May 2, 2005: Headlines: COS - Uganda: The Third Goal: Hamilton Ravalli Republic: After two years in Uganda, Megan Chandler returns home to share her experience

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Uganda: Peace Corps Uganda : The Peace Corps in Uganda: May 2, 2005: Headlines: COS - Uganda: The Third Goal: Hamilton Ravalli Republic: After two years in Uganda, Megan Chandler returns home to share her experience

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After two years in Uganda, Megan Chandler returns home to share her experience

After two years in Uganda, Megan Chandler returns home to share her experience

After two years in Uganda, Megan Chandler returns home to share her experience

Out of Africa
After two years in Uganda, Hamilton woman returns home to share her experience

by ROD DANIEL-Ravalli Republic

When a wind storm in Uganda sent a eucalyptus tree through the roof of a school block, killing two students and injuring 20, the school's tiny African community turned to a Hamilton woman for help.

Peace Corps Volunteer Megan Chandler had spent the past two years working with teachers and administrators at more than 40 primary and secondary schools in the war-torn, east African country, so she had a pretty good idea what needed to be done. Already overcrowded and understaffed, the 50-year-old school suddenly needed major infrastructure repairs as well.

A 1998 graduate of Hamilton High School, Chandler had just extended to serve for a third year in the land-locked equatorial country when the tragedy occurred. Last week, while home for a month to apply to medical school, she visited with Donna Feight's eighth grade classes at Hamilton Middle School about her overseas experiences, and in the process drummed up support for rebuilding the damaged and dilapidated school.

"This was my center school," Chandler said before addressing a classroom of kids in the building where she attended high school. "So after (the wind storm) hit, the community, Peace Corps and the U.S. Embassy asked me to help facilitate the relief effort to rebuild the school."

The project will be done in three phases, she said, and will commence only after securing 80 percent of its projected budget. The first part will entail completing eight unfinished classrooms to give the school more capacity; the second phase will replace a bat-infested roof; and the final phase will turn an existing classroom into a secure reading room or library.

As project coordinator, Chandler will work with local volunteers to write grants and raise funds for the project as well as oversee the construction, she said. She's taking the opportunity, while home in the U.S., to encourage folks to help with the project.

"The fund-raising can come from anyone willing to give," she said. "And it's amazing how far a small donation in U.S. dollars will go. Just one dollar will buy a lot in Uganda."

A political science/premed major at Notre Dame University, Chandler joined Peace Corps in March 2003 and was placed in the volunteer organization's education program. Her first two years in Uganda found her training teachers in a variety of disciplines, she said.

"I've done teacher workshops, curriculum development, HIV/AIDS education, mathematics games and literacy activities," she said. "Education in Uganda faces a variety of challenges, including overcrowding, lack of housing for teachers and extremely low pay."

Basic organizational skills are also lacking, she said, so she's lent a hand in organizing a number of other projects.

"I've worked with women's groups setting up a sunflower processing facility, so villages can make their own oil," she said. "It's funny, here everyone is obsessed with cutting fat from their diet, but there they feel lucky to get any kind of fat."

Wearing professional teaching attire, Chandler looked right at home in front of the class of eighth-graders. After speaking on Tuesday to each of Mrs. Feight's health classes on subjects ranging from Ugandan languages, greetings, dress, gender divides and disease, she returned Thursday to address many of the same students in a special advisory class.

She began by going through many of the informal greetings in Ataso, one of many local languagesin Uganda. Writing each greeting on the board with a dry-erase pen, her words were eagerly repeated by the students.

"Yoga," she said.

"Yoga noi," the class replied in unison.

"I jai biai? (How are you?). Ejokuna! (Good!). Do batlokon? (And you?).

"In Africa greetings don't just end with how are you," she explained. "They keep going on and on."

After spending 10 minutes or so on greetings, Chandler fielded questions from the class.

One boy asked whether she experienced racism in Uganda.

"Racism, as we know it, doesn't really exist in Uganda," she said. "But Ugandans look at white people as people with money who are there to help.

"In Uganda people are proud to have me as their friend," she continued. "I term it positive discrimination. If I have a problem on a taxi, everyone is willing to help me."

Chandler also discussed what she termed the Ugandan dress code, in which, she said, women would never bare their legs in public.

"Ugandan women always wear long skirts which cover their entire legs," she said. "In my trainings I often wear slacks like these to illustrate what would be considered professional dress in this country."

Chandler also discussed the terrible civil war which rages mostly in the northern half of Uganda, in which the Lord's Resistance Movement systematically is killing off the older population and enslaving the children. Because of the war, she said, Peace Corps volunteers are not permitted to venture into the northern part of the country.

"Most of the work done in the north by foreigners is humanitarian relief efforts," she said. "While in the south, it's mostly development work."

Chandler's mother, Sue Chandler, grew up in neighboring Kenya, and she and her husband visited their daughter earlier in the year.

After another year in Peace Corps, Megan Chandler plans to return to the U.S. to attend medical school and eventually become a doctor. She will return to Uganda in a couple of weeks.

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Story Source: Hamilton Ravalli Republic

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Uganda; The Third Goal



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