August 13, 2010

Volunteer Spotlight: Nicole Broom Talks AGYA and the Art of Living

College student, Nicole Broom (pictured above), spent her summer volunteering with AGYA in Uganda.

AGYA’s International Volunteer Program partners with student groups to organize service-learning trips that provide college students with the opportunity to travel to Uganda where they learn and develop through action-oriented service that meets community needs. Through AGYA's on-going partnership with RAYSE (Rise of African Youth through Self-Empowerment), a student organization at the University of Southern California, nine USC students recently spent 4 weeks working in Uganda as part of a unique service-learning trip that focused on cultural exchange, leadership development, relationship-building, skills training and education.

Students lived and worked in the slums at the AGYA Community Center, and spent their days teaching as part of AGYA's after-school program, learning the basics of Luganda, Uganda's most widely spoken indigenous language, and reflecting on life in a developing nation. Some of the classes offered by the USC student volunteers included: dance, poetry, art, and sexual education. In addition to their work with AGYA, volunteers also facilitated workshops at I Am Children's Family Orphanage and Nabulagala Good Hope Primary School, two of AGYA's local partners.

To illustrate the success of AGYA’s international volunteer program, Nicole Broom, Summer 2010 Volunteer Alum decided to share her thoughts on AGYA, education reform, and the stereotypes that almost kept her from getting on the airplane to travel to Uganda.

Nicole is a Junior majoring in Sociology and Spanish at the University of Southern California. She grew up in Chicago and discovered her passion for education during her years as a dance teacher and elementary school tutor. Nicole plans to apply to graduate school programs in International Educational Policy to pursue her goal of working to equalize the quality of education systems around the world, particularly in developing nations in Africa and Latin America. Nicole has travelled to Panama, Spain, and most recently Uganda. This Fall, she will spend the semester in Nicaragua. Nicole admits that, prior to departing for Uganda, she was "scared out of her mind."

Below is Nicole’s first-hand account of her experience:

Even after meeting up with the RAYSE team at the airport, I had to slip away to find a quiet moment to let a few tears fall. I was so worried that I wasn't cut out for Africa.

Above: Nicole with other AGYA volunteers from the United States and Canada!

Uganda was not what I expected. I expected to see negativity, pain and suffering everywhere I looked, kids dying on the street, people struggling. The first thing that surprised me was how lush and beautiful the land was. The spirit of the people matches the beauty in the landscape. I will admit that there were some days when being called a muzungu, especially by the adults, got on my nerves. There were days when the flaws in the system at Nabulagala Good Hope Elementary school felt too large to confront in a month as a visiting student teacher. There were days when I felt there was simply no time to impart all the knowledge I wanted to share with these knowledge-hungry children. At some point, though, I realized that none of this mattered. I realized that this trip was all about the exchange, all about the little things that each person was gaining from the simple moments of interaction, from having a chat with a Ugandan on the porch, to having my students teach me Luganda as I taught them Spanish.

My Spanish curriculum was a bit too ambitious. Luckily, I learned this quickly and was able to revise as I went along, keeping an open mind and letting student feedback and performance guide my every move. I learned what it is like to treat teaching as something that is executed and achieved through a joint effort between both teacher and student. This was made easy by the fact that the students were receptive to every piece of information I decided to share, and were equally willing to share information of their own, when solicited.

Above: Nicole with AGYA youth participants: Shamira, Aisha, and Flavia.

I have never met a more fascinating group of children. This is especially true with the youth leaders. With the guidance and support of Abraham and Divinity, these young people are nearly running AGYA on their own. Their stories are fascinating. What they have all individually overcome to arrive at this point in their lives is astounding. I was so inspired by the youth at AGYA. By the end of the trip, they had become my role models. Most people would likely expect to go to Uganda to mentor others. I went to Uganda and was mentored. I learned more about myself in one month in Uganda than I have in all of my other travels combined.

I was in such a free space during my time at AGYA. I felt I could always express how I felt, what I thought. Being able to walk through the house singing at the top of my lungs and not have anyone say anything or even bat an eyelash was so freeing. AGYA’s Community Center is such a positive place. It seems like "just being yourself" is somehow a requirement at AGYA. This allowed me to really get in touch with who I am and, as a result, I was better prepared to engage with the kids and the youth leaders. Having such an amazing RAYSE team was also really helpful because I never felt I lacked someone to turn to when I was stressed. We constantly had group check-ins to make sure all was well with everyone and address any budding concerns. Furthermore, the bonds we created were so wonderful and this allowed us to work as a surprisingly cohesive group, something that serves to prove the importance of the selection process.

As I read the Dalai Lama's "The Art of Happiness" while at AGYA, I was constantly being urged to deepen my connections with others based merely on the fact that we share the common bond of humanity. In efforts to do so, I really tried to live like a Ugandan. In doing this, I found a new meaning of what it is to live. So much of what we find important and crucial to the success and enjoyment of our lives in the States is simply unnecessary. With half the number of resources and daily activities present in North America, Ugandans somehow trump us in the art of living. They are so full of life and make life so full with "so little." This is something I hope to keep with me forever.

Above: Nicole facilitates a dance class @ AGYA.

To learn more about AGYA's International Volunteer Program, e-mail us at: