Finding more ways to help

Expanding service learning opportunities in northern Uganda was the purpose of a recent visit by the Honorable Reagan Okumu, a legislator for the Gulu district.

Okumu met with faculty from horticultural sciences, agriculture, chemistry, information technology and sustainability at Johnson County Community College to see how he could help facilitate even more opportunities for JCCC students to help in his country.

For the last two years, JCCC has sent a small delegation of nursing students on three-week medical missions to the St. Mary’s Hospital Lacor (pronounced Latch-OH) in northern Uganda.

By teaming with Rockhurst University and the University of Kansas, JCCC has been able to provide instruction, equipment and assistance to Ugandan nursing students, and now Mary Smith, coordinator of community based learning and professor of nursing at JCCC, would like to help Okumu and Uganda even more.

“That was always the plan, back in 2009,” Smith explained, when she joined a delegation to Uganda that included JCCC President Joe Sopcich and Dr. David Zamierowski, the Healthcare Simulation Center medical adviser at JCCC and organizer of that first trip.

Zamierowski told a group of faculty and staff about a tour he received at Gulu University in Uganda. A professor of agriculture took him aside and implored him to “please help.”

The moment touched Zamierowski deeply, and though the first five years of his involvement concentrated on building a high school and improving medical care, he never forgot the plea from that professor.

“That’s what it’s like when you’re there,” he said. “You need to help.”

Uganda is still recovering from the war, and Okumu said true peace still has not been restored.

“War is still going on,” he said. “If we can get the various faculties of this college to help us fight poverty, disease and to help improve education… we have a chance.”

Zamierowski said he would like to use the school he helped build – Ocer Campion Jesuit College’s secondary school – as a place from which new ideas can be tried and new programs can be launched.

For example, he explained, the school has grown exponentially, from 30 students in 2009 to more than 500 students today. New classrooms are being built, and enrollment is expected to double in only a few more years.

“Even now, the school has had to import food,” Zamierowski said. “They cannot grow enough food to feed themselves, and with the expected growth in enrollment, growing food will become even more important.”

It’s not that the Ugandans don’t know how to grow food and use the incredibly fertile soil on the school grounds; a short planting season coupled with few mechanical resources means that the agriculture experts at the school can’t plant enough before the rains come.

Okumu said he would welcome the help of JCCC faculty and students in numerous disciplines, but he would especially like help in agricultural and vocational programs so entrepreneurs could grow and sell their own produce or open their own businesses.

“We have many motorcycles in Uganda, and yet when they break down, who is there to fix them? We need to train the young people to repair them, so they can make a living,” he said.

Okumu said he knows the process will take time. “It’s a gradual process – like the peace process,” he said. “But please be open-minded. See what is possible.”