Rebuilding from the Ruins of War and AIDS

Concordia Students in Uganda are Increasing their Presence with People and Money

Volunteers help rebuild local infrastructure in and around Gulu. Photo Eleonore Gauthier
Photo Eleonore Gauthier

Thomas Prince stepped out of a plane and onto African soil for the first time in his life last year.

Thomas Prince stepped out of a plane and onto African soil for the first time in his life last year.

“It was real,” said Prince. “You weren’t stepping through a gate into a modern airport. We were on a field just a few hundred feet away from cows. You smelt the manure, you smelt farmers burning their fields for the upcoming harvest and you felt that thick humid air hit you the second you stepped out of the plane.”

Prince was in his second year at Concordia University. He had hit a rut, was feeling burnt out and needed to leave the city for a while. That’s when Prince applied to volunteer in Uganda for the summer of 2009 through the Concordia Volunteer Abroad Program.

Once in Uganda, Prince was part of a construction crew that built a house for a local family.

“You get your hands dirty,” he said. “You’re out in the sweltering heat all day and it’s exhausting but it’s a good kind of tired. You feel fulfilled at the end of the day.”

Today, Prince works for CVAP as an administrative assistant.

“CVAP gives Concordia students a chance to help people,” said Concordia Student Union VP Sustainability and Promotions Morgan Pudwell, who was appointed to a committee that oversees CVAP’s operations. “And for students to travel, it’s an inexpensive way to really immerse yourself in a country’s culture.”

On Aug. 13, CVAP, which gets its funding through a 35 cent-per-credit fee levy, secured a $45,000 loan through a presidential decree from former CSU President Prince Ralph Osei. The money will go towards building a $125,000 residence for Concordia volunteers in the town of Gulu in northern Uganda.

“[The residence] will save CVAP in hotel fees,” said former CSU President Prince Ralph Osei at an Aug. 23 Council meeting where council endorsed the loan.

Each year CVAP sends up to 50 volunteers who pay $3,000 each to Uganda, a country ravaged by AIDS and recovering from a civil war that has killed thousands and displaced millions of Ugandans.

Volunteers work on construction sites, but also in classrooms and in offices.

“Sometimes the help a volunteer can give is as simple as teaching locals how to use email,” said Prince. “We had an artist in our group who helped design teaching materials for a classroom. He painted alphabet cards for children learning to read. There’s a diverse set of things you can do with whatever your skill set is.”

This article originally appeared in Volume 31, Issue 03, published August 31, 2010.