IS student Olivia Dupasquier learns the value of cross-cultural exchange while working in Uganda

October 31, 2022

By Olivia Dupasquier

Over the course of three months, I had the opportunity to travel to Kampala, Uganda where I worked as a monitoring and evaluation officer with HerStart, a social entrepreneurship project launched by Youth Challenge International aimed at advancing gender equality in Uganda, Tanzania, and Ghana. I am extremely honoured to have been a recipient of  The International Studies Travel Grant which supported me in pursuing this international placement. Through this placement I worked as a fellow under HerStart’s local partner organization The Innovation Village, an organization that provides incubation spaces for social entrepreneurs to receive training, workshops, and networking opportunities in order to help them up-scale their businesses and startups to achieve greater success in higher markets.

As part of my fellowship with The Innovation Village I was afforded the opportunity to accompany one of their teams to the Nakivale Refugee Settlement to observe and support their baseline data collection. The project that I supported is aimed at better understanding challenges in the market sector faced by the host and settlement communities; once common challenges are identified the goal of the project is to implement pragmatic programming that addresses and aids in overcoming economic obstacles. Our days were spent doing various tasks needed for the collection of data. This mainly involved going through our surveys, focus group discussions, and key informant interview questions to ensure that the language used could be reasonably translated between multiple languages (mainly Swahili, Kinyarwanda, French, and Kirundi) without losing original meaning. This process was quite lengthy, and the variations of multiple languages is a testament to the various communities we were targeting in our collection and that are present within the settlement. Once our tools were tested and agreed upon, we went out into the communities to begin administration. The collection of data was organized between three administrative zones within Nakivale: Juru, Basecamp, and Rubondo where we interviewed residents across many market positions (such as merchants, artisans, and seamstresses).

Our team consisted of 10 Nakivale residents who welcomed myself and the TIV staff with open arms into their community. We were so fortunate to support the work of a great group of people. Projects like these do not run without the work and assistance of local community members who are willing to provide key insight and support to outside organizations looking to implement work within their spaces. They were pivotal to the project, and I am grateful for our experience in working with them. This experience was by far the most memorable and impactful take away from my fellowship. I was able to gain firsthand field experience working on a development project in the international sector and bring my academic training into practical implementation.

My time in Uganda was beyond memorable and has only served to affirm my passion for international development. It is vital that international work is coupled with meaningful cross-cultural integration in order to fully contextualize ourselves to the situations we seek to understand. I directly experienced the importance of coupling international work with cross-cultural learning and am grateful for the ways in which I was able to learn from my friends, coworkers, and the overall community in Kampala. Without the support of these groups, I am sure I would not have had such a meaningful experience. Uganda is a beautiful and vibrant country that I was fortunate enough to call home for a short period of time. I hope it will not be long before I return.