Africa in Our Lives: Meagan Doll

Meagan Doll, a recent graduate from the UW-Madison School of Journalism and beloved staff member at the African Studies Program, spent a summer interning with Save the Mothers in Uganda. She shares a day in the life of a Save the Mothers intern and tells students why they should hurry to get their applications in before the March 5th deadline.

Field of study: Journalism & Mass Communication
Hometown: Osceola, Wisconsin

“Even if you have never envisioned yourself working in Uganda or internationally, this type of internship does so much to show you are curious, flexible, and ambitious—all qualities that your future dream job employer will be looking for.” -M. Doll (Submitted photo)

What inspired your interest in Africa?

I visited Rwanda for the first time in 2013 as part of an academic field study. Prior to that, I had only spent time in Honduras. I enjoyed Honduras, but was excited to visit a new part of the world and get around a bit with my French (I have nearly zero Spanish, so my trip to Honduras was interesting).

As you probably have already guessed, I really loved my experience in Rwanda, and I have been visiting East Africa since!

What’s one interesting fact about you?

I grew up three miles from a ski resort in northwestern Wisconsin. It’s unclear to me whether people would peg me as a snowboarder, but I had a season pass for more than five years in a row and totally was. An even more interesting fact: I can still shred the gnarr, as of Christmas 2016!

How did studying Africa at UW-Madison shape your career goals?

I think realizing the breadth and depth of African studies at UW-Madison really showed me how my interest in Africa could be married with nearly any other professional interest I had. I was able to tailor my training in journalism to African media and western media about Africa, and doing so actually made me enjoy my communication training that much more. Similarly, my interest in Africa sort of inspired my interest in global health and in securing a Global Health certificate, which has made me a much more dynamic and marketable journalist and communicator that I would have otherwise been.

Why did you decide to intern with Save the Mothers in Uganda?

Well, the tactical reasoning was that I needed a field experience for my Global Health certificate. However, I was really serious about choosing an experience that would not only fulfill the certificate requirement, but also move my journalism career forward. Since an opportunity of this nature was not readily available via the organized and pre-approved list of field experiences, I hastily began developing my own field experience (not a task for the faint of heart).

A clinic midwife prepares paperwork in the post-natal building at Mukono Health Centre IV, located in Mukono, Uganda. (Photo by Meagan Doll)

I chose Save the Mothers after doing a lot of research and several informational interviews with organizations operating in East Africa. Save the Mothers emerged as an organization that interested me and could support an intern for a few summer months. I was also attracted to the Save the Mother’s flexibility and mutual desire to make the internship a productive and personalized addition to my professional portfolio.

After dozens of meetings and proposals, I eventually got the trip approved for the certificate, approved for School of Journalism and Mass Communication summer internship funding, and approved for credit through SJMC.

Tell us about a typical day as a Save the Mothers intern.

Part of what I loved about my internship was there was not much for a “typical day” – every day seemed to be at least a little different from the one before.

For this exercise, though, most mornings I got up around 8 a.m. and had some combination of fresh fruit (passion fruit and mango are always favorites) and toast for breakfast. By 9 a.m., I had usually made my way down the campus road, equipped with my laptop, camera and notepad, to the Save the Mothers office where I would spend an hour or two transcribing interviews from the day before, working on writing projects or researching new story ideas. Before heading out for the afternoon, I would cross the road to a strip of canteens where I often purchased lunch or a quick samosa before interviews.

From there, I would take public transportation to local clinics where nurses and midwives typically gave me a tour and walked me through administrative challenges and successes. After, I often had the opportunity to meet with doctors, mothers, fathers and other individuals who are touched by Save the Mothers work to learn about their experiences. The day usually wrapped up with a trip back to the office to connect with Save the Mothers staff during which time they would occasionally have new writing assignments for me or local contact suggestions for new interviews.

What were some of the most important things you learned during your internship?

A mother and infant wait patiently for an appointment. (Photo by Meagan Doll)

One of the biggest things I learned was definitely how tangibly my academic work could pay off. I can’t count how many times I referenced things I had learned in my journalism, African studies and global health courses. My ability to critically think through ethics and socioeconomic determinants of well-being was paramount to thoroughly understanding the stories I was trying to magnify, and I’m confident that my work was that much better because of it.

I also learned how to be resourceful. Did you know that if your voice recorder dies, you can simply turn on your DSLR camera, put it in video mode and capture the sound that way? Who would have guessed!

Finally, it reinforced how much I still have to learn. I so enjoyed the work I was doing, and if you are hungry for something, you will find a way to keep learning about how to do it better.

What is one of your favorite memories from your time in Uganda?

One of the first mornings I was there, I woke up to crazy pounding on the roof. With the way it rains in Uganda, it’s not an entirely unfamiliar noise, but it was clear skies and sunny that morning. When I walked outside, the noise had stopped and I was met with a handful of wide-eyed, frozen vervet monkeys. They were exceptionally less interested in me than I was in them, but it was an experience that I will never forget (still trying to forget the other zillion times they woke me up after that day).

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

Over the last few years, I have gotten more interested in U.S. foreign policy and human rights. I suspect in ten years I will at least have a master’s degree in a field related to the aforementioned interests. The dream job end goal would probably be writing about foreign policy and Africa on a well-respected editorial team or serving in a communications or project manager position with an atrocity prevention org.

Why should undergraduate students consider a summer internship at Save the Mothers?

Especially in the world of communications, my internship in Uganda is so different than the professional experiences of my peers. Even if you have never envisioned yourself working in Uganda or internationally, this type of internship does so much to show you are curious, flexible, and ambitious—all qualities that your future dream job employer will be looking for.

More broadly, the opportunity to live and work with Ugandans should not be underestimated. I hesitate to speak for any group of people at large, but I will say that my conversations with Ugandans were some of the most kind, welcoming and – to use a cliché – inspiring conversations I have had as a reporter. The work is challenging, rewarding, fun and you would be privileged to do it. Get an application in, and don’t hesitate to email me with questions, concerns or your first Save the Mothers byline.

To apply for an internship at Save the Mothers, visit our Undergraduate Internship Awards page. All accepted applicants will automatically receive an award totaling $1250 from the African Studies Program and the International Internship Program (IIP). Applications are due Sunday, March 5.

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