Uganda: Uganda Village Project

Sheridan Bowers

Rising senior Sheridan Bowers has dedicated her last three years at UCLA to pursuing degrees in International Development Studies and Spanish while minoring in Public Health. Sheridan’s worldly interests have long been an integral part of her experiences, and she has sought ways to integrate service into her travels. Whether in Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, or Nicaragua, Sheridan has found organizations that work to positively change the lives of those who live in the countries she visits. Her volunteerism has flourished as the co-president of Flying Samaritans at UCLA, an organization which holds a medical clinic once a month in Tijuana, Mexico. Her recent endeavours have also taken her to Uganda, where she worked to help promote health and wellness in some of Uganda’s most underserved regions.
Sheridan’s interest in service abroad began during the summer after her junior year of high school when she participated in the Amigos de las Americas program. She went abroad to Ecuador that summer, where she lived with a host family and served the local community and school system. Her time abroad was so eye opening that she returned to the program the following two years as a volunteer in the Dominican Republic and as a project supervisor in Nicaragua. During her third trip as a project supervisor, she was given a leadership position and more responsibility to accompany it. Supervising nine high school students during their projects gave Sheridan an understanding of the impact a number of volunteers can have on a community, so she continued to explore international philanthropy. Last summer, Sheridan participated in the U.S. Department of State Student Summer Internship Program in El Salvador. Her time in the program solidified her intentions to pursue global health initiatives as a career, so when the opportunity to move to Uganda arose for this summer, it was a no-brainer.
As an international team leader for the Uganda Village Project (UVP), Sheridan worked alongside one other team leader from Uganda to manage a team of six. The organization aims to provide assistance to villages in the Iganga region of Uganda, a large region with prominent public health concerns. With her team in the Mwednanfuko village, Sheridan led efforts focused on five issues: HIV, malaria, obstetric fistula, water and sanitation hygiene (W.A.S.H.), and family planning. In addressing these concerns, the organization aims to create stability, making sure the programs leave the villages in a self-sufficient state able to implement their own health and development solutions. To accomplish this goal, the program focuses largely on educating villagers about feasible prevention methods.

The Uganda Village Project (UVP) hosts HIV Days, when they provide free HIV screenings and information about the disease. Volunteers facilitate the activities and serve as resources to interested villagers. The team discusses the value of family planning and offers free services that include birth control and cervical cancer screenings. Although discussion of family planning and women’s reproductive health needs are usually taboo in the villages, the UVP team had such an impact on this community that women were approaching the volunteers in public to learn more. In one particular instance, Sheridan recalls finishing HIV Day activities and walking home. En route, she stopped at a shopping center, and within moments, the women in the store were swarming her with questions about family planning. She was blown away by the interest expressed by the women and the gratefulness they demonstrated for having the resources available to them in the village.
The impact of programs like UVP lies in helping educate locals about how to easily prevent many of the issues faced in the village. Health education costs next to nothing, yet has widespread implications. Sheridan has learned how simple fixes can often help stop problems from growing and spreading across countries.
Sheridan plans to continue working with the UVP as a college campus recruiter and ambassador. She will seek out and vet potential interns to ensure the quality of service provided by the program, and will mentor new volunteers to help make their experiences as meaningful as they can be. She encourages others to get involved by researching the project more on UVP’s website and following them on Facebook and Twitter. Her advice to all those interested in international service opportunities is to travel if you haven’t, get out of your comfort zone, and find your passion in philanthropy through programs such as the Uganda Village Project.

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