By Robert Rodriguez, UIW junior premed biology major
During the spring semester of 2009, my freshman year at UIW, I started a nonprofit student organization called STAND. It was created to advocate against the Darfurian genocide that began in 2003. The name is an acronym for “Students Taking Action Now for Darfur,” and we did our best to be a voice for the voiceless.
With the help of former faculty member Dr. Sally Baynton of the English department, we became involved with the humanitarian group “Gulu Hope” as a portal to Africa. To help raise awareness, we hosted events such as guest speaker Dr. Ashis Brama, from Darfur who aided refugees during the genocide, and petitions to President Barack Obama to implement a peace convoy to the crisis area.
After two semesters of advocating and representing those who were displaced, the organization evolved into STAND | One People, One Tribe. Our focus also evolved, as we strived to make an even bigger difference by building vocational schools and medical clinics in primitive villages in Africa.
Through our relationship with Gulu Hope, our country of interest became Uganda. Since the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) civil war ended in 2007, the country has been under a process of repatriation, meaning the internally displaced people (IDPs) were returning to their villages. This gave us a unique opportunity to give back to those who were returning to their destroyed homes.
Last spring, STAND’s more than 150 members, began a project called Adopt-A-Village. We are now working to raise $20,000 to build a vocational school, medical clinic, orphanage and a water well in a Ugandan village. We believe these four aspects will provide the basic foundations of survival and sustainability in primitive areas in Uganda and other parts of Africa. We hosted several spring events and were able to raise more than $5,000. That money helped us build our first vocational school in Gulu, Uganda.
Our dream of visiting Africa became a financial challenge. Despite much support from the UIW community, financial assistance for travel wasn’t available. So our group of students from UIW, Incarnate Word High School, Antonian College Preparatory High School and Gulu Hope members self-financed our two-week summer trip to Africa.
Upon arrival, the realization that we were among such resilient yet vulnerable people was very humbling. Besides building the vocational school, we also chose a village for UIW to adopt and did outreach in other villages. STAND group members took a hands-on approach to construction and worked in solidarity with the natives so they could learn how to build new facilities.
The feeling of working alongside people we have represented for so long was incredible. Everything we built was built by our hands; the construction of the school was a testament to that. Everything was hard, manual labor. What machines do in the U.S., our hands did in Africa.
A lot of people keep asking me “Did the trip change you?” My response is the trip molded me into a more mature, self-rooted individual. It made me realize what I want to do with my life: medicine and humanitarian work. I also learned to be more thankful for everything. I do not think many people truly understand or appreciate what they have in life. The people of Uganda taught me that family and faith are two of the most crucial aspects of anyone’s life. That is a lesson worth retaining forever.
Support the future of STAND
STAND | One People, One Tribe is planning new fundraising events to support Mede, the village in Africa that UIW adopted. If you would like to contribute to the program, visit www.guluhope.org/stand.