Theory to Practice: Two SIT Graduate Institute Students Put Their Education to Work with World Learning’s Development Program in Northern Uganda

by Megan McBride, SIT Graduate Student/World Learning Americorps VISTA

Those who attend SIT Graduate Institute attest to its strength in field-based learning.  Current graduate students Demba Diallo and Rachel Unkovic had the opportunity to apply this learning when they completed their practicum in Northern Uganda with the International Development section of World Learning.

Rachel and Diallo spent three month working in the Kitgum district of northern Uganda on the Kacel Watwero project, which seeks to assist vulnerable children through youth leadership training.  In December, the members of the Kacel Watwero project produced a needs assessment, entitled “Speaking for Ourselves: An Assessment of the Needs, Resources, and Gaps in Services Available to Children and Youth in Kitgum District, Northern Uganda.”  
The strength of the Kacel Watwero project lies in the community-focused approached, called participatory project design, which World Learning and its partners utilized.  Diallo comments, “I have seen projects that failed in northern Uganda because the design was parachuted in from other parts of the world.” Rachel agrees; “The World Learning project focused on asking youths their opinions on the dangers facing the children in their own communities, and how to protect these children.  There is no one in the world better situated to answer these questions.”

Part of SIT Graduate Institute’s requirements include a six-month field practicum following the nine months on-campus phase.  Diallo observes that his course-work and training in the concentration of Sustainable Development in the Program of Intercultural Service, Leadership, & Management (PIM) prepared him for his work in Kitgum.  He remarks that, at SIT, they “teach you to be open-minded and respectful when learning about other cultures, things that are very important in development work.”  Rachel, who is also an alumna of the SIT Graduate Institute’s TESOL program, adds that “without having had the opportunity to study other conflicts, areas where conflict and identity interchange, and, most importantly, post-war development scenarios, I would not have had the capacity to comprehend much of what I heard.”  Rachel’s concentration is in Conflict Transformation in the PIM program at SIT Graduate Institute.

Work on this project has left a deep impression on both Diallo and Rachel.  “I learned so much about the resilience and strength of people, and their ability to work and hope and love, despite having lived through war and lost loved-ones.”  Rachel continues, noting she learned that “civilians, rather than governments and NGOs, are the true experts on reconstruction and post-war development.”   Diallo concurs with this lesson, citing that he learned to “always value the people you are trying to help by being as inclusive as possible, and that, “investing in youth is one of the best ways to do development work.” Their experience in Kitgum will guide their capstone thesis and presentation that marks the completion of the PIM degree at SIT Graduate Institute.

Upon completion of the PIM degree, both plan to continue working with vulnerable populations.  Rachel hopes to continue in the area of humanitarian aid and post-war development.  “I want to work to help policy-makers and larger governments remember the importance of listen to local peace-workers in individual communities.”  Diallo expressed a desire to return to Kitgum to continue to connect with the youth, stating, “they are part of my life.”  He comments that the youth of northern Uganda had begun to lose hope, but with the help of the youth leadership training of Kacel Watwero, “they are actually engaged and dreaming of being successful.”

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