Editor's Note: For two weeks, WTOP's Jamie Forzato is accompanying a Fulbright Scholars research team in Uganda. Follow her journey here and on Twitter: @JamieForzato.
WASHINGTON - It was Nov. 4 when I received the email.
"Hi Jamie Lynn... I want to know what you're doing the first two weeks of January…"
It would be the opportunity of a lifetime - a dream realized.
Flashback to the summer of 2013. Long Island University Associate Professor Dr. Geoff Goodman and LIU Dean of University Libraries Valeda Dent, who just so happen to be my uncle and aunt, were awarded Fulbright Scholarships by the U.S. Department of State. They're part of a team of researchers who will continue their literacy studies on Ugandan preschool children and their caregivers, as well as teach at Uganda Martyrs University from January to August 2014.
They invited me to join them for the first two weeks to document their research, which is centered around the Kitengesa Community Library in central Uganda.
The community library started as a tin box filled with 161 books. During the past 15 years, it's grown into a center for international research on literacy, language, culture and the impact of education -- particularly on girls and women. Many of the 2.6 million Ugandan children are orphans because of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
Children struggle with poverty and hunger on a daily basis but rural libraries, like Kitengesa, bring educational resources to their communities. Many people who live in the area are peasant farmers but they value education and the literate population is growing.
The most recent Census data estimates about 34 million people live in Uganda - more than twice the population of Maryland, Virginia, and Washington D.C. combined. But according to the CIA's World Factbook, only a fraction of the country is urbanized. In rural areas, only about 1 in 3 people has access to adequate sanitation facilities and only 2 in 3 can access improved drinking water.
You might have heard about the unrest in the South Sudan, the country adjacent to the northern Uganda border. Ugandan troops were deployed to the region this week to facilitate civilian evacuations.
Every day, the situation in South Sudan seems to escalate. Today, rebels are recruiting civilians to march on Juba, the capital. The region is no stranger to civil wars and conflict. But the research team and I will stay near the capital city of Kampala, about 430 miles away. While northern Uganda can be dangerous for tourists, we will be stationed in the central to southwestern region of the country.
More than 1 million people are HIV/AIDS positive and the risk of contracting a major infectious disease is very high. The most common diseases include typhoid fever and malaria. In order to travel to Uganda, I had to be up-to-date on all routine immunizations and required travel vaccines: Malaria pills for before, during and after the trip; typhoid and yellow fever shots; Cipro for gastrointestinal bacterial illness or "traveler's diarrhea." I am particularly prone to mosquito bites so I've packed plenty of bug spray and insect repelling wristbands.
We will stay at the Uganda Martyrs University in Nkozi. Fortunately, we have electricity, running water, bathroom facilities and a WiFi connection.
Our flight departs JFK International Airport on Friday night and after a short layover at London Heathrow Airport, we will finally step onto Ugandan soil. It will be an eye-opening trip and a great way to kick off the new year!
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