When I was 20 years old, I set off to study abroad in Ghana. This 4-month program I signed up for turned into a stay that lasted more than a year. I was absolutely captivated by the culture, charmed by the people. I felt alive, happy, and inspired, living in a society that affirmed so many of my values. I was young, even more idealistic than I am now, and I never wanted to leave.
One of the ways I believed I changed for the better was my tendency to look at things through an international lens. During my first year in graduate school, when we discussed systemic oppression and inequality, I wondered why we did not talk about it on a global scale. When delving into topics such as child welfare or human trafficking, I was curious to know how other countries dealt with these same issues.
This summer, I was lucky to intern at Uganda Youth Development Link (UYDEL), a non-governmental organization that worked primarily with youth who were at risk of or were being sexually trafficked. UYDEL has drop-in centers throughout Uganda where youth aged 13-24 years old could come to receive vocational training, counseling, and education on topics such as adolescent sexual health.
Since starting graduate school, I have been learning about and taken a particular interest in the rapidly growing crisis of youth who are sexually exploited here in the Bay Area. I was curious to learn about how this issue was being addressed in a different context, so I chose to intern with UYDEL.
Through my work with UYDEL, I started to understand the broad range of projects and tasks an organization such as UYDEL must undertake in order to tackle the various issues facing Ugandan youth. I worked on a project regarding youth’s drug and alcohol use. This involved collecting survey data on drug and alcohol usage among high school students. I visited high schools to do drug and alcohol prevention presentations. We went into local communities and held meetings with local leaders and stakeholders to gather their input and discuss how to best curb drug and alcohol use in the community. I worked on a monitoring and evaluation project to determine the effectiveness of their ongoing Youth Empowerment Project. I spent the other half of my time at one of the centers in B’waise, one of the urban slums of the capital city of Kampala. I helped facilitate educational sessions on sexual health and personal hygiene. I shadowed social workers on home visits. I did community outreach to introduce UYDEL’s services and encourage slum youth’s participation.
This summer has truly been a wonderful and eye opening addition to my social work education. I was constantly impressed and inspired by the resilient youth at the center. I feel fortunate to have been able to work alongside other interns — social work students from the local university, and seasoned social work professionals who have been working for years on tackling these social issues.
While Uganda is a much different country from Ghana, it still bears resemblance to the country I fell in love with so many years ago. Being back on the African continent 8 years later reminded me of all the little things that drove me to love this place. It reminds me of why I chose this career path and rekindles the passion I have for the work that I do. And for that, thank you, weebale, medaase paa.
Iris Lin is a 2nd-year graduate student in the Master of Social Welfare program, with a concentration in Children and Families. She currently interns at Alameda County Children and Family Services in the Emergency Response Unit, where she investigates allegations of child abuse and neglect. Iris is from the Bay Area and attended undergraduate studies at UC Davis.