by Dena Thomas, Monitoring and Evaluations Intern
If I could be stranded on a desert island with anyone it would be Trine Rasmussen, our project coordinator here at Shanti. In terms of resourcefulness, adaptability and her huge heart, few surpass her. From one of the smaller islands in Denmark called Falster, Trine grew up with a very close family: both parents, grandparents, and her brother Martin. When we sat down together one morning she shared some great memories from her past, and wishes for the future.
Trine, let’s talk a little about your education and what put you on the path of global development.
I did all my primary education in Falster – from kindergarten to grade nine. During my grade ten year, I went to an athletic boarding school, where I enjoyed competing in soccer and handball alongside my studies. I came back to Falster for the completion of high school, where I focused on languages. Consequently, I am familiar in German, English, Spanish, French and Kirudi!
I really had the travel bug by then, so when I finished high school I came to Uganda for the first time with a Danish organization called the Uganda Pioneer Association. We worked for nine months in the Nansana District with HIV/AIDS prevention and education. Those years impacted me and really wet my appetite to return back to Uganda at my earliest convenience. I loved the challenge of living in rudimentary conditions – rarely having power; it was exciting and made me feel alive. It was a good reality check after coming from the comforts of Denmark.
I returned back home though, after my time in Nasana, to do a BA in politics and administration. I went directly on to my Master’s Degree in African Studies at the University of Copenhagen in 2010. After one year I took an internship with the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) in Burundi for six months. I worked on a project called “Breaking in the Silence” which used radio as a medium to educate about HIV/AIDS and children’s rights within the community. I fell in love with the country, its people, and working in the field with co-workers on the project. It was very rewarding because I felt that we accomplished a lot. After my six month internship they hired me on for another six months in a paid position.
I returned home in August of 2012 to begin working on my thesis involving research on the impact of radio in Burundi on government policy. I came back to Burundi in Oct 2012 to conduct field research interviewing journalists, government officials and the community at large. I defended my thesis on August 1 st 2013, the same day that I had an interview with the Uganda Red Cross for a position back in Uganda. I was successfully awarded that position and started training with the rest of the Denmark team on forum theatre, leadership, project planning and implementation. We were a team of six Ugandans and two Danish members. I left for Gulu, Uganda in Oct 2013 and worked on that project for over a year. I loved that position because I worked with so many young adult leaders who were educated, eager to create change and impact their community for the good. There is so much potential among young leaders with close to 70% of the Ugandan population under the age of 24. All they need is to be given opportunity – Museveni’s been in power for 29 years!! This country belongs to the youth. I am saddened by the apathy and frustration that youth feel and who can you blame them?
I heard about the Project Coordinator’s position at Shanti on their website. I’m constantly looking for new and challenging positions, I liked both the mission and vision of the organization. Maternal health and women empowerment are newer areas for me, but aligns very well with my core values and beliefs. Coming from Denmark, I just couldn’t image women not having access to a safe delivery. Now that I’ve visited some government hospitals in Uganda, I am shocked and outraged to see women delivering on the floor, being slapped or being yelled by hospital staff. I am that much more focused in trying to do my best to offer other choices for women at Shanti.
What are some of the challenges you’ve come across since beginning your work?
Funding. Always. We have dreams to do so much but we need money to do that. We know what we’re doing is working. It’s frustrating when money holds you back from doing more.
Another challenge is keeping focused on building a sustainable model. What we’re doing here is for the community. We are working with them to develop a sense of ownership of this centre and the programming offered. I may not be here in ten years but I want Shanti to be.
What are some of the accomplishments so far you’ve seen?
A lot of progress has been made with the recent changes in local staff. Victoria Acen was hired on as Project Director and Ssanyu Namuleme was promoted to Head Midwife – these were excellent decisions. Both are great leaders and I find that we work really well together. The remainder of Shanti staff are strong as well. They are trained professionals and are a great resource for vision planning, implementation and coordination. I feel privileged to try and bring their dreams to fruition.
I also think we have a great team of interns and volunteers. The diversity of knowledge and expertise has been encouraging and helpful. I gain strength from the support among team members and feel like they give me time to spend doing the things I do best: working in the field. I would die if I had to spend all day at a desk!! Together we are strong and committed to a shared vision of promoting Shanti’s growth. I also appreciate having “partners in crime” when it comes time to steal away for an iced café and peace of chocolate cake at Café Java’s (laugh)!
What do you love most about your job?
I think it’s the diversity. I wake up every day and don’t know what I’ll encounter. I don’t mind dealing with the chaos. I work best in challenging environments and I’m very adaptable. Like I said earlier, I would die stuck in an office. I like to interact with others and feed off other people’s energy and ideas.
What is your favourite childhood memory?
Family vacations! Every summer we would take off for two weeks holiday – often times to Greece. I have great memories of us playing board games, cards, or going out for nice dinners. Mum wearing her bikini and sitting in the sun while we were playing games in the pool. Those are great memories. I also remember the times where they would come to watch our sporting events. They rarely missed a game. In fact, my Dad still goes to my brothers’ soccer games – and he’s in his 30’s!
Who would you say was the formative person or figure in your life?
I’ve always respected my parents so much, and I believe they have influenced me the most. I think that’s why I got into this kind of work. They have always told me the truth about this world – both good and bad. They didn’t shield me from harsh realities and injustices that occur. We are very close and talk about everything – small things or big things. They have very socialistic values and taught us to take care of one another including those in need. Money will only get you so far in life in terms of happiness. Bigger joy comes from showing love and concern for one another. I know they miss me terribly when I’m away – they always cry when I leave. But it speaks to their level of commitment when they still support and encourage me to follow my dreams. I respect them a lot for that.