When the thought of applying for summer 2022 internships crossed her mind, the Intern’s advisors had suggested she apply for the Geneseo Student Ambassadorship Awards, which select a handful of students to receive grants to create their own community-based projects. Having had interest in studying abroad since high school, this program, which is offered as a partnership between the State University of New York (SUNY) College at Geneseo, Kaya Responsible Travel, and the Foundation for Sustainable Community Development (FSD) Jinja-Uganda, seemed like a great opportunity to merge her goals of professional development and international experience. In the months of planning prior to her departure, the Intern hoped that her internship would push her comfort zone by providing her with new skills in cross-cultural community development, break the stereotypes of the African continent she may have assumed, and provide a chance to be immersed in a new culture different from her own.

After getting oriented in Uganda and completing her community assessments, the Intern settled on a project that would install an improved energy-saving cookstove into St. Teresa Primary School and implement an improved school garden at Kyomya Primary School in Kakira Town Council and Budondo sub-county respectively. The former aimed to address the environmental and economic stress caused by the copious amounts of firewood the traditional three-stone cookstoves were consuming and reduce the negative human health impacts of the harmful smoke emissions. The latter was targeted at increasing the school’s supply of fresh and nutritious food for school meals while training school stakeholders in improved organic farming and post-harvest crop handling methods. Indirectly, this project aspires to have a positive impact on school retention rates and ultimately producing a larger demographic of people in the outgrower’s community that will have completed a basic education.

While Kyomya P/S has run a successful gardening program for many years, school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, pests/theft, and term-to-term food storage have severely inhibited their ability to offer reliable meals for all enrolled students, especially the 200+ special needs students who reside on-site. At St. Teresa P/S, lack of reliable water due to climate change, limited labour for splitting wood and preparing food, and a large firewood budget made it difficult to ensure that all students get fresh, timely meals. Additionally, the sharp spike in nation-wide fuel prices has had a major impact on rising commodity prices while wages and employment remain a challenge, limiting what families can contribute to their children’s education and exacerbating local poverty levels.

To address these needs, the Intern and her supervisors worked with local consultants and community members to procure the materials and exchange the knowledge and skills needed to ensure the project can be sustained by the schools themselves. For the energy-saving cookstove, the school was able to make small structural improvements to the kitchen structure to better protect the stove prior to its installation by a hired consultant with the assistance of three students and one cook. A lighting demonstration was held once the stove had dried where the consultant was able to offer best practices for using and caring for the stove and custom stainless steel saucepan while giving opportunities for the school stakeholders to ask questions. For the school garden, the Intern and her supervisors built upon the existing gardening program and offered guidance on how to best prepare the land for planting the improved maize and vegetable seeds alongside their cash crop of sugarcane. With the guidance of a local consultant and a KORD handbook, four workshops were held to train the school stakeholders on organic pesticide production, organic fertilizer production, preparation of nursery beds, and post-harvesting handling. By helping both schools to become less reliant on market prices for cooking fuel and staple foods respectively, they should see a reduction in their expenditures that can be put towards other school improvements.

In the future, participants in this program or interested donors could support this project in a few ways. Foremost, the post-handling of crops at Kyomya P/S would be greatly helped by the installation of silos for term-to-term crop storage, which would allow them to best preserve their hard-earned sustenance for future use or hard times. Additionally, my project was only able to replace one of four cookstoves at St. Teresa P/S, which will only have a proportional impact on the fuel consumption and smoke pollution emitted during the cooking process. To maximize efficiency and impact, another large stove and a smaller stove would be necessary for this school due to the timing and quantity of the meals served.

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