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International Field Experiences: Allyson Fritz (MSW '16), Uganda

Allyson Fritz (MSW '16, Management and Planning): Gaining program evaluation and monitoring experience in Uganda

Why were you interested in participating and investing in an international summer learning experience?

I really wanted to go abroad for the summer and do an internship/volunteer work that would give me more concrete work experience. I worked in Senegal for 15 months before I came to Berkeley, and I hope to work in West Africa after I graduate.

I applied for different fellowships and ended up getting connected with the African Studies Department through Dr. Jim Midgley. I got a grant for $3,000, and that was huge. I also got support to go to Uganda for my eight-week internship and some additional support from the School of Social Welfare. That’s what made it possible to happen. 

How did you ultimately end up in Uganda?

That was very roundabout! I talked to a lot of different professors, and ultimately Dr. Midgley connected me to one of his colleagues, a professor in South Africa. Since I wanted to work in East Africa, she ended up connecting me with a professor in Uganda, who suggested the organization Uganda Youth Development Link (UYDEL). It’s all Ugandan social work staff, and they receive a lot of social work interns.

Please describe your internship experience.

I was there for eight weeks, and it was more productive and fruitful than I thought it would be, given that it was a short time. It took a couple of weeks to know who I should talk to about certain things and to feel like I had an understanding of what was expected of me. They were great because they have an established internship program, and I received supervision and worked closely with the deputy director, who was amazing. I really learned a lot.

My role there was to support an evaluation of beneficiaries who completed a program three months prior. The program was for young people, but it ended up being mostly young women who had been commercially/ sexually exploited or who had been in commercial sex work. The program provides vocational training with a variety of vocational skills that beneficiaries can choose from. Part of the grant beneficiaries' received included start-up kits to establish their own business, and they do a three-month evaluation to determine the needs. It was really cool to be part of that evaluation.

When I contacted the organization, I asked what would be helpful to them and they asked me about my interestsI expressed my interests in monitoring and evaluation, and they found an existing project that fit. They were really accommodating, and I was happy that they were already starting to conduct this evaluation and were not having to create a project for me. It filled a real, existing need.

The work itself provided concrete experience and was exactly what I am interested in doing professionally. I told the monitoring and evaluation officer, who is really knowledgeable, “You are what I want to be when I grow up.”  

How did you manage logistics in Uganda, such as housing and transportation?

Logistics were easy! The gentleman who was my supervisor at the organization let me know about a local hostel, where they refer interns. It was really reasonable at $6 a day! I paid for my own meals or cooked for myself. It was so close I was able to walk to the office; I didn’t really have to pay for transportation. Uganda is known for boda bodas, which are taxi-motorcycles and are very dangerous. I didn’t have to take those!

Tell us about your other summer abroad activities.

The other part of my experience that was really valuable was the three weeks I spent in Senegal. After completing my intenship in Uganda, I travelled to Senegal for two weeks as part of a language grant I received. In addition to working there before starting my MSW program, I studied there and had taken Wolof. I was able to refresh my language skills. It was also fun because after having been working full-time in Uganda, it was a break to only have four hours of language class a day.

I think that learning the language is going to be valuable as I apply for jobs after graduation. I already had some basic knowledge, and the summer experience really helped solidify my skills. While I’m sure the language I’ll be mostly working in is French, which I have enough fluency to get by and to work for an organization, I need to speak the local language for any community-based work.

What lessons can be learned from your experiences to help improve the processes for future summer program participants?

I am part of the [Berkeley Social Welfare student organization] Caucus for International Awareness. One of the things that we came up with, but that [Berkeley Social Welfare Director of Student Services] Bob Teague has been wanting to do, is start a database of students who have participated in international programs so that people can ask questions and share their experiences. Another good database would include UC Berkeley professors, their work in different countries and their research. Even if students do not work with them directly, they can be a good resource for ideas about organizations abroad.