My name is Jordan Sanders and I am from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA. I have been volunteering here at Girl Up Initiative Uganda (GUIU) for the past two months with the Adolescent Girls Program (AGP). I’m excited to share with you my experiences from this summer!
I am a graduate student at the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service. Our institution’s mission is to give students the knowledge and experience to further their careers in the areas of nonprofit, governmental, volunteer, or private sector service. As a part of the program, students are required to complete three field service projects, one of them being an International Public Service Project. During this project, students travel to countries around the world and work with an organization that is advancing public service. Through our institution, students spend eight weeks or more with an organization based on their personal interests and desired skills.
I was very interested to volunteer with Girl Up Initiative Uganda given my interest and background in working in youth development organizations. My interest in this field stems from my personal experiences growing up as I was very shy and soft-spoken when I was younger. My confidence was so low that I hated speaking up in class and taking pictures. It wasn’t until I got involved in a self-confidence program for girls, like the AGP, that I learned how to speak up for myself, identify my strengths, and pursue my dreams of obtaining a master degree. Although I love working with girls, it was difficult to balance volunteering while in graduate school, so I wanted my summer project to be more hands-on with the girls, which attracted me to Girl Up and their Adolescent Girls Program.
During my time at Girl Up, I have created a report documenting the stories from the AGP girls, teachers, and facilitators (what Girl Up calls ‘coaches’) that also gives advice to organizations looking to implement a similar program. I started off my project at the 2019 Big Sisters Camp where I participated in a variety of camp activities, including leading a self-portrait activity.
During this activity, I challenged the girls to think of five things that they love about themselves.
Whether it is your smile, hair, sense of humor or affectionate personality, we all have things that make us unique and it is important that we take time to reflect on that.
After creating their list, each girl drew themselves using a variety of mediums, such as paint, pens and tissue paper. It was amazing to see all the self-portraits together in the gallery that the girls created on the walls. I also conducted interviews and facilitated focus groups with the program stakeholders, such as AGP program graduates (now Big Sisters), AGP coaches, and teachers.
From there, I took field observation notes while going to the different schools throughout Kampala with the coaches to see the AGP in action. I have attended sessions on puberty and menstruation, gender-based violence, and gender and power. It was fun to see each coach in their element and their interaction with the girls.
The AGP coaches taught me that there are a variety of ways to be a leader and that we all have gifts that we can use to positively impact others.
It was incredible to see how excited the girls were to learn new things and discuss with each other. It was an honor to get to capture these stories and the impact this program has made on the girls’ lives. One statistic that stood out to me from the program results was that 92% of program graduates believe that they can achieve their dreams. I am grateful to witness a program that not only encourages girls to dream, but gives them the skills to be able to pursue their ambitions.
Beyond my time volunteering, I took some time to explore Uganda. One of my favorite activities was abseiling down Sipi Falls. Abseiling is a sport in which you descend down the face of a large rock or in my case next to a 100 meter waterfall.
This was an incredible experience that helped me conquer my fear of heights. I also went on a safari and saw my favorite animals, elephants!
Overall, my time volunteering with Girl Up Initiative Uganda has been filled with fun, a lot of laughs, and unforgettable moments. Not only have I been able to grow as a professional by obtaining new skills, but I have also grown as an individual. I hope that the report that I produced will not only be used to communicate the success of the AGP, but also inspire other organizations to create similar programs to empower girls around the world. I have truly enjoyed my time in Uganda and I will miss everyone I have met!
Learn more about Jordan's experience in the video below.
If you are interested in volunteering and contributing your skills to Girl Up Initiative Uganda, find out more here.