ISU students teach, learn, help develop a school farm in Uganda

AMES, Iowa -- Going to school in Uganda is a pretty tough chore -- long hours in class, overworked teachers, little food for lunch and little water. The list of hardships is long.

But it is just those problems that a group of six Iowa State students tried to fix this summer. Two of the students spent almost three months in Uganda, while the other four spent about four weeks in the east central African country.

While there, the students taught classes, helped establish a school garden and oversaw the completion of a borehole to provide water for drinking and irrigation.

For many Ugandan students, classes last as long as 12 hours, with only a break for a school-supplied lunch. And that lunch was not providing enough nourishment for the students to learn.

50 calories a day

The average primary school student at the Namasagali school in Uganda (where the Iowa State students went) was getting about 50 calories a day, according to Eric Nonnecke, a senior from Roland studying human nutrition. "That's about equal to one apple."

According to Nonnecke, a typical, active adolescent needs around 1,500 to 2,000 calories a day. Compounding the problem is that the school's food source, maize, is a poor source of fat and fiber, he added.

ISU students help enlarge garden

Nonnecke said that the students now may be consuming as many as 200 to 500 calories as part of a much more balanced and energy-rich diet. The improved nutrition is thanks in large part to the Iowa State students who helped enlarge the school's garden to allow the school to grow high-protein grain, leafy green vegetables, soybeans and other foods.

The Iowa Staters also helped build a chicken house so the local students will eventually have a source of high-quality proteins from the poultry and eggs that will be produced there.

The students' calorie intake is still below the optimum, Nonnecke said, but it is up to 10 times more than they had been ingesting.

When young people don't have enough to eat, it leads to developmental problems.

"Without certain vitamins and minerals, students don't have proper brain development and normal growth," said Nonnecke. "A child may look five years old, but really be 10 or 12.

"Now they may start developing more normally," he said.

Another benefit is the boost in attendance at school.

"When parents realize their kids are being fed at school, they are more likely to send them to school," Nonnecke added.

Elly Sukup, a junior from Sheffield majoring in public service administration in agriculture and international agriculture, looks back on her time in Uganda with pride.

"I left feeling very good about what we did there," said Sukup. "I really didn't want to leave because we accomplished so much."

The Iowa State students were part of a program that involves Makerere University -- a local Uganda institute in the capital city of Kampala, and VEDCO -- an international non-governmental organization.

A visit from President Geoffroy

At the end of the summer, Iowa State University President Gregory Geoffroy arrived in Uganda to see what the students had done.

While there, Geoffroy witnessed the opening of a borehole which now provides water right on the school grounds. Before the borehole was dug, water was a half-mile hike from the school.

"It was fun to show him what we accomplished," said Sukup. "It made me proud to be an Iowa State student. We are making an impact on these people's lives."

For all that they did for the locals, the Iowa State students maintain that they received just as much.

"I learned more from them, than I was able to teach them," said Rachael Cox, a sophomore from Ames majoring in agronomy.

The students learned much about the culture, about poverty, about malnutrition and about agriculture in a different environment, according to Cox.

"To see the people face to face and try to help them was an education that I couldn't get here in Iowa," said Nonnecke.

Students selected for special expertise

The Iowa State students chosen for the project were selected for their expertise in certain specialties. The group included a student from each of these educational areas: horticulture, human nutrition, engineering, agronomy and agriculture-related social sciences and education.

Lee Beck, a junior horticulture major from Buckingham, said just being chosen for the trip was an honor.

"It was one of those things," said Beck, "that was a thrill just to be a part of. It gave me an international outlook on agriculture."

For the students, it was a busy time, but there was also a time for fun.

Beck, who is preparing for the Twin Cities marathon later this year, found time to continue his running while there.

"I was doing my training right along the Nile," he said. "It was pretty surreal."

The other members of the group included Mark Tekippe, a senior from Story City majoring in electrical engineering; and Melissa Nasers, a junior from Sibley studying agricultural communications.