Williams college student, Paula Mejia, flew across the Atlantic to Uganda for volunteer work— but not the kind of volunteering most people would imagine: feeding a starved, ebony-skinned, disease-stricken, African child.
In Williams College a one-month class is offered to students; otherwise known as their Winter Study. Mejia was drawn to the Ugandan trip because it was classified as a WGSS class (Women’s, gender, and sexuality studies.)
“I was one of eight students that were chosen to go,” she said.
Mejia and her peers paired up with Ugandan youths to assist and “empower” them to open their own businesses. In other words, they would work with the Ugandans in order to create business proposals. If they succeeded, the business proposals would then enable the Ugandans to receive a loan from money raised on the Williams College Go Fund Me page. That way, the newfound business owners will be motivated to apply what they learned working with the volunteer students to raising revenue.
“There is no legal obligation, but they were expected to pay back,” Mejia said.
This was all done in efforts to break the cycle of poverty. The Ugandan partners ranged from ages 18 to 28 and many were transgender, single mothers, and sex workers—people who often find themselves stuck in the vicious cycle. They also had one thing in common: they all were involved one way or another in HIV advocacy or activist work.
Mejia and another student, Evelyn Rojas, worked with Ugandans Princess Emmalia and Bella Deeath, two transgender activists for the LGBT community, who had very limited job opportunities because of how they identified themselves. Princess and Bella wanted to exceed those limitations by opening a boutique where the LGBT community can safely work.
In working together, the group succeeded in formulating an impressive business proposal that got Princess and Bella the loan. Mejia wrote about her experience on the Williams College website and on their Go Fund Me page.
“I’ve learned so much from this type of international work, myself, and surprisingly, Microsoft Excel,” she wrote.