Silvana Zapata-Ramirez

Meaningful Volunteer: The Malaria Operation, Buyaya Parish, Uganda

Thanks to the Wellman Hill grant I had the pleasure of traveling to the parish of Buyaya in the Sironko District of Uganda to intern for the Malaria Operation of Meaningful Volunteer. This is a non-profit organization dedicated to empowering the volunteer to make a meaningful impact. The Malaria Operation is an initiative that works towards reducing the impact of malaria in rural Uganda. I spent a month and half on-site working with the Volunteer Coordinator in training, guiding, and leading a group of Uganda based volunteers. Thanks to the grant I was able to explore my interest in international development and working overseas.

There were four stages to my work in Uganda: (1) before arrival, (2) community meetings, (3) distribution, and (4) follow-up. I began my work in Brussels, Belgium two weeks before I arrived in Uganda. During that time I communicated with the Volunteer Coordinator, Meran Rogers, through email and Skype to learn about the everyday actions of the Malaria Operation, to help create lesson plans to teach the basics of preventing malaria, and to receive support for contacting sponsors to help fund the operation. It was during this time that I learned the specific tasks that I would be working on while abroad.

In Buyaya I led a small group of Ugandan volunteers in community meetings and distributing nets. There were three main lessons that we needed to explain to the citizens: mosquitoes come at night, mosquitoes like still water, and one should not touch the net. With the help of a translator who spoke Lugisu, the language of the Bagisu people of Buyaya, and through interactive activities I led community meetings of about 20 people to teach those three points. After the meetings the citizens would receive a certificate of completion, and we would schedule a time to stop by their home to set up the nets. In order to ensure that the nets would be used properly, each was delivered and set up by a member of our organization. This was important because people might not know how to use the net properly or might try to resell them. In order to make a real impact in Buyaya it was necessary to ensure that all the nets were used effectively.

The final task during my time in Buyaya was to follow up on the use of the nets that were distributed before my arrival. Along with a translator I visited the houses that received nets. I ensured that they were still in use and in good condition. Afterwards I updated the Malaria Operation Database, which catalogued all the dwellings that had received nets. This final step was crucial in being able to track the long-term success of the Malaria Operation.

The experience of travelling to Uganda and working with Meaningful Volunteer is one that I will treasure and cherish for the rest of my life. In addition to gaining leadership skills, multicultural awareness, and exploring career interests, I became more aware of needs and difficulties in a culture far removed from my own. Now, I understand that although people are imperfect we can come together to try and achieve progress and change. Without the generosity of Ms. Hill and the Wellman Hill grant, none of this would have been possible. I am sincerely grateful.