Albion teen leads humanitarian initiative in Uganda

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 31 July 2014 at 12:00 am

Joyce LaLonde spends 6 weeks in Africa

Provided photos – Joyce LaLonde talks to a Primary School about the construction and importance of pit latrines as part of a sanitation and hygiene campaign.

ALBION – Joyce LaLonde spent six weeks this summer in Africa, digging holes for latrines, giving presentations to Ugandan women about family planning, and connecting with local officials and other humanitarian organizations.

LaLonde is only 18 and just finished her freshman year at Syracuse University, where she is double majoring in international relations and broadcast and digital journalism. She led a group of 13 other Syracuse students on the project through the Nourish International humanitarian organization based in Chapel Hill, N.C.

The Syracuse University students, including LaLonde in front row at left, are pictured on the last day of work with half the group wearing Nourish International shirts, and others wearing Global Health Network of Uganda shirts.

The work in Uganda convinced LaLonde that she wants to be involved in international service work.

“This is definitely what I see myself doing,” she said. “This is something I’ve always been passionate about, seeing everyone around the globe as sisters and brothers.”

Her team from Syracuse worked with local Ugandan residents and the Global Health Network of Uganda. LaLonde said the Syracuse students were focused on doing sustainable projects that would be maintained long after the students left. (To see a 5-minute video about what they did, click here.)

They worked with residents to build three latrines for families with disabled members. They dug 20 -foot holes for the bathrooms. LaLonde and the team made small structures of concrete and bricks.

Students work hand-in-hand with community members to build a latrine.

The team made drying racks after using machetes to cut bamboo. They made washing stations and garbage pits.

The Syracuse team included 13 young women and only one man. LaLonde has experience in humanitarian projects. She went on a church mission trip in April 2013 for 10 days in Peru. She went with her youth group at the First Presbyterian Church in Albion for another project in Michigan.

The trip to Uganda was much longer, and LaLonde said the six-week commitment is a minimum to build relationships and trust with the local residents.

“You definitely need time to make a sustainable impact,” she said.

Nourish International members lead family planning education with women in Aber Village, Uganda.

The Syracuse group made a two-year commitment to the community in the Oyam District of northern Uganda. LaLonde and her team will be back next summer.

A group of Syracuse students last fall pushed to start a Nourish International chapter. They moved quickly to arrange and organize the trip to Uganda, partnering with the Global Health Network Uganda. Nourish International is not affiliated with a church.

“It’s service work,” LaLonde said. “It’s putting others before yourself.”

A representative from University of Southern California, Syracuse University (Joyce LaLonde – third from left), local government members, and GHN(U) executive director cut ribbon to officially begin partnership.

The students wanted to work in Africa. LaLonde said the culture has always fascinated her.

She was in charge of recruiting and training students for the trip. The group also raised $7,000 for its supplies in building the latrines and other projects. Each student also had to raise the money to cover their airfare and expenses. LaLonde said many in the Albion community helped her with those costs.

besides the physical projects in Uganda, students also led sessions with the Ugandans about sanitation and hygiene, financial literacy, sexual and reproductive health, and business education for women’s groups.

LaLonde was impressed by the sense of community in Uganda. The students were there during prime farming season. Ugandans got up early to work on their farms at 6 a.m. After working with their crops, they then pitched in to dig the latrine holes and complete other physically challenging projects.

The Syracuse group arrived on May 25 and stayed until July 6.

“I had a great team and we met a lot of incredible people,” LaLonde said.

One of the beneficiaries of the project accepts a bucket from Joyce LaLonde at the closing ceremony of the partnership.