In June, 2012 professors Sarah Glaser (Biology) and Cullen Hendrix (Government), along with three undergraduate students traveled to Uganda to study the complex relationship between fisheries, food security, and conflict in the Lake Victoria basin, and to establish a joint Geographic Information Systems (GIS) center in Jinja with the National Fisheries Resources Research Institute. Colleen Devlin ’13 was one of the undergraduates participating in this trip.
We have been in Uganda a little over a week and are almost to our two-week anniversary if travel days are included. In this short period of time, our journey has been life-changing and inspirational. I will never see the world in the same way again.
The short jump from Washington D.C. to Entebbe, Uganda was over two days of travel. While some of the team managed to sleep like male lions (who get up to 23 hours of sleep a day, thank you Entebbe Wildlife Sanctuary) on the airplane, I was exhausted by the time we touched down in Uganda. Fortunately, my excitement carried me through some Entebbe exploration, including a visit to the Wildlife Sanctuary, where we viewed chimpanzees, a python, very friendly otters, and African buffalo.
The real work began once we reached Jinja, or as the locals call it, “Rock City” because Jinja means “stone” in Luganda, a language we are determined to learn. The drive from Entebbe to Jinja included a stop at NaFIRRI Kajjansi, an impressive aquaculture facility. We also made a stop in Kampala to pick up our computer batteries. We spent our first day in Jinja at NaFIRRI, the National Fisheries Resource Research Institute, which has become our “home away from hotel” for the past week.
We were welcomed by the whole institute and spent the rest of our day setting up the computers which had been built by hand back at William & Mary, requiring hours of hardware and software work, and transported as personal carry-ons. The Geographic Information Systems (GIS) course began the next day and Catherina, Alyssa, and I took our places behind 18 amazing scientists and Information Technology guys to act as teaching assistants to John Holden, a recent W&M Law School alum.
The four-day course was really rewarding for me because it was evident how much the resources we provided were appreciated. The “students” seemed really eager to learn and asked a lot of questions about the software. I always enjoyed seeing their reaction when a projection was displayed. I remember one of the first ones was layering major towns in Uganda on top of the administrative boundary and the two very serious men I was helping began laughing to themselves as they identified the various towns. I was also grateful to learn that Catherine, Alyssa, and I were useful to John and the students.
Yesterday, the people of NaFIRRI had a “graduation” ceremony for the course completion. We were even given wooden fish sculptures and NaFIRRI “Increasing Fish Productivity” polo shirts!
Last weekend, Mary Namukose took us all around the region. We saw breathtaking views of the Southern Uganda shore, and sugarcane for miles from Mwira Boarding School. We then went to the Source of the Nile, where I, as a student interested in Hydrology and Water Policy, specifically in the Nile River Basin, felt as if I was overflowing with academic excitement. We finished the day watching the Uganda Cranes battle Senegal in a close football match and experiencing a true Ugandan market.
Sunday, we drove to the Mbira Rainforest where we saw beautiful flora and fauna. That afternoon, we visited the Itanda Falls, which has yet to be discovered by the tourist industry but was an amazing sight.
I have fallen in love with African food. We have been lucky enough to eat it for almost every meal. We have tried everything! Some examples are matoke, posho, a fabulous pea dish, and my ultimate favorite: chapati. The team is considering going in together on a Ugandan restaurant in the Williamsburg area!
Colleen Devlin ’13 is double majoring in public policy and environmental science and policy, with a specific interest in water policy. While in Uganda, she hopes to study the impact of Lake Victoria’s changing water quality on the shoreline communities and gather more information on the influence of the Nile River Basin Initiative. On campus, Colleen works for the Institute for the Theory and Practice of International Relations (ITPIR) as a SCAD coder, and is involved in Freshman/Transfer Orientation and Phi Sigma Pi Honors Fraternity.