By Jasmine Roh and Samantha Montgomery
WHO, WHAT, WHERE and WHY?
Having to sum up the experience of Psych 417A proves to be a difficult job as our words may not do real justice to how much we’ve actually seen, learned and experienced through the class itself and the 3-month internship. With both of us facing the latter end of our Psychology degree, we were both drawn to the Psychology 417A program because it opened up a space to explore our academic discipline in the “real world”. And what more – the world that we would be exploring was halfway across the globe!
We had the privilege of working with The Aids Support Organization (TASO) of Uganda. To quickly introduce this phenomenal group, TASO is an indigenous nation-wide HIV and AIDS service initiative that was formed from the ground-up by a particular individual Noerine Kaleeba and a small group of volunteers determined and passionate to fight against the AIDS epidemic. Since then, TASO has grown into a household name within Uganda and provides the most comprehensive HIV prevention, care, and provision of services.
The best part of our experience was the ability to be immersed in the culture of Uganda. We were placed in a small town called Soroti where we were welcomed by a rather unconventional family. We had our host brother Timothy, his brother Kevin, our aunt Norah, her sister Edisa who is also the mother of the precious newborn Esther, and our sister Naomi.
OUR PROJECT AT TASO
Our welcome at TASO was nothing less than absolutely enthusiastic. TASO staff embraced us with such open arms, it only served as a fuel to do the best possible job during our relatively short time. In broadstrokes, our project at TASO was to develop the youth-friendly services at the centre. Uganda is known for a large youth population who themselves are affected by HIV/AIDS due to mother-to-child transmission. Coming from a psychology background, we found a need for increasing awareness of mental health issues and acknowledging the psychosocial needs of HIV/AIDS clients in addition to their medical/physical care. Our main project was to create a new Mental Health section to the already developed Youth Health Talk booklet by previous UBC interns that was implemented via health talks during monthly adolescent clinic days. In addition, we were able to design a pre and post-test questionnaire that would be available for counsellors if they wanted to keep track of a youth’s mental well-being over time. We were also able to complete other fun side projects such as designing a new TASO Youth logo, setting up a youth council, making a testimonial book as well as conducting various other workshops. All in all, we appreciated the freedom to design our own projects, but were more so grateful for the support and supervision of the TASO staff who were closely engaged in our work.
OUR NON-ACADEMIC ADVENTURES
We were fortunate enough to be able to experience so many wonderful things in Uganda besides our project. From boda boda rides up Mount Wanale, to rafting on the Nile River, or to being guests at a traditional marriage ceremony, we will never forget the amazing memories we created there. One of our favourite memories of our time in Uganda were the afternoons we spent with our friend Agnes and her family. Agnes, her daughter Jemima and her mother Helen opened their home to us on numerous occasions and it was there that we no longer felt like visitors, we felt like a part of the family. We would help make chapatti and cut mangoes…although we did a lot more eating than helping. We would play with the neighbourhood kids for hours and feel like a part of the community. This feeling, when you feel like you’ve chipped away the notions that you’re just a temporary traveler to their family and feel that unconditional love and acceptance…honestly it’s a feeling we can barely begin to describe.
We know how fortunate we were to be able to have these moments, and we can’t even begin to imagine what our time would have been like without the kindness and love we received from the Soroti community and the locals we met along the way.
Reminiscing on this experience, we miss a plethora of things but to name a few of our biggest ones they would be our host family, the neighborhood kids, the TASO staff and the ridiculously-big avocados and mangoes. Our hope is that more students will get to experience first-hand the beauty of Uganda and its people and delve into the discipline of psychology in a different, fresh way.
We will always have a piece of Soroti with us and only hope that other people will take this chance to be a part of the program. Its more than just a course, it’s unlike anything else that we experienced in our academics and we know it’s shaped a lot of what we are working towards today.
About the Authors:
Jasmine is a Psychology major in her final year of her studies however, thinking of life after undergrad she has interests in the social work field and currently works at a safe home for women and children fleeing domestic violence. She hopes to apply her understanding of human nature thanks to her Psychology background to the real world by helping those particularly of the vulnerable populations.
Samantha recently graduated UBC with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology and Film Studies. She enjoyed learning about cultural, personality and social psychology through UBC. After her experiences in Uganda, Sam hopes to be able to move into the non-profit sector, exploring public relations and communications. She hopes to be able to take her learning and experiences and look at understanding some of the global issues we currently face.