Esther Dijkstra’s experience in Uganda as an intern from Utrecht University

Hi there! My name is Esther and as part of my master’s program Pedagogy and International Development, I’m doing my internship in Uganda at Help a Child and AEE. Together with Chun, Deniz and Lisa, we are conducting research on the effectivity of The Parenting Challenge. I’ve been thinking: how do you write about your experiences in a country so different from your own and where you have stayed for nearly three months? So much has happened but let me give it a try.

We arrived safely on the 6th of February in Kampala. We were warmly welcomed by Oscar and Mercy and while I was tired from the long journey, I was also filled with excitement for this adventure to really have started. Driving through Kampala my two eyes were not enough to be able to capture everything that was happening on the streets. A big city has a different meaning in Uganda compared to the Netherlands: potholes everywhere, boda bodas packed with three adults and two children going from one place to another, shops and businesses selling all kinds of products, chickens being transported with their feet tied hanging from the bus, women carrying children on their back and fruits on their head, cars and buses that stop on the middle of the highway to let people get out. Even just sitting in the car became an activity in itself.

It took me some time to adjust to life in Uganda. The heat in Arua, which often exceeded 35 degrees Celsius, was a stark contrast to the cold weather in the Netherlands, where temperatures rarely reached 10 degrees. I wonder how it will feel when I return to the Netherlands. Perhaps I’ll need to wear my winter jacket when it’s below 25 degrees.

One thing that I like so much about the Ugandan culture is the importance of relationships. Wherever we go, the first question we hear is “how are you?” or “mi ngoni?”. It is about meeting people and taking time for each other. This became very clear when we went to the villages for mobilization. Before diving into business, there is first time to thank people, pray, and be welcomed. In our own country, there’s always an emphasis on efficiency. It’s something useful, but it can also lead to losing sight of your colleagues or fellow students. Here in Uganda, there’s always room for a spontaneous meeting, and although I must admit that it took some time getting used to, I find it beautiful to see how much people look out for each other and care for one another.

Collaborating with the staff from AEE and witnessing the parenting training being implemented in the field was very inspiring. While we learned a lot about various interventions and international collaboration during our master’s degree, there’s a notable difference between learning from academic articles and experiencing it firsthand. I’m very grateful for this experience, and I look forward to telling the people back home about the great work that AEE, together with Help a Child, is doing.

Apart from conducting interviews and setting up research, we also had the opportunity to explore the stunning nature. I remember the drive from Kampala to Arua, surrounded by lush greenery that left me in awe. I simply love the trees, especially the mango tree. They provide shelter from the sun and bear delicious fruits. Coming from a place where tropical fruits often need to be imported, enjoying fresh mangoes, pineapples, papayas, passion fruits, and even unfamiliar fruits will be something I will greatly miss. In Arua, we visited the Oluko Falls and Miriadua Falls, and we also had the opportunity to visit Murchison Falls, where seeing all the wildlife was an incredible experience.

I could continue writing about all the things I’ve learned here and how they’ve changed me, but I’d like to conclude by expressing my gratitude. I’m thankful that AEE welcomed us so warmly and made us feel part of the team from day one. I will really miss working together. I’m grateful that the parents were so open during the interviews and shared their personal stories with me. Moreover, I’m thankful for the opportunity to learn so many new things on a professional and personal note, and for discovering a deep passion for working in the field of pedagogy and international collaboration. Working alongside different cultures has significantly expanded my horizons, and I hope this journey of learning and growth continues in the future.

Thank you / Awa’di fo!

Esther Dijkstra

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