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Building a bridge between Uganda and Vanderbilt

Posted by on Wednesday, June 30, 2010 in Beyond the Mall, Summer 2010.

Peabody students Alice Bator and Sarah Quirk spent just two months in Uganda during the summer of 2009, but walked away with a lifetime of knowledge in topics ranging from technology, sustainability, diplomacy, community organizing, economic development, women’s rights and much more.

Bator and Quirk traveled to Uganda to further the work of Kasiisi Project Vanderbilt, which they founded. Kasiisi Project Vanderbilt supports the national nonprofit Kasiisi Project, which aids schoolchildren in rural western Uganda by building schools, funding scholarships and promoting conservation education.

Alice Bator, Moses Musaazi, Ogechi Achuko, president of the African Student Union, and Sarah Quirk

“I have been involved with Kasiisi Project since fifth grade,” said Bator, a Peabody junior majoring in human and organizational development and a member of the Peabody Scholars program. “In 2008, Sarah and I introduced it to Vanderbilt.”

In the summer of 2009, Bator and Quirk traveled to Uganda to meet Kasiisi students and communities and to work on a project that blended invention and economic development to help Kasiisi schoolgirls. That project, led by Moses Musaazi, a professor of electrical engineering at Makerere University, centers on producing affordable, biodegradable sanitary pads.

“In Africa, particularly Uganda, many girls miss school because they don’t have access to sanitary pads. In the past, the pads were 100 percent imported and too expensive. My goal was to find an appropriate napkin, produced by local materials, that was affordable to local girls,” Musaazi said during a November 2009 visit to Vanderbilt.

“Dr. Moses Musaazi is probably the smartest man I’ve ever met,” Bator said. “Having this exposure to appropriate technology was fascinating. All of his solutions are affordable and can be made from local materials.”

Not only are schoolgirls now able to afford pads, enabling them to stay in school, the women constructing the pads have also been transformed.

“Lifestyles have changed—women who had not been earning a single dollar now are making $200 a month,” Musaazi said. “They are economically independent and they can make a better home.”

While in Uganda, Bator and Quirk interviewed girls, gave out samples of pads to receive feedback, conducted research and advocated for the project with both public and private organizations.

“It was an amazing experience,” said Quirk, a junior majoring in human and organizational development who plans to pursue a career in nursing. “We met with people at embassies and banks, wrote a proposal for using white waste paper to make the pads and did public relations work with the community.”

“It was the most independent thing either of us has ever done,” Bator said. “We found an apartment and lived in the city. I had opportunities that I would never have here—meeting with UNICEF, the World Bank and other organizations. We were also asked to give a presentation to the Ugandan government. These are things that 20-year-olds don’t generally get to do.”

Video about the project can be seen on YouTube; search “Vanderbilt Kasiisi Project.”


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