, but they do make a lasting impact on you and the people you are teaching.
At the beginning of the team's time in Uganda we all were extremely nervous about continuing a project from the 2017 summer of teaching health and business lessons in rural communities in the Kumi district. None of us had much teaching experience, felt extremely underqualified, and struggled to see the impact that teaching hand washing, basic budgeting, and the chain of infection has on the communities we were teaching in. However, now at the end of our summer, looking back we have all agreed that teaching in our communities has been one of our favorite projects. Somewhere in the summer our feelings transitioned from apprehension to excitement, begrudgingly lesson planning to proactively researching best practices for raising pigs, and growing a deep love for our communities.
Ethical and sustainable development work is slow and often takes years to see measurable results. However, when you stop and really look for it, you can see the cycle of change already at work. It is in the university graduate that tells you after your lesson that he never knew in his 42 years of life to cover his mouth when he sneezed. It is in the child berating you for forgetting to wash your hands before you start eating. It is in the sense of power the people feel about acquiring knowledge and being able to share it with their neighbors. But most importantly it is in the validation we provide when we stop talking and start listening to our community members. I have learned infinitely more from them than I believe they have learned from me and truly believe that the best learning occurs when teaching flows both directions.
My advice to future HELP participates is to never undervalue the benefits of education and to always be mindful of the small impacts you are making daily. Put in the work to make your lesson meaningful and listen more than you talk. Most importantly make every day count because before you know it the summer is over and you are saying tearful goodbyes to people who the only way you can communicate with is through translators or the love that you show by serving.
Becca Huppi, Uganda, Country Coordinator