Africa in Our Lives: Bre Begley

Bre Begley is a senior undergraduate student at UW-Madison. During the summer of 2018, she completed an internship abroad with an organization called Health Access Connect in Uganda. In this AFRICA IN OUR LIVES, Bre shares what motivated her to work abroad and what it was like to be a part of the Health Access Connect team.

Field of study: Biology; Certificates in Gender & Women’s Studies & Global Health 

Hometown: Weston, WI

What inspired your interest in Africa?
Africa was largely an unexplored area for me prior to this summer. Rather, the internship opportunity was one that ignited my interest in Africa. As a student completing the Global Health Certificate, my courses inspired me to explore health outcomes from global and public health perspectives. Being that my senior year was just on the horizon, I wanted to look into opportunities that would inform and potentially influence what I might plan to do after graduation. I learned about this internship opportunity from the UW-Madison International Internship Program Database. Upon hearing about the opportunity, I reached out to other peers who had spent time in East Africa. Each one of them gushed about their time abroad. Their praise of the area and my curiosities led me to consider the opportunity seriously. Not having previously taken the opportunity to study abroad, I saw this as the perfect time to experience a new culture while exploring my own interests in global health.

Tell us a bit about the internship you completed this past summer with Health Access Connect.
I served as a Program & Development Intern for Health Access Connect. Health Access Connect is a non-profit that works on improving health access disparities in rural Uganda. They connect individuals living in villages and fishing landing sites with monthly healthcare access by coordinating transportation means for Ugandan health workers. With a blend of microfinance and organizing efforts within the community, the organization works to create a sustainable and regular means of care access. In my position, I worked on improving the grant tracking system. I both researched and evaluated potential grant opportunities. Here, I had my first experiences with writing preliminary versions of grant proposals. Additionally, I had the opportunity to compile testimonials from the Ugandan beneficiaries and health workers. This internship was phenomenal in giving me a thorough understanding of the administration, logistics, and impact of a growing non-profit. With heavy collaboration with the Executive Director & UW-Madison alumni, Kevin Gibbons, I was able to gain insight and give feedback on many of the current projects that the organization was working on. It was insightful to be able to experience and learn about international non-profits both in the office setting and in the field.

What surprised you most about Uganda?
I was most surprised by the welcoming nature of Ugandans everywhere I went. Having grown up in Wisconsin, I had thought of the U.S. Midwest as being the home of some the most kind and welcoming people, however Ugandans topped this. I was met with warmth and welcome almost everywhere I went.

What was the most challenging aspect of your fieldwork with Health Access Connect?
As I worked a lot with the grant application process, I was exposed to the tedious nature of grant applications. More so, I saw that successfully earning grants can be difficult in small, growing organizations. After putting much time and energy into some applications that did not succeed, I obviously faced some disappointment. However, this is the nature of much of the grant application process. This is the reason why nonprofits must have a diversified means of support.

What was your most memorable moment in Uganda?
I was able to work on a project where I personally interviewed some of the Ugandan health workers, including a particularly impactful interview with a director of one of the health facilities. This director gave praise toward the organization by giving very direct feedback on what traits made Health Access Connect an effective organization to work with. He cited the sustainable nature of the organization’s model that ultimately made the organization’s projects more effective in the long term. As I had been working in a more indirect sense, I was not always able to judge the efficacy of the organization from personal experience. This gave me confidence in the organization I was working with.

What did you learn during your internship that will shape you in the long run?
I became firmer in my understanding and opinions of the impacts of non-governmental organizations. I learned that the most effective solutions must involve the community members and have a sustainable plan of action. These understandings will impact the types of organizations I will work for in the future. On a personal level, I also learned the value of developing my cross-cultural communication skills. Understanding the basis of another culture is a key piece of understanding and effectively organizing with individuals from a culture different from your own.

If you could bring one piece of your life in Uganda back to Wisconsin, what would it be?
I found Ugandan people to be incredibly stylish. While living in Kampala, the individuals I encountered on a day to day basis were typically very well dressed. While in Uganda, I tried to up my style as well. When I was successful, friends would tell me I “looked smart.” I have a new drive to dress to impress and “look smart” back in the States as well!

What advice do you have for students considering interning in Africa?
Do it! I think that so often students limit the scope of where they work based on what is familiar to them. If you are looking to grow in your worldview and have the opportunity, take it. You will challenge your norms and have a chance to reevaluate what types of issues consume your attention. Growth comes when we step outside of our comfort zone.

Where would you like to travel next?
My time at UW-Madison has given me so many opportunities to befriend students from around the world. This means friends can become personal tour guides. Next, I hope to visit a dear friend in Taiwan!


Published by Aberdeen Leary