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William N.

“It is easier to get to know people when you take time to sit and relax with their family than interacting in larger, more formal, group meetings. It is in these more intimate settings that people open up and relationships can grow in an organic way.”

William N headshot

1. What got you interested in the Peace Corps?

I have always been interested in joining the Peace Corps. My father was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Tunisia in the 70s, digging wells. My godfather and other family friends are people he met in the Peace Corps. I grew up hearing them reminisce about their experiences, which triggered my curiosity.

2. What projects are you working on?

My primary project is working with beekeepers in northern Uganda. Our nonprofit organization supports 190 beekeepers, 146 of whom have been trained since I arrived. They have about 1000 hives total. I visit them in groups and individually to see how they are doing. I offer technical advice when needed and try to support them however they need. We received a small grant from the Peace Corps to train a youth group and provide them with beehives, and to provide farmers with bee suits and equipment to help with honey processing. We have also implemented other Peace Corps initiatives such as the planting of vitamin-enriched seeds and seedlings to promote reforestation.

Other projects I have helped with include an environmental justice project with the Global Green Grant to help people harmed by severe flooding, and a project with The Child’s Rights and Violence Prevention Fund to provide families counseling around the issue of domestic violence.

Will N discusses beekeeping in Uganda
Will and his counterpart Isaac lead discussion about beekeeping in Uganda.

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

In my experience the most important thing you can do to integrate is spend a lot of time with community members, who have always been very welcoming and open. As part of my work I spend a lot of time doing one-on-one visits with our beekeepers to see their apiaries; I use these opportunities to spend time getting to know the participants personally, which is very rewarding and fun. It is easier to get to know people when you take time to sit and relax with their family than interacting in larger, more formal, group meetings. It is in these more intimate settings that people open up and relationships can grow in an organic way.

Languages have always been a weakness of mine, so I continue to take language lessons every week, which has helped a lot. But at the end of the day I think spending time with people is more important than speaking the language well.

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

A professional highlight for me was a youth training where we spent three days building hives, organizing participants into groups to further collaborate and support each other, and getting technical advice from an etymologist who works with the Ministry of Agriculture. A total of 36 participants received 2 hives each at no cost and we all had a great time. In the months since, I have visited most of their apiaries and continued to see them in groups, and around the community. We have seen excellent results with colonization rates and really good effort from participants. I think they will be even happier when the time to harvest honey comes (typically six months after the hives colonize).

The cultural highlight for me was when I was invited by Norman, one of my collaborators, to an event to formally recognize the chief of his clan. It was a great event with a lot of fun traditional dancing, music, and a ceremonial spear fight. It was also an honor to get to hear him speak.

The personal highlight for me was getting married to my wife Jacky. The marriage process included meeting with her clan and family to get their blessing and then negotiating a dowry. My parents came from the U.S. to attend the wedding and meet my wife and her family. Marriage is one of the most important things in anyone’s life and I am glad our families were able to come together for the occasion.

Will got married to his wife Jacky in Uganda
Will got married to his wife Jacky in Uganda.

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

What I enjoy most about the community is the way people work together in spite of previous hardships. Everyone who lives the area was gravely impacted by political conflict starting around 2000. Most people either stayed in camps guarded by government soldiers or went to a nearby city. Most farmers in our beekeeping project started from almost nothing when they returned to their farms around 2005. Some who were forced to become child soldiers during the conflict resettled somewhere else because they didn’t want to return to their home villages.

Even though people lost so much they are still willing to invest time and work hard to create a brighter future for themselves and their children. Many of the groups I work with feel strongly that everyone in the group needs to thrive for the group to succeed. Members will work together to assist others who might be having challenges, whether with beekeeping or a personal issue or loss. The camaraderie is touching and inspiring for me.

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

The most important thing I have learned from my community is patience. In the U.S. time is money and there is a tendency to overschedule in order to maximize your time, and anything that throws you off of your tight schedule is a problem. In this community, being strict about time is simply not the way to get things done. Everyone has to cooperate and bear inconveniences without complaining. “Nothing to do but keep quiet and keep going” is a common phrase that sums up their attitude. As long as the project is going in the right direction and progress is being made, people are pretty happy.

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

I spend time with my wife and in-laws as much as I can. I go running in the evenings around the villages, for exercise and to see different places. On the weekend I like to go to interesting events in the nearby city, such as fairs, concerts, and soccer games. When I need to relax I mostly read, sometimes nonfiction about Uganda, but also a lot of fantasy.

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

Our goal is to create a cooperative to help members process honey, wax, and propolis (a material bees make to construct hives). We have some equipment and a rented space but have more work to do related to the legalities of establishing the cooperative, and figuring out how to package and market items. Participants have asked for help accessing markets so they can get good prices for their products and make beekeeping a more viable income-generating activity that can be scaled up over time.

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

Since I am married to a Ugandan woman, I will always return to Uganda to visit. Additionally I have talked to my organization about staying involved with them remotely. The work they do means a lot to me and I would like to continue to stay involved, and possibly help with grant writing. For myself, though, I plan on a career change even though I do not know exactly what yet. I find my current work much more fulfilling and less stressful than my previous work in IT.