Faculty, Students Travel to Uganda to Build Bridges for Social Change

As most students were enjoying the holiday break with family and friends, thankful for a respite from classes, five students and two faculty members from the University of Oklahoma journeyed to Uganda in east-central Africa for a study-abroad course on social change involving war-affected women.

Dr. Lupe Davidson, the director of the Women’s and Gender Studies program and co-director of the Center for Social Justice, co-led the course, “Women Creating Social Change,” with Dr. John Harris, an assistant professor in OU’s College of Architecture. The group left the United States on Dec. 28 and returned Jan. 15.

The trip to Gulu, in northern Uganda, was supported by the College of International Studies, Davidson said. The OU delegation stayed at St. Monica’s, a residential education center for a diverse group of refugees: former child soldiers, orphans, AIDS victims and young mothers.

OU Professors John Harris and Lupe Davidson (center) work with OU students on a concept mapping project during their trip to Uganda, where they conducted a photo-voice project with representatives of the Women's Advocacy Network.

While in Uganda, OU students worked with representatives of the Women’s Advocacy Network, whose members were abducted as young girls by the guerrillas of the Lord’s Resistance Army and forced to be sex slaves. The Women’s Advocacy Network seeks reintegration, reconciliation and justice for these war-affected women.

Students completed a photo-voice project with the women that involved giving the women cameras and asking them to document their lives, Davidson said. Working together, the students helped to compile files and transcribe written accounts for each of the 13 participants as well as descriptions of their photos using the women’s own words.

The stories are powerful, Davidson said, adding that the students did an amazing job of engaging with the Women’s Advocacy Network (WAN) participants to help spread their message to the international community about their effort to seek justice for themselves and their children. The project will become a part of the WAN website, and Davidson and Harris also plan to exhibit the final project in Norman as well as in Gulu.

The goal of the course was to expose students to participatory research via direct collaboration with the Women’s Advocacy Network while empowering the women of WAN to become effective leaders and agents of change, Davidson said, adding that by all accounts, the course was a tremendous success.

She said she hopes to return to Uganda in August for a research trip, adding that the study-abroad experience there was “life-transforming.”

But even the most amazing of experiences is bound to have at least one negative. Did this one?

“Dirt roads,” Davidson said. “I really dislike dirt roads.”