For nearly fifteen years, Otterbein education department professor Diane Ross has made yearly trips to Uganda to promote literacy, health and wellness, and menstrual and sexual health hygiene.
Ross said that she became involved in international work while she was working on her dissertation, which was about preparing teachers to teach for social justice, equity and social awareness.
“I happened to connect to a peace institute in Austria where young people from around the world come, and they get their Masters in peace and social justice,” said Ross. “I ended up teaching for a week and I did that for six or seven years. I did it in Austria, Switzerland, and then Turkey.”
Ross said that she started her work specifically in Uganda after working with a student from the country who was writing a Masters thesis on equity and education in literacy. “When I finished helping him [with his thesis] he said ‘oh, you have to come and visit me’ and 15 years ago, I did.”
Since that trip, Ross has created FOYA Uganda (Forum for Youth Advocacy) and has continued to take students from Otterbein and other colleges/universities on yearly, study abroad trips to Uganda, and has only missed three years due to COVID-19 and a broken leg. Students who go on these trips are not always education students, but come from all different majors wanting to experience a different culture and way of life.
FOYA, Ross said, has different branches in different countries. "A bunch of these young people decided to start their own organizations in different countries. They had FOYA Cyprus, FOYA Nicaragua, and somebody was working in Uganda, and I just started working and then I kind of took it over, It comes out of an emergence sense of wanting to do work across countries."
FOYA focuses on five pillars: health and wellness, literacy, technology, gender equity, and community engagement. "Our work is around that, and then we ask people to write a proposal that we can do on the ground when we come," she said. "We used to do it [work] around the capital in Kampala, we went all the way up North on the boarder of south Sudan. We actually just built a library off the boarder of south Sudan with a group of orphan children at an orphanage."
For Ross, to prepare teachers for social justice means that they have to experience the lives of others. “I had to find a way that I model that in my practice,” she said. “The more you’re outside of your realm of comfort, the more it pushes you to ask questions.”
Emma Henson, a junior early childhood education major went on the trip this past summer. She said that the group not only went on safaris and trips on the Nile River, but they also brought toys for children, catalogued books for a library they created, and learned more about Ugandans.
“What did we not do?” she said. “Our main thing was doing education for sexual reproduction and menstrual hygeine management. We met some incredible people. We were always with Ugandans and got to experience their culture and how they live day to day.”
Erin Storrer, a senior biochemistry major also went on the trip this past summer.
She said the biggest take away she got from the trip was how to relax. “There are other ways to live. They are so, so happy over there and its easy to get caught up in life here. There is another way to live.”
An INST-approved event to learn more about the 2024 trip to Uganda will be held on Monday, Sept. 18 from 7:00-8:00 p.m. in Roush Hall, room 114.
[Editor's Note: Erin Storrer's major was wrongly reported as biology and chemistry instead of biochemistry. This error has since been fixed.]