Life as an Intern

As I sat down to write this blog, I was hit with a reality: I have only two weeks left before leaving this beautiful place. I arrived in Uganda in early October, and now, my fourth-month term as a Shanti Intern is coming to an end.

I remember that when I first arrived, many people asked whether I had ever been to Africa before. No, I hadn’t. The furthest I had ever travelled was Western Europe. I had never lived anywhere without the creature comforts of an urban, Western home. I had never even spent more than a day in a place where English wasn’t the primary language.

Now, after a few short months, Kasana, this little town in the heart of Uganda feels like home.

I arrived at the same time as Mary, a volunteer midwife. We couldn’t contain our excitement on our first day at the Birth House.

When I go home, and people ask about my experience, I’ll probably tell them about the exciting trips I took. Interning with Shanti gives you the opportunity to explore the beauty of Uganda, known historically as the Pearl of Africa, on the weekends. In my few months, I’ve been fortunate enough to kayak the Nile in Jinja, hike Sipi Falls in Kapchorwa, and track rhinos at the Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary.

While those were all incredible experiences, it’s the small things about life in Luwero that I will miss most: the soothing sound of the call to prayer from the local mosque, the sweet smell of the coffee flowers on the walk to the Birth House, the delicious taste and flaky texture of a freshly made chapati from the stand around the corner.

More than anything else, I’ll miss the relationships I’ve formed with people in the Shanti community. I’ll miss Sister Josephine’s stories as we sat at the table at the end of the day. I’ll miss Uncle Fred’s all-encompassing knowledge about our area—if you want to know anything, from where to buy a fan to how different Kampala neighborhoods got their name, ask Uncle Fred. I’ll miss Jamillah trying to teach me how to cook, and Kato trying to teach me how to garden (I cut myself slicing potatoes and killed my rosemary shrub. Unfortunately I’m good at neither raising plants nor preparing them, it seems).

Intern Sigbrit planting kale with Groundskeeper Kato.

Interning at Shanti isn’t like working in the metropolitan headquarters of a Western-based NGO, where you rarely get to meet the people executing or benefiting from programming. Nor is it just some voluntourism vacation, where you may be seeing things firsthand, but may also be hurting communities rather than helping them. Interning at Shanti is an opportunity to contribute to meaningful, sustainable, grassroots development work while gaining a portfolio of irreplaceable professional skills that will come in handy years into the future.

A typical day as an Intern starts with individual yoga, reading on the veranda, or drinking a mug of hot tea while listening to the birds chirp in the avocado trees. Then we get to work. The workload of an Intern varies greatly from day to day. On any given day, interns may be drafting grant proposals, researching new topics to add to a workshop curriculum, inputting statistical data for monitoring and evaluation, or planning out Shanti’s social media posts for the week.

We work from the Volunteer House. I love the aspect of working from home, since my commutes in the past have always been over an hour each way. If you start to get cabin fever, it’s no problem. It’s just time for a walk to the Birth House.

The trip to the Birth House is a beautiful twenty minute walk, through field and forest, to the neighboring village of Nsasi. Interns visit the Birth House almost daily. Sometimes we bring newly received donations: mats for prenatal yoga, equipment for the midwives, or baby clothes for new moms. Sometimes we take pictures for an upcoming report (always with the informed consent of the subjects). Sometimes we just sit and observe whatever workshop is being conducted.

Interning at Shanti is also a learning experience. Professionally speaking, I’ve learned so much about sustainable development, from fundraising, to program planning, to the importance of community-driven work. Personally speaking, I’ve learned even more.

Working in reproductive health with a group of incredibly motivated women (and a few men!), I’ve gained greater appreciation for womanhood and female empowerment.

Being one of only a few mzungus (white people) in the area, I’ve been confronted with the impacts of colonialism and colourism on communities and individuals, more than I ever would have been at home.

Living in a small rural town and working in a tight-knit community, I’m reminded of the value of personal connection and collectivism in all contexts.

Just like all other experiences, Interns experience a rollercoaster of emotions, a range of roses and thorns.There were times that I was frustrated with everything from the unreliable internet, to being called “mzungu” before “nyabo” (miss). During this journey, I’ve also learned that each one of these frustrations can also manifest into a learning experience. You can try to improve the situation, or let it go, but you can’t let it get you down. I’m grateful to have had the amazing Shanti staff available to remind me of this and support me whenever I wasn’t feeling ready to tackle the day’s challenges.

Interning at Shanti is one of the best experiences I’ve ever had. I wish I could better explain why, but unfortunately, it’s impossible to sum up the wonderful experiences of the past few months in one blog post. I’ve had too many great memories to recount. If you want to see what makes working at Shanti so special, I suggest coming to see for yourself. You won’t regret it and chances are, you’ll come out of it with a new appreciation for travel, community and public health!

Come find adventure and new friends at Shanti!

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