by MCC15 Delegate Supriya Sadagopan
Coming into MCC, I had nothing but a swirl of emotions running through my head. Excitement, for the wonderful people that I knew I would meet. Curiosity, to learn more about the amazing work these youth leaders were doing in their respective areas. Amazement, for I had the opportunity to spend a week discussing issues of global relevance at the UN. However, I was also fearful. As a student, I had an interest in many different topics, including public health, women’s empowerment, and community outreach. I was struggling to find a way to integrate my passions in a meaningful and impactful way to serve the greater community.
Lost in these thoughts, I went to different sessions at MCC hoping to meet others that were going through the same challenges that I was. One afternoon, I ended up just following some friends into a crowded workshop that I originally hadn’t planned on attending. In entered Mama Hope—Katrina Boratko and Amy Vaninetti were wearing “Stop the Pity” advocacy shirts, spoke really quickly, and mentioned their travels and work in East Africa. In short, they were who you wanted to be. More than that, the workshop was incredibly moving. It wasn’t just one of those sessions where you sit and idly listen (the kind that reminds you so often of school), but was engaging, funny, moving, and passionate. They introduced the idea of “Poverty Porn”, the depiction of African stereotypes through negative media used so commonly by nonprofits and charities. While I had often noticed the same things that they pointed out, seeing them so clearly defined was incredible. They were making a genuine impact upon the map of Africa, but in a way that was uplifting communities through grassroots leadership, promoting intercultural relationships, and changing the way we view the continent.
I knew that I wanted to get more involved. Ten minutes into the workshop, and I was already googling them. As I looked into some of the projects they did, I learned that these projects were entirely community-driven, and completely led by the community leaders. These weren’t just possible ideas, but were actually being put into action. There were entire orphanages and schools constructed in Tanzania and Ghana, a sustainable farm developed in Kenya, even the building of a health clinic in Uganda! What’s more is that each of these projects were multifaceted—the health clinic wasn’t simply providing services, but was doing health outreach, constructing a cultural center and a fruit farm, and so much more. This was the true potential within local communities, unlimited by resources and unbounded by restrictive stereotypes.
Right after the workshop, I immediately started asking Katrina and Amy questions. I told them of my passions, my struggle with integrating my ideas, and if there were any opportunities to further connect myself with them. To my delight, they had just the thing—the Global Advocate Program. This program connects young professionals with these partner communities through a hands-on, immersive experience. Not only would I get an amazing opportunity to work with these powerful communities, but I would be directly living there and experiencing the vibrant culture. Even more, they had the perfect project for me: the Suubi Health Center of Budondo, Uganda.
The Suubi Health Center was founded by Bernard Mukisa after seeing the lack of accessible healthcare in his community. The nearest hospital was 24 km away, and it was incredibly difficult to obtain quality care for Budondo and the surrounding villages. There was a lack of awareness about health education, malaria treatment, and a high mortality due to home pregnancies. After realizing this issue, the Suubi Health Center was constructed through a partnership with Mama Hope. In just two years, Suubi serves a community of more than 26,000 people. This facility does HIV/AIDS testing, malaria treatment, prenatal care, and is constantly expanding. They’re currently in the process of building a maternity ward. Now that Suubi has been built, they’re looking towards sustainability projects for the future. These initiatives include the Budondo Intercultural Center, the only building of its type in the whole region. The community center would be an area to discuss pressing local issues, a safe space to organize health education workshops for women and girls, and would be rented as an event space. The profits from the cultural center would then be used towards Suubi. Another project in process is a passion fruit farm, led by Charles, Mukisa’s son. This farm grows nutritious and delicious passion fruit for the area, employs community women, and all profits go towards Suubi. In a few years, these projects would allow Suubi to be entirely financially independent, and it could serve an even larger population. In addition, Suubi also hosts community outreach days in the nearby villages to raise awareness and provide vaccinations free of charge. The work that Suubi was doing was exactly in line with my own interests, and by working alongside the community I could turn my passion into action.
After talking with Amy and Katrina, this fellowship was on my mind the rest of the conference. When I got home, I immediately started to write the application, and was in contact with Mama Hope. I was so excited about this opportunity that I could think of nothing else, I only hoped that my application would be accepted! Luckily, I was accepted into the program, and am currently in the midst of my fellowship. I am working with Suubi to complete the infrastructure of the Budondo Intercultural Center and expand the development of the passion fruit farms. For this, I am raising $20,000. While this is by no means a small task, I’m excited to be on this journey to unleash my own potential and to meet visionary and inspiring leaders. In February, I will actually be leaving to live with this wonderful community for 3 months and learn more about their incredible work.
There’s a term often used with Mama Hope called “Mama Hope Magic.” It describes the serendipitous nature of how the partner communities, Mama Hope, and the Global Advocate fellows all come together. I think Mama Hope Magic was definitely present at MCC, and was the reason I went to the workshop I did, discovered this fellowship, and became a part of a new community. Without MCC, nothing I would be doing would be possible, and I’m so grateful to them for providing me with this opportunity to “not be a hero, but to be a sidekick” as I progress in this experience. I’m so thankful for the support of MCC, Mama Hope, my friends, and my family for everything that I’ve done thus far and will continue to do along this journey.
If anyone is interested in my ongoing adventure or would like to get more involved, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org! I would be so grateful if you could volunteer, host an event, spread the word, check out my website, Instagram, or please simply just follow my blog! For more information on my project, please check out www.classy.org/priyasuubi . If you’re interested in Mama Hope, their website is www.mamahope.org. I am so excited to see the incredible power of the MCC community in action as we all unleash our inner sidekick!