‘He was my student. But I also was his’
Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2019/12/he-was-my-student-but-i-also-was-his/
(FIRST OF FOUR PARTS: This is the first of four stories about a five-year-old, American-led writing and research clinic at Uganda Christian University. The author is the founder and lead facilitator of the training. The second article tomorrow will reflect an experience of one USA citizen who assisted with the clinic in two different years. The final two articles feature UCU alumni who served as interns with the clinic.)
By Patty Huston-Holm
I don’t think much about gold. I’m not a wealthy person, so the only gold I’ve ever had is in the wedding band I’ve worn for 27 years. And the only reference I had to this precious metal was during a junior high school history class when I learned it was discovered in some kind of “rush” and then used in coins in the United States in the 1800s.
Until Monday, August 13, 2018…
Sometime around 4 p.m. and at a desk in a room shared with two other people at Uganda Christian University and in a country I had associated with tea, tilapia and bananas, a young student named Christopher Mwandha expanded my knowledge about gold. The mining of it around Lake Victoria, he said emphatically, was destroying the wildlife in this second largest body of fresh water in the world. Lake Victoria, the largest lake in Africa, is home to hippos and fish and more.
That afternoon and in a room filled with East African tropical heat moved around by a fan, Christopher talked about his water pollution research connected to gold mining. In particular, his focus was on the small village of Nakudi near the Kenyan border. It was here in an area previously known for farming and fishing that a group of some farmers and fishermen struck gold when digging a hole to bury a friend. They buried the friend elsewhere and became miners.
Christopher’s dissertation research surrounding this is a requirement for his master’s degree in Science and Water Sanitation. He is one of 150 UCU students I coached and one of more than 300 I’ve taught in five years of leading a writing and research training through the university’s School of Research and Post-Graduate Studies (SRPGS).
He was my student. But I also was his.
I am an education missionary.
Yes, I’m a volunteer – starting when coming to Uganda with a Reynoldsburg, Ohio, church in 2009. Yes, I contribute financially to Uganda’s needy. Yes, I’m a believer in Jesus Christ. Yes, coming from the Mid-West that gets brutally cold in the winter, I sweat and work hard. But I don’t build buildings, preach the gospel or give up my American home so that others can have one in Africa.
A lifelong writer and teacher and an Ohio State University Buckeye with journalism and communication degrees, I invest in minds. I build people. And they build me.
One avenue for this building is an annual, free workshop to help post-graduate students and their supervisors with dissertations and thesis projects to improve the master’s degree graduation rate and to expand global awareness of their research. The workshop includes large-group lectures and one-on-one coaching. The individualized assistance is where the magic occurs – both for coaches and students.
I tell students that writing a research paper can be lonely. Having a coach who believes in you helps fill that void; it’s half the battle towards completion. Coaching them to produce a paper with credible, original, well-written and compelling information is the other half. Good coaches listen – and learn – while nudging students to see what they have to offer their country, continent and world.
With the first clinic in 2015, my husband, Mike Holm, and I began supplementing what university faculty members were already doing with their heavy workloads. Under the guidance of SRPGS leaders, Dr. Kukunda Elizabeth Bacwayo and Dr. Joseph Owor, we implemented a learning model that keeps getting better. Two interns that we hire each year make us better; likewise for them as they receive resume-building experience and get jobs or further education shortly after working with us.
Americans Linda Knicely and Larry Hickman, career development specialists; Sheila Hosner, an international health specialist; Tom Wanyama, an engineer and professor; Tracy Harrison, a reading specialist; and Dave Harrison, president, Columbus State Community College; helped with improvements by their on-site assistance and expertise at various times over the five years. They came from Ohio, Washington State and Canada – all as volunteers.
Now, semi-retired, I donate my knowledge and skills in Uganda for four to six months a year. Approximately half of that time is with graduate students. The other half involves working with young journalists, public relations employees and other university staff on various literacy initiatives. Occasionally, like now, I write.
As I reflect on what I’ve learned from UCU’s post-graduate students, I recall how they have educated me on such topics as disparities of health care in higher poverty areas, injustices for women when it comes to property and child “ownership,” truthful news reporting in South Sudan war zones, Islamic to Christian conversion, prevalence of counterfeit drugs, differences in preaching and teaching of the gospel and terminology such as “waiting homes” to help economically disadvantaged women prior to delivery of a baby. Interest in their research often finds me digging into their topics after the coaching sessions and late into the night.
Beyond the academic, the young people I meet in Uganda stretch my appreciation and thankfulness.
One such master’s level student in 2016 sobbed from a simple gesture of giving her half of my granola bar during a lunchtime meeting. Through tears, she shared her childhood story devoid of love and compassion. She was abused by a stepmother who denied her food and water to drink or bath, forced to sleep outside in the dirt and required her to walk alone and vulnerable in the dark to get alcoholic beverages for her father’s new wife. She was grateful, she said, for a simple gift of food from me that day. That afternoon, in addition to working on research in the university library, we held hands, prayed and forgave.
God’s work is good. And it’s not lonely.
Patty Huston-Holm has been volunteering through UCU Partners for half of her decade of service in Uganda. To learn more about how to become part of her work, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about UCU Partners and how to contribute financially to students, programs and facilities at UCU , contact Mark Bartels, UCU Partners executive director, at email@example.com.