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A Glimpse into a Woman's Life in Uganda

As part of the fall 2023 immersion trip to St. Bakhita’s, I was introduced to an entirely new culture and lifestyle as soon as I set foot in the country. The bumpy and winding dirt road that led us to St. Bakhita provided endless entertainment and glimpses into the different world we entered. Scenes of barefoot children playing futbol (soccer), cows walking alongside the vans, people slinging 8 foot sugarcane over their shoulders, and boda-bodas (motorcycles) carrying stuff 4x the amount of their driver’s body mass were the most surprising as we started out. Once these scenes became more common, new entertainment in the form of dirt huts with thatched roofs and long stretches of tree-dotted grass started popping up. Little did we know that this beautiful village scene would become our sign of comfort and home for the next four days.

For our first day in Kalongo, we participated in community interviews. We paired up, brought a translator and three St. Bakhita’s girls, and started our march into town. Our first stop: the market to buy soap and sugar as a thank you for those we would talk to. The store was not your typical Target, but the idea was the same…pharmacy + grocery + convenience store. 

Our first conversation was with Joseph, a smiley man whose home complex surrounded a courtyard with many ducks. As it turns out, these lawn ornaments are useful because they require minimal care, and when it is time to pay school fees for one of his children Joseph sells one of them and sends his kid to school. While learning more about his interesting life of digging (farming), I was given a kitchen tour by the St. Bakhita’s girls. There is an interesting sense of trust in the village because the girls had no problem inviting themselves into the hut that serves as the kitchen and moving his things around. I was shocked to see that mud mounds serve as counter and cooking space, and they were maybe 6 inches off the ground. The fire is lit right inside the hut to boil water and roast the seeds and nuts that they make. 

The different tools that they demonstrated using include gourds to carry water, mats to shake the seeds over the fire on, and a mortar and pestle. These simple kitchen starter pack tools are not found in the typical Costco pack, but it is incredible to see the ingenuity and durability of the kitchen materials.

After the kitchen tour, we ventured back outside and used our heads! It was time for chores, and the best way to gather firewood and carry water is with your noggin. After a quick demonstration by the St. Bakhita’s girl, we headed towards the borehole. Each of us took turns pumping and filling Joseph’s many jerrycans. We gathered enough water for him for two days! As we turned back towards his home, I was sorely failing at my attempt to drag my water. I heaved the jerrycan onto my head eventually, and even got paid the best compliment: “You look like a real African woman!”

I have so much more respect for the balance and strength of Ugandan women after this experience. They are faced with challenges almost unthinkable to American women, yet their authentic joy and happiness shines through always. Their smiles are unwavering and I heard no complaints in my entire time at the school. After this experience, I was able to put my life’s challenges into a different perspective. The girls taught me to always keep my head up - or else I’ll spill all the water!

Written by Olivia Althoff, a student at the University of Notre Dame, class of 2024, studying Architecture.


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