Inspired by a recent service to trip to Uganda, a group of Yalies are trying to build upon their contributions to Ugandan non-profits long after they’ve returned to school in New Haven.
Students who traveled to Uganda for a spring break Reach Out trip founded the Ugandan Hope Network late last spring to help sustain a working relationship with the non-profits they encountered in the country. While maintaining lasting commitments with the communities visited on trips is not an explicit goal of the Reach Out program — and relatively few Reach Out trips have developed long-term initiatives after they return to campus — Reach Out board members said that the club is an example of ways in which all student travelers in the program are impacted by their experiences abroad.
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Still, students on the Uganda trip said they felt a strong obligation to establish the Ugandan Hope Network after returning home.
“I think you run into an ethical dilemma when you show up for two weeks and are hosted by a non-profit that is trying to do good in its community,” said Connor Bell ’13, who traveled to Uganda. “It often tries to bend over backwards to make you feel like you’re being helpful.”
During the Reach Out application cycle, Uganda trip leaders Joan Gass ’12 and Julia Buzan ’12 publicized their desire to work with two partner non-profits headed by local activists Gass had befriended on an earlier trip to the country both during and after their trip.
Bell said Gass and Buzan’s goal of long-term service to Hope for African Children, which provides aid to the children of HIV/AIDS patients, and Cosma Foundation, an aid organization for orphaned or abandoned children, drew him to Uganda as opposed to another Reach Out destination.
All four trip participants interviewed told the News that the personal relationships they forged with community members in Uganda contributed to their decision to join the Ugandan Hope Network after returning home.
Angelica Calabrese ’14, who traveled to Uganda with Reach Out last spring and is the coordinator of the new club, said the friendships she forged on the Reach Out trip made her experience “very real.”
“I know that what I’m doing will benefit a child that I knew,” she said.
Though previous Reach Out trips have spawned long-term initiatives like the Ugandan Hope Network, the majority of the roughly 10 trips offered each year have not.
Cynthia So ’07 — who traveled to the Dominican Republic on a 2005 Reach Out trip — is the founder of Yspaniola, a student organization that became incorporated as a non-profit in California in 2009.
So said that students can only accomplish a limited amount during their two-week stay in a developing country. But while students should ideally maintain lasting relationships with the people and non-profits they encounter abroad, she said, a short trip done properly can “really open people’s eyes on both sides.”
Marissa Caan ’12 worked with Yspaniola during her Reach Out trip to the Dominican Republic last spring. While Caan said she is not interested in a career in international development, she said the Reach Out trip gave her an intimate perspective on the issues the country faces.
“Just because Reach Out doesn’t force long-term connections, doesn’t mean it has a failed mission,” Caan said. “You can read about things theoretically or academically, but it’s very different to actually see it.”
Karissa Britten ’12, a board member who helped coordinate last year’s Reach Out trips, said in an email Thursday that the impact of a Reach Out trip cannot be measured by whether or not participants created a club or other initiative after returning to Yale.
She added that students often return to the countries they visited to complete new service projects, and many intern with the non-profits they originally worked with through Reach Out.
“Personally, I think the farthest-reaching effects will be seen in the future work of a lot of participants,” she said.
Amal Ga’al ’14 is a spring break service coordinator on the Reach Out board. In her new position, which the group added to the board last year, Ga’al will act as a liaison between non-profits abroad and Reach Out’s board and provide “quality control” as she evaluates the service components of Reach Out trip proposals.
Ga’al, who was also a part of the trip to Uganda, said she hopes that Reach Out participants forge friendships as meaningful as those she built on her trip to Uganda last spring.
“There’s no way Reach Out can make sure [such friendships] will happen on trips, but we definitely encourage it,” she said. “It’s a big part of the cross-cultural experience.”