After one trip to Uganda, Brittany Ochs' life is forever changed.
The psychology student at Dakota Wesleyan University was part of a student group that traveled to Uganda during the school's winter break working with local leaders in churches, schools and rural farms to help with community development.
Ochs said she's always wanted to travel to Africa and see the culture. And the opportunity through Dakota Wesleyan provided her a way to do so.
"Going there was absolutely amazing," Ochs said. "It's hard to put into words how it changed my life."
Ochs, along with the other students, spent the entire semester preparing for the trip to Uganda, which included researching the country and fundraising money. This is the fourth group of Dakota Wesleyan students to travel to the Uganda area, according to Alisha Vincent, the executive director of the McGovern Center.
After preparing, the students finally, on Dec. 28, led by Vincent, took flight to Uganda.
While there, the students were tasked with different projects. Ochs assisted with a project that provided more school lunches. With approximately 450 students to feed in one school located in rural Uganda, Vincent said, the students didn't have access to a meal everyday.
So the DWU students got to work to help grow and manage food. Hydroponic and vertical farming systems were developed in Uganda, which helps increase the rate vegetables grow.
Students also developed curriculum for the school's educators to use so students could learn and manage the garden on their own.
The students also helped with a project they call Livestock for Life. Managed by Dakota Wesleyan's student club called Universities Fighting World Hunger, the students raised money to buy 14 pigs on two project sites in Uganda. The idea behind it is after the pigs produce offspring, the farmers would gift the piglets to families in the community.
On top of that, a few of the pre-med students spent time doing a medical outreach. In a makeshift clinic that sees approximately 500 patients daily, students observed and assisted doctors in the rural community doing patient intake forms and whatever else they could.
"That was very eye-opening for students," Vincent said. "On one hand they had very high quality functioning doctors, but they were limited in resources."
Students of all varying majors traveled to Uganda from psychology to pre-med to education. Anna Pazour, who majors in elementary education, wanted to go to Africa for similar reasons to Ochs. After traveling to Peru the previous year, she wanted to do something different.
"You see all the pictures and posters in the library. You see the impacts and pictures from the past and pictures on Facebook, it just kind of turns a little nod inside your head saying, 'I really want to do that,' " Pazour said.
And she did. While there, Pazour put on a volleyball camp for those who wanted to learn. Many adults took on the challenge and Pazour set forth to teach them the basics of the sport.
Pazour also helped in curriculum development for the school lunch program, and basically experiencing the way of life in Uganda.
Each Wesleyan student raised approximately $3,000 to travel to Uganda. And while the initial travel costs were approximately $2,000 to $2,300, the rest of the money was put into several communities in Uganda, Vincent said, providing "significant blessings."
One example of the impact, Vincent said, was the group was able to purchase a motorcycle for the local man who managed the Livestock for Life project. The man, whose name was Steven, would walk for hours each day to the project's two sites to provide vaccines for the pigs.
"One of the things I really hope they understand is the value of the economic impact made in these communities lasts a long time," Vincent said. "We did some rough figuring and over the course of the last four years, Dakota Wesleyan has made about a $60,000 direct impact on these communities."
The students also chose to donate part of the money by sponsoring a student named Alex for seven years of schooling. Alex is in approximately second or third grade, but with the funding for his schooling, he will be able to attend seven more years of school, to approximately seventh grade.
"We all agreed on this one kid because we saw great potential in him," Ochs said.
The students spent time in both rural communities, such as Bugiri, and a city called Kampala with a population of 7 million, Vincent said.
Sponsoring a child, helping develop and teach curriculum to students to grow their own food for lunch was just a few of the many things Ochs said the students experienced while they were there.
And both Pazour and Ochs would go again if they could.
"I always hope that they will really learn what life looks like when it exists in another culture and context and I think they achieved that," Vincent said. "And I think they learned all of the good things that come with Uganda and how diverse Africa is. Eastern Uganda is way different than western Uganda. You can't generalize or stereotype Africa at all. You learn how diverse from one region is to another."