Penn GSE student puts management and evaluation skills to work in Ugandan summer internship

August 13, 2019

International Educational Development Program student Amy Guillotte catches a ride to her Genova Global internship in Gulu Uganda on the back of a boda-boda, one of the city’s motorcycle taxis.

For Penn GSE student Amy Guillotte, learning abroad has always been an integral part of her own education. She caught the travel bug early while spending a summer in France during high school and went on to study in Doha, Qatar as an undergraduate student. After her time in Qatar, Guillotte taught English at the University of Jordan as a Fulbright scholar and was a fellow with an NGO education team that supported English teachers and education programs in two refugee camps— Zaatari and Azraq. It was no surprise that Guillotte perked up when Dr. Joshua Muskin addressed her International Education Development Program (IEDP) seminar class. 

“Dr. Muskin, from Geneva Global—a consulting organization that has a wide array of objectives, including implementing international educational development programs, was a guest speaker,” said Guillotte. “I thought his work sounded really interesting.”

She struck up a conversation with Dr. Muskin, and, a few months later arrived in Gulu, Uganda to begin her IEDP summer internship at Geneva Global. The Uganda office runs a program called Speed School, an accelerated learning model for out-of-school children in northern Uganda. Guillotte felt compelled to apply for the internship as Geneva Global’s mission aligned so closely with her own—to advance educational access to underserved students.

Geneva Global's accelerated classrooms

The work that Geneva Global does is critical. There are many reasons Ugandan children leave school early including family pressure and financial hardship. Although Uganda has implemented Universal Primary Education, associated costs like uniforms, materials, and school fees add up. The accelerated learning classrooms run by Geneva Global have been located within government schools. In these programs, young learners get the opportunity to catch up on grades 1-3 curriculum in a one-year program and can then rejoin their peers in the 4th grade. Guillotte has facilitated and supported collaborative action research among teachers—both at Geneva Global and the government primary school. Day-to-day, her tasks include supporting an educational community of practice models, visiting classes, discussing strategies with teachers, and documenting teacher-led action research. 

“Our accelerated program has a 30:1 student/teacher ratio, while the government primary school classrooms may have over 100 kids,” she said. 

Outside of working hours, Guillotte has adjusted to the weather in Gulu. When she first arrived in May, she brought a rain jacket and bug spray for the rainy season.

“There were showers every day, but the temperature was pretty moderate—about 70 degrees without humidity.”  

Once Guillotte settled into her home away from home—a guest house in Gulu—she started to explore her new city. Located in northern Uganda, Gulu is a growing metropolis with nearly 150,000 inhabitants. It’s more than 200 miles north of Kampala, the capital city. Each morning, Guillotte hops on a boda-boda to work, a motorcycle taxi that’s the most common form of public transit in Gulu. 

A close-knit team of five colleagues has been integral to Guillotte’s quick learning curve at Geneva Global. When she’s not at her desk, Guillotte visits schools across the district, checks on teachers, stops by teacher training college, or meets with education officials at government sites. 

“We work with local NGOs that are Speed School partners on things like data analysis, reports, and new initiatives.” 

Applying lessons learned at Penn GSE

Takeaways from Penn GSE classes have already come in handy in multiple situations for Guillotte. 

“I support our monitoring and evaluation program manager with data collection and analysis to monitor program implementation and evaluate student and program outcomes.” 

At 6 p.m. each day, Guillotte heads back to the guest house. She passes a mix of traditional Acholi homes—round structures with thatched roofs—and cement and brick buildings on dirt roads while speeding along on the boda-boda. Gulu has been slated to earn official “city” status in the next few years, and due to that transition, many roads and neighborhoods are currently under construction. 

To smooth her transition into the east African country, Guillotte’s coworkers have introduced her to a community of expats and students who enjoy the local restaurants and cafes alongside longtime Gulu residents. New favorite foods include Rolex, a rolled omelette sandwich of eggs with chapati bread; flavorful stews made with peanut sauce—called ground nuts or g-nuts; along with beans and fish. Fresh fruit has been abundant—pineapple, jackfruit, a few different kinds of bananas, and even a mango tree at her office. 

“Ugandan food is delicious.”

Although Guillotte studied Arabic, she doesn’t speak any of the 40 languages in Uganda. Acholi is the dialect most commonly spoken in Gulu, and English is taught starting in first grade alongside mother tongue instruction. Gulliotte has been able to onboard quickly and has helped her team prepare for a visit with high-level Ministry of Education officials. Geneva Global’s goal is for the Ministry to take ownership of the accelerated learning program. 

“The visit went well and was featured in the local paper. The Minister for Basic Education was enthusiastic—it was really exciting to be involved in the beginning phases of program sustainability and government ownership discussions.” 

When she’s not working in global education, Guillotte, married to Penn medical student Ben Johnson, has taken advantage of her newfound close proximity to African wildlife this summer.

“Ben and I traveled to Murchison Falls. We went on safari and saw elephants, lions, giraffes, and hippos. The nature in Uganda is spectacular.” 

Another Ugandan highlight was visiting the second largest mosque in Africa—Uganda National Mosque—with fellow IEDP cohort student Risa Otsu. Guillotte hopes to see other national parks, check out the source of the Nile in Jinja, and visit Kampala. When she wraps up her time at Penn in the fall, there will be a decision to make.

“I’d like to work on programs related to refugee emergencies, especially in the Middle East. Or I may apply for a Ph.D. program—there are a few possibilities.” 

For more about Guillotte’s internship in Uganda, check out her blog posts here.

—    Story by SJ Punderson