An interview with FSD site director and GESI partner Margaret Nassozi Amanyire

November 3, 2016

Margaret Nassozi Amanyire is the director at FSD’s Jinja, Uganda office. She was the first FSD site director to work with GESI in developing its community development and research programs for undergraduates. After an almost ten-year partnership, Margaret, FSD, and GESI continue to work together to help shape and improve GESI students’ experiences, as well as improve outcomes for the communities in Uganda that work with GESI students. 

Margaret with GESI students at the Buffett InstituteMargaret began her career as a civil servant with Ministry of Gender and Community Development in Uganda, where she worked on issues of culture, women, and gender, as well as youth and development. She later worked as District Community Development Officer in Western Uganda, and has done consultancy work with European Union and CARE International.

The Buffett Institute was privileged to host Margaret here in Evanston (pictured second from right with GESI Uganda students) this past October. While she was here, we asked her a few questions about GESI and the GESI Uganda student projects that she has overseen as site director:

GESI students have completed more development projects through your office in Uganda than any other GESI location. Is there a successful development project created by GESI students that stands out to you? What made it a success?

One project strikes me because of what it has come to be – a project with St. Francis Health Care Services. Students assessed the community’s priorities and what came out was these grandmothers were taking care of very many grandchildren of deceased parents who died of HIV/AIDS. The grandmothers are old and some of them are also weak, and some of them are HIV+, and they had to take care of these children. So their priority was, how can they improve their nutrition and income so they can take care of both the children and themselves? And [GESI students] came up with this idea of growing mushrooms. It was very challenging: they had never grown mushrooms and didn’t know where to start, but they did their research and before you know it, they were growing mushrooms and the jjajas [grandmothers] were so invested in it.

Mushroom farming in UgandaSo that was the first group, and then came the second group that wanted to build on what the first group started. And this second group looked at the possibility of St. Francis manufacturing the seeds of the mushrooms. And mushrooms became a big business. It boomed – even now, grandmothers are still growing mushrooms and selling them in many different places and many others have picked up the trade – even myself! It is lucrative business; it has a lot of potential to give you money and nutrition at the same time.

Why is this project very important? As these students were trying to work out a way so St. Francis can get seeds, they had to get a clean room where they could culture certain things to make the seeds. They were working with a lab technician because what they were doing required some lab technology. St. Francis gave them a room, and they called it the “white room.“ So do you know what happened with this white room? When the students initiated this idea, that’s the first time St. Francis looked at itself as having the possibility of establishing a lab for the institution. And that was the beginning of a lab at St. Francis.

As I’m talking now, St. Francis has the best lab in the region that tests for HIV/AIDS and other diseases. Even government hospitals are referring patients to St. Francis. They have established a whole building committed to lab activities. You have no idea how many people have been helped.

The mushrooms are still being grown and the jjajas are still happy and doing their business, and at the same time, there is this asset that was discovered and it’s helping the whole region. That’s why this project stands out to me.

What makes GESI different from other study abroad programs you work with?

I always praise the [GESI pre-departure] summit because it fine-tunes these students and makes them focused and ready for the experience. It introduces them to the asset-based approach to development so that when they come to field, they get started immediately. They don’t waste a lot of time getting to know who is who, they’ve come to do and that way communities are more responsive to GESI. Actually they ask for GESI students before they even apply!

As soon as [GESI students] get to the organization, there is no time wasted. They immediately get into the process, they are very inquisitive, they want to know what is going on, and they want to get their niche within the organization and get moving. That alone makes them stand out.

Margaret with Buffett Institute staffMany universities send students to us, but you don’t feel the presence of the staff of the program, you don’t see them getting in touch to see who is doing well, who is having challenges. Preparing students is one thing, but the level of interest of the GESI staff always amazes me. Because of that interest, it also has an impact on us. These students are a priority to the university, so we also have to treat them so. You feel like people do not just throw students here.

Do you have advice for an American university student who wants to do development work in Africa or other parts of the global south? 

Attitude makes it all or kills it all. If you want to do development work in a different country, the first thing you have to work on is your attitude to that continent, or to the people, or to what you’re going to find there. And you have to walk around looking at things from the positive side of it because you are going to come face to face with a different culture and that different culture will present so many weird things. But for those weird things, a student should look at them from this perspective: human beings are human beings wherever they are. We all eat, we all sleep, only the way we do things is a little bit different.

Africa, Development, Global Health, Undergraduate Students