Africa may not be a popular study destination, especially for youths used to Singapore’s urban lifestyle and amenities. Thus it was with a mixture of excitement and apprehension when two NUS Arts and Social Sciences geography students, Isabell Chew and Leonard Siar, planned a three-week research trip to Uganda in July this year.
Under the supervision of Professor David Taylor of NUS Geography, the two final-year students decided to focus on the topic of food security in Kaabong District, considered the most food insecure area of Uganda, for their honours theses. The research proposal, in collaboration with the local Gulu University, seeks to examine the different livelihood strategies and human-environment interactions in northern Uganda from an Asian perspective.
Isabell declared that her unusual project choice was “one of the bravest decisions I’ve made my entire life”. Not only had she to grapple with the notion of Uganda being an “exotic” and “unsafe” country in the eyes of many, she had to live with the fear of not collecting sufficient data for her three-module thesis.
“The most important thing I’ve learnt from this trip is overcoming my fears and anxieties to embrace spontaneity,” she said. While she obsesses with organising her life down to the very minute details in Singapore, proper planning for the Uganda trip was not possible. “All I could do was try to be prepared for all imaginable circumstances and wish for the best.”
She continued, “This trip has really changed my outlook in general — now, I’m more willing to leave my comfort zone and embrace the unknown because I know if I were to do my best, all should be fine!”
For Leonard, the 13-hour flight to Uganda was all it took to transport him to another world — from well-maintained tar roads to dirt roads; reliable grid electricity to unstable solar power; and drinkable tap water to ground water fetched from a borehole kilometres away. He admitted that the experience shocked him into rediscovering things which he had taken for granted.
During his interviews with the local communities, Leonard was struck by their openness and friendliness. The Ugandans’ hospitality and helpfulness motivated him to keep going despite the stressful and repetitive process. He highlighted, “The locals’ cheerful welcome at the start of each interview reminds me of how wonderfully immersive ground research is. I am glad I took up this opportunity and I am grateful for all the new friends I made during the journey.”
See the Facebook documentation of the duo’s trip.