A trip to Uganda last month illuminated the power of family for junior Rodolfo Coplin. He volunteered with the non-profit Grandmothers Beyond Borders, a U.S. based organization focused on grandmothers in Uganda who have lost their children and consequently assumed the role of parent to their grandchildren.
“My short stay in Uganda was a life-changing experience,” says Coplin, President, Class of 2013. “It allowed me to introduce myself to a completely different culture and gain insight into many of the values that play an imperative role in many parts of the world.”
Malaria and AIDS were among the most prevalent causes of death in the landlocked equatorial country. In one case, a grandmother was responsible for more than 20 grandchildren. The organization looks for ways for the caregivers to persevere, especially through efficient gardening. Through workshops on planting and collection of crops, to the distribution of seeds, Grandmothers Beyond Borders empowers elderly and middle-aged grandmothers.
“It was amazing getting to see the many gardens sustained by the grandmothers,” says Coplin, who spent most of his childhood in the Dominican Republic before moving to Camden, N.J.
He hopes to return to Uganda and expand on his involvement with the organization. One cultural surprise for the Biology major was the unwavering patience of the people he met.
“Coming from the Dominican culture, our days begin very early and commonly people are very outspoken about discipline and order,” he says. “As I walked through the airport upon my arrival in Uganda, I was shocked to hear the people whisper. I asked my friend if everything was okay and she later explained it was a formality particularly within Luganda (tribe) to speak softly. Being that my voice is naturally a bit high, I was a little nervous to become the loud outcast. I adapted to the soft speech and gained a better sense of patience that many Americans do not have.”
Coplin says his mother encouraged his decision to volunteer abroad. He also spoke with Campus Chaplain Rev. Charles Rice, who supported his passion for learning more about international public health. A former employer, Dr. Patrick Ervilus, with whom Coplin worked in a Camden clinic, was also an advocate. “Dr. Ervilus provided the financial support necessary for the trip,” says Coplin, treasurer of the Ursinus Student Government Association. “I recommend anyone who has done internships of any kind at hospitals, clinics [or] therapy centers to stay in contact. It is very important to remain connected, mainly with those who are part of your field of interest.”