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Brenda L.

“I have been working hard to learn what my students need, and to help them, and I am seeing results. This week I received a text from a student thanking me for being an inspiration and inviting more mentorship—you can imagine how good that made me feel.”

Brenda L headshot

1. What got you interested in the Peace Corps?  

As a teenager in the 1970s I learned about Peace Corps through its TV ads with the slogan, “The toughest job you’ll ever love,” accompanied by photos of young people doing amazing things in remote places. I said to myself, I will do that someday.

As I began my first career in environmental conservation, I was accepted into the Peace Corps but wasn’t placed due to a bee sting allergy. I went on to build my career and put my Peace Corps ambitions on the back burner. Decades later I made a career switch to nursing, in part to develop a skillset to help in a developing country. I dreamed of serving in Africa.

Uganda Advancing Health Professionals Volunteer with nursing students
Brenda teaches nursing students in a simulation lab.

2. What projects are you working on?  

I teach nursing courses to third-year nursing students. Peace Corps does not permit PCRVs to teach in a clinical setting, so I am focused on classroom lectures, skills lab practice, and teaching through simulation. The faculty are shorthanded and appreciate an extra classroom hand, and I am happy to teach and learn in this setting. I bring some new ideas, which I think can be helpful, including:

(1) Model and support proactive nursing to improve patient outcomes. (2) Discuss with faculty, or quietly model, best practices in teaching and learning. For example, incorporating course evaluations and rubrics into teaching; and reviewing exam answers with students, post-exam, to improve learning. (3) Work with course coordinators to advocate for more realistic and achievable course timetables.

3. What strategies have you used to integrate into your community? 

The foundation for collaboration is being friendly, getting to know people, and finding shared laughter. In the faculty and student community, I seek ways to be helpful. As I have built trust and credibility, faculty and students have become more comfortable getting me involved and drawing on my skills.

In the larger community, I am close with three Seed Global Health educators here, which has been a network full of synergy. We are all healthcare geeks and love learning from each other. Our different work settings in the hospital and university have allowed us to expand our circles with Ugandan coworkers, and that has been fabulous. And we have a lot of fun!

I make a point of walking around my neighborhood and talking with folks. This is easy, because Ugandans are curious and friendly. For example, the boda boda drivers now cheer me on as I cross the busy road at their park. One recently called to me, as I made a successful crossing, “You’re a Ugandan now!” That melted my heart. I enjoy lots of fist bumps, friendly smiles, and conversations with my neighbors.

4. What is a highlight of your time in service so far?

Getting to know Ugandans is the huge highlight for me here. I am learning so much from them about relationships, business, government, childhood, and what is important in life to a Ugandan.

Also, I love seeing the beautiful Ugandan countryside. I went with Seed Global Health colleagues to a local waterfall recently, walked a lot, and took a coffee tour. Another weekend we camped on the Nile. The opportunities to relax and chat with other travelers have been meaningful to me.

5. What have you enjoyed most about the community where you are serving?

I treasure the local friends I have made. I appreciate learning about their values and sharing stories with these friends who have such a different history than my own. I find Ugandans to be very friendly and open, especially as compared to the U.S.

The teaching here is not always enjoyable and is often frustrating. But I have been learning to let my students steer the course toward what is most useful and relevant to them. It’s taken a while to build their trust and gain credibility, but our communication keeps improving. Our conversations about Uganda’s health care, their role as learners, and my role teaching from “outside” has deepened and enabled the teaching and learning to become more effective and rewarding. It means a lot to me to get positive feedback from my students! I am so grateful to have these relationships with them, and they seem to feel that way as well.

Brenda L and nursing students in Uganda
Brenda with nursing students in Uganda.

6. What are some of the most important things you’ve learned from your community?

Probably the most important thing I have learned is how to be a little more friendly and open. A Ugandan is a great model!

I am also learning a lot about culturally aware communication. As an older person, I may be a better and more open learner. I’m certainly less worried about how I appear to others and more focused on how I can understand than I was in my 20s.

I’ve also begun learning about how people cope with and thrive in a lower-resource environment. As an American I had many preconceived ideas about what living in lower-resource environments means. These ideas have been upended here.

At one birthday party Ugandans asked about American home buying. They questioned why we take out huge loans to buy already built houses; they enjoy building their own—they start small and add on a room or a floor later when they can afford it. Ugandans cover major expenses through collaborative support among family and friends. This knits together the community in ways most Americans can hardly imagine.

7. How do you spend time when you are not working on a project?  

I enjoy walking or running for exercise in the morning, then strolling in the late afternoon when Ugandans are out visiting and enjoying street food. I also enjoy going to the central market to get to know the vendors and their produce. I love that they encourage me to try new things. I like to cook, and it has been interesting to cook new foods in Uganda.

8. What are you looking forward to in your remaining time as a Volunteer?

My brief time here with the students and faculty has been good, and it keeps getting better the more we get to know each other. I am looking forward to continuing this growth and deepening my relationships with the students. I have been working hard to learn what my students need, and to help them, and I am seeing results. This week I received a text from a student thanking me for being an inspiration and inviting more mentorship—you can imagine how good that made me feel. There have been surprises every step of the way, and I’m sure there will be more.

9. Once you finish your service, what will you do differently when you return to the U.S.?

I appreciate what I have learned about Ugandan values. I have always had complicated feelings about our American attachment to money, stuff, and stuff upgrades. It’s been interesting to see firsthand Ugandans’ attachment to community and family. I’ve had many long conversations with Ugandans on a wide variety of topics but I don’t know yet how I’m going to integrate all this into life in the U.S.

But I will. My life here has been more community-rich and lifestyle-simple than my life in the U.S.—and I am planning to continue that. And, of course, I will share my learning about healthcare in Uganda with colleagues in the U.S.