The Required Reading: Dead Aid

The first book I read for my research project was Dead Aid by Dambisa Moyo.  When I was working on my application for Summer Fellows, Dr. O recommended it to me as something that might be worth checking out.  Although I didn’t get around to reading it until this week, I wanted it myself so I ordered a copy from Amazon rather than using my budget from the program.  Book I bought with those funds end up as property of the library.


I’ve got to say, this book really impressed me.  Moyo focuses her argument on government-to-government aid rather than Emergency Funding or private giving through NGOs.  She makes the claim that this type of aid is actually hurting African countries, citing data showing increased poverty rates as well as giving examples of countries that have rejected Western aid and have traditionally performed much better on their own.

As for her methodology, Moyo starts by destroying the myth that aid is actually helping African countries.  This is very important because so many people see it as a purely good thing and believe that wealthier countries are required to help the less fortunate.  Moyo systematically dismantles this claim by going through the long history of foreign aid and dissecting the practice, exposing all of its flaws and failures.

She does not, however, leave her readers with this bleak picture – the second section gives her recommendations for what needs to be done in aid’s place: African countries need to (1) make use of the international bond markets to raise money, (2) continue to let the Chinese do “large-scale direct investment in infrastructure (xi), (3) push for free trade in agriculture, (4) support financial institutions especially through micro-financing, and (5) make it easier for Africans outside the continent to send remittances to friends and families still in Africa.

I’m not sure how helpful this book is actually going to be for my research project.  I realized very quickly that it’s focus isn’t where I needed it to be.  However, I was too enthralled with Moyo’s argument to put it down at this point!  It’s definitely raising some questions about the post-colonial relationship between the West and Africa and about aid more broadly.  Although I don’t have time to do it this summer, it might be a good avenue to explore during the school year when I’m pursuing my Honor Research Project.


This sent shivers down my spine when I first read it.  Earlier in this section, Moyo was describing the rise of “glamour aid” and how celebrities like Bono seem to take it upon themselves to speak for the continent.  Rarely are Africans included in the discussion about how best to help their countries.  This is one of the reasons why I’m so excited to go to Africa as a part of my research – I get to actually talk to them about what is working and what is not.  That’s a pretty exciting thing.


Something that I found very intriguing was this passing mention of a company called Kiva that connects lenders and borrowers around the world as a means of micro-financing.  Has anyone tried using the platform?  I’ve got a little extra inheritance money still sitting around from my Grandpa.  Stay-tuned because I might be giving this a try…



The Required Reading

The Required Reading

For those of you who are unaware, being a history major means that I read.  A lot.  I’m used to having 100-200 pages assigned weekly across my classes.  I’ve always heard from my professors that we should be reading strategically but to be honest, I’ve never had a problem with that.  I hate skimming, yet I can fly through the pages and stay on the couch for hours at a time.  And yet, all the summers I spent making and breaking my reading goals – reaching my limit at 100 books – didn’t prepare me for what I’m going to be facing this summer.

This is the stack of books I’m going to be working my way through over the next few weeks.  Let’s look at it from a different angle.

That’s not much better, is it?  Granted, there’s a few caveats to that stack.  To start with, I’m not reading all of them in their entirety.  Some I got because they contain certain chapters or essays that will be especially pertinent to my project.  As interesting as it may be, I can’t afford to spend time reading about British Colonialism in India; I need to keep focused on Uganda and East Africa.

Also, I fully expect that some of these will be duds.  Since I based my decisions on keywords, back covers, and a quick glance at the Table of Contents, I’ve probably skipped over or misinterpreted something.  Odds are, I’ll get a couple pages in, realize it’s not going to be useful, and move onto the next one.

Finally, this is not typical of a Summer Fellows project.  I leave for Uganda in about 4 weeks.  Other students have an additional 3 weeks during which to do their research.  My mentor and I decided that I should have a rough draft of my paper completed on June 29th, two days before I leave.  This means I need to have all my reading done before then.  Since I know that I’m a very methodical and deliberate writer, I’m budgeting 7-10 days to synthesize my research and have a draft completed.

That means I’m essentially squeezing 8 weeks worth of reading into 4.  Yikes!  After using my planner to pencil in my timeline, I can’t take longer than 2 days to read any of these books.  Some selections are much shorter, so I can expect to complete them in a single day.


In addition to those 18 – yes, eightenn – actual books, I’ve requested and collected about 21 scholarly articles from the internet to read.  I’m addicted to knowledge guys.  #DontJudgeMe.

Most have come from the Interlibrary Loan System.  If you’ve never used this resource, then you haven’t really lived.  Students at Ursinus can sign up to meet one-on-one with a librarian if they’re having trouble with research and I can guarantee you she’ll point you here.  If Ursinus doesn’t have physical or electronic access to a book or article, you can use ILL to get a copy from an institution that does.  Articles and Book Chapters get uploaded as a PDF document, while full books get mailed to campus.  Fun Fact: I once received a book from Western Washington University, a college where about 10% of my high school class went.  I was sorely tempted to slip a note inside to see if it could get to someone I knew.

With these, I also penciled in titles into my calendar.  Since I had already planned out my books, I tried to adjust around that.  On days when I knew that I would already have less, I stacked up two articles, while on others I didn’t schedule any so I could plow through a larger chunk of books.

I’ll keep you posted on my progress over the next few weeks and hopefully we’ll see that stack start to shrink.

Until next time!

My Story

Hey Friends!

Wow.  Where do I begin to tell my story?  How every April my brother and I cried for hours every night because our dad was in Uganda and would only sleep when mom let us (and the dogs) sleep in her bed?  My first trip to Africa at age 8, when I hid behind my mom because the drums and singing scared me?  The second trip in 2005, when I earned the nicknames Akambuzi Mbuzi, Mzungu, and The Solider?  Or the third trip with my mom in 8th grade when we taught sewing at the Kampala School for the Physically Handicapped and I learned that Rihanna’s “Umbrella” had crossed oceans?  Or the fourth trip, the summer before I started college when I got to prove that girls could play soccer?

Who’s that cute blonde baby in the Pooh Bear sweater “helping” pack the container?       Credit: Terry McGill

Actually, that’s a pretty good summary right there.  Let’s cut to the chase and talk about why I am so excited to finally be able to return to Uganda this summer.  Although it’s only been three years, to me it’s felt like a lifetime.  Whatsmore, I didn’t think I would get the opportunity for another few years – I would have to finish my undergraduate degree and if I continued to grad school I couldn’t take April off, but if I finished school in 2017 I would be starting my first big job and who knew if I would have the time or the money to return!

Playing games at a school in 2005.          Credit: Sister Schools

With the environment I was brought up in, it’s little wonder that I love Uganda this much.  My mom always tells me that I have a “Servant’s Heart” or a passion for helping others.  Although I realize that now, I didn’t always.  When I was in high school and trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, I went through many career options.  Sophomore year I decided I wanted to be a doctor and I would certainly be working with Doctors Without Borders.  When I discovered that I lacked any real passion for science, that fell by the wayside.  As I excelled in math, I seriously considered becoming a teacher for a period – but I made the condition that I would be sure to work in low-income schools where I could make the biggest impact.  But the thought of doing math for the rest of my life seemed rather bland; the part that I enjoyed the most was the problem-solving and the process of finding a solution.

Distributing supplies in 2005          Credit: Sister Schools

Eventually, I made my way to college where I frantically searched for a major that was practical, well-paid, and would allow me an avenue for service.  I felt myself drawn to the History Department here at Ursinus College, but I had more than my fair-share of doubts.  What could I possibly do with a history major?  I enjoy reading and researching, but that’s not helping anyone!  How am I supposed to balance what I want – to be in this department and study this material – with what I need – to be of service to others?  It was in the midst of this internal crisis that I had The Great Epiphany, as I like to call it.  Every time a career possibility came before me, I would evaluate it based on it’s ability to benefit others.  Why then, couldn’t service be my profession?  Growing up alongside a nonprofit, I really should have come to this conclusion sooner.

Working in the Tailoring Program at the Kampala School for the Physically Handicapped.  Credit: Melissa McGill


Even with The Great Epiphany underway, I was still at war with myself.  I hesitantly declared my history major, but I was wracked with guilt.  Surely I couldn’t be this lucky, to be able to pursue what I love!  It was eating me up inside.  Then, I got some much needed reassurance from a very unlikely source.  That semester, I taking a class that doubled as my training to work in Ursinus’ Center for Writing and Speaking; a component of the course was to volunteer and I had been placed in an after-school program for middle schoolers.  One afternoon, I was working with the coordinator, Miss Rae, on a computer in the backroom.  At first we were discussing the kids, the skills they were learning, and how they would succeed in the long-run, but the conversation turned to something much more abstract.

Spending time with some of Sister Schools’ Scholarship students in 2008.            Credit: Melissa McGill


All of a sudden, Miss Rae was telling me about how I needed to follow my heart and that everything would work out.  I shouldn’t worry about money or what anyone else was telling me.  If I felt like it was the right choice and what I should pursue, then I couldn’t let my doubts keep me back.  I needed to go full-steam ahead.  In that dirty little closet with two ancient desktop computers, I broke down and started crying.  Miss Rae simply looked at me and said, “Well, I guess you needed to hear that today.”  I told her all about how I had been questioning my chosen path and was at war with myself.  She looked me dead in the eye, put her hand on my shoulder and told me that I had no need to be afraid.  This was what I was born to do.  I could have it all.

The Sister Schools’ Team in Summer of 2013.                                        Credit: Sister Schools


Obviously, my family’s involvement with Uganda affected my life.  There is something very special about the country and her people.  They’ve taught me to be selfless, to always think of others, and above all else to value my education.  Not everyone can switch schools when they’re not being challenged intellectually.  Not everyone can justify a private high school.  Not everyone goes to college.  Not everyone gets to do their own original research.  Not every girl knows that she can succeed, despite what others tell her.  Not everyone has had a caring, supportive community constantly pushing them to achieve more.

Playing with children in an orphanage in 2013.                                       Credit: Ryan McGill

Uganda is like a second home to me.  But what makes the country so special are the lessons it’s taught me and the passion it has given me for education.  It’s my goal to use the gifts that I have been given to constantly lift others up so that in turn, they may do the same.



Sister Schools

Sister Schools

Hi Friends!

Here comes another passion post.  Last time you heard all about my dad’s journey of self-discovery.  Now you get to see how it turned out.

Credit: Sister Schools

Sister Schools operates by pairing schools in the Seattle area with schools and orphanages in Uganda.  In the fall, my dad goes around and gives a presentation about what it’s like in Uganda, much like I did in my first post.  No seriously, I stole all those pictures from his slideshow and I could probably recite his speech word for word at this point.

Credit: Sister Schools

At the end, students are asked to contribute.  We take whatever they can spare, new or used – provided it’s usable and within shipping regulations, it can go over.  The point of this is not to make families go out and spend more money.  It’s to teach kids that they can make a difference.  Regardless of who they are, they can participate.


Credit: Sister Schools

At the end of the supply drive, my dad returns to collect the donations.  But before he loads them up, something very special happens.  Classroom by classroom, Seattle students come out to have their pictures taken with the things they brought in.  Although it’s mostly seen as a fun break from school, it becomes very important later on in the year-long program.


Credit: Sister Schools

Once everything is collected, it gets taken to our warehouse to be sorted, packed, and labeled.  Every type of donation imaginable gets separated – pens from pencils, spiral notebooks from composition books, boy’s shorts from girl’s dresses.  Beyond that, special care is taken to ensure that schools don’t get mixed.  Donations from Fernwood Elementary all stay together and separated by labels from those from Dearborn Park.  With the exception of that ONE HANDFUL OF PENCILS THAT JUST REFUSE TO FIT IN THE BOX and have to wait for the next school, donations don’t get mixed.


Credit: Sister Schools

In mid-December, the container is packed and shipped off to Uganda.  In general, it arrives in time for the team arriving in April, although international shipping is not the most reliable.  For this reason, the team carries many of those photographed items with them in checked luggage.


Credit: Sister Schools

Once in Uganda, and with the help of local students, Sister Schools works to unload the container of supplies.  Remember those labels that distinguished the Seattle Schools?  They also tell us where the donations are going: all the boxes from Catherine Blaine will be benefiting a school and an orphanage.


Credit: Sister Schools

Once the boxes are loaded up and delivered to the receiving school, Sister Schools makes the rounds again.  And just like before, we make sure to take pictures of students who are receiving the donations.


Once the trip is complete, the team returns home, but quickly gets started on the return presentations.  That’s right – this isn’t just a one and done.  My dad returns to each and every school, program, and organization that donated supplies to show them the impact that they’ve made.

Students get to see first-hand how they’ve impacted the lives of the Ugandan counterparts.  The friends who donated pencils and crayons get to see the student who gets to use them.  The young girl who gave away her dress sees the girl in the orphanage who received it.  Yes, Sister Schools is helping children in Uganda.  But their main goal is to inspire philanthropy in Seattle students by teaching them that they can make a difference.  Each return presentation ends with this thought: if you can change the lives of children in Uganda, imagine what you can do in your classroom, or at home, or down the street.

Additional Programming

In addition to the regular program, Sister Schools also has specialty projects that they work on based on their encounters with the original.

As an optional second-year program, schools can choose to fundraise in addition to their supply drive.  This goes to buy and make school packs for day students in Uganda.  Although many students are boarders at the school they attend, others must walk every day from home.  When your parents have difficulty buying you a pencil for school, how can they be expected to buy a backpack to carry your supplies?  Filled with some of the donated supplies, these packs not only make it easier for commuting students to get to school, it also gives them something to show their parents, who are hopefully inspired to encourage and keep them in school.

Credit: Sister Schools


Another problem that Sister Schools encountered was the amount of books they were receiving.  Obviously, that’s a fantastic problem to have.  Seattle schools were donating hundreds of pounds of picture books, fiction and non-fiction books, encyclopedias, and teacher’s aides.

The issue was concerning the books when they got to Uganda.  If you can’t protect your students from the elements, how can you protect your supplies?  Rain can easily wreck materials, even if the school is lucky enough to have a makeshift hut to teach in.

That’s where the Literacy Centers come in.  We now use our old shipping containers to create a place where books and other materials can be safely stored and students can use it as a library.  Using the container as sort of base, the rest of the center is built around it.

Want to know more about Sister Schools?  Visit their website or find them on Facebook!

That’s pretty much Sister Schools in a (large and very verbose) nutshell.  As you can probably tell, I’m super passionate about Uganda and this program.  Tune in next time to hear more about my thoughts and why I’m still so involved.


UP NEXT: My Story


My Dad’s Story

Hi Friends!

Ready to hear about how my family got involved in Uganda?  No?  Well that’s too bad cuz if you don’t read this I’ll just have to come talk to you about it in person and then you’ll never escape.  Your choice.

Credit: Terry McGill

It all started in the ’80s.  Yes, the decade of freakishly curly hair and mullets – looking at you, Mom and Dad.  My dad, Terry McGill, was fresh out of college where he had “majored in soccer” when he was offered a chance to tour internationally with a group called Sports Outreach.  A Christian organization, they used sports as a way to connect with children and young adults in underdeveloped countries.  Sure, the team would play friendly matches with the local and national teams, but they would also participate in field days at schools, volunteer in orphanages, and work at clinics in the slums.


My dad agreed to go, thinking it would be a fun experience while continuing to pursue his love of soccer.  Little did he know how profoundly the trip would change his life and the way he viewed the world.

Credit: Terry McGill

The picture above represents the turning point for him.  While at an orphanage, the team was distributing some of the goods they had brought along with them.  There wasn’t enough for all the children, so only a few would get a new article of clothing to wear.  Holding a pair of blue nylon shorts, my dad spotted a young boy wearing a ratty blue t-shirt and hole-ridden shorts.  He handed the boy the shorts and turned around to get his camera, thinking about what a great photo this was going to make and how excited the boy must be.  But when he had turned back around, the boy was still standing there, searching the crowd of other children.  Then, he slowly walks over to a younger boy, sitting on the floor in nothing but a shirt, takes it off, and helps him into the new pair of shorts.


Those shorts were probably the only new article of clothing this young man had ever held.  And yet, he chose to give them away to someone who needed them more.  As my dad watched in awe, he thought to himself, on my best day, I would have kept those shorts for myself.  If I’m the type of man I like to think I am, what should I be doing about this?

Dan and Cindy Montzingo sorting donated supplies.  Credit: Terry McGill

After returning home, my dad struggled with how to act upon his experiences.  Close friends with my parents, Dan and Cindy Montzingo, were both school teachers and asked him to come to their classes and share stories of his trip with their students.  After a short presentation about what life was like in Uganda, a boy raised his hand and asked if he could give my dad some too-small clothes to give to the kids.  Quickly others chimed in, offering school supplies and sports equipment.  Since he was already planning a second trip, this time with my mom, Melissa, he agreed.  After all, how much stuff could sixty elementary-schoolers donate?


In the early years, my parents’ house served as the center of operations.  Credit: Terry McGill

Turns out it was quite a lot.  So much so that it completely filled his truck.  After overloading their small house with donations, my parents packed whatever they could fit into their suitcases and once again traveled to Uganda.  Upon their return, the Montzingos again asked them to share with their classes, this time to talk about and show the kids what they had done.  Thus, Sister Schools was born.

Until Next Time!

Uganda, The Pearl of Africa

Uganda, The Pearl of Africa

Hey Friends!

For those of you who have heard one of my long-winded rants on Uganda, you probably know more than you ever wanted to about the country.  #SorryNotSorry.  For those who have not, then you’re in luck!  You’re about to get the virtual equivalent.  The upside to this is that you can close your computer and come back to it later.  My face-to-face victims friends had no such luck.  #StillNotSorry.


Uganda is a small country in East Africa that is slightly larger than Washington State (or Pennsylvania, depending on what coast you’re on).  It shares borders with Sudan, Congo, Kenya, Rwanda, and Tanzania; touching Lake Victoria on it’s southeast edge, Uganda is also home to the Source of the Nile which flows north to Egypt.


Not only can Uganda boast lush, green landscapes, the capital city of Kampala was one of the most industrialized and advanced on the continent.  This is how the country earned it’s nickname, “The Pearl of Africa.”

Credit: Sister Schools

Unfortunately, years of civil war during the Presidencies of Milton Obote and Idi Amin disrupted this prosperity.  Hundreds of thousands of people were killed in the fighting, the infrastructure fell apart, and rampant poverty became the norm.


In the years since, there has been marked improvement within the country, most notably in the roads.  While it used to take 5 hours to go 50 miles (weaving around potholes), the journey down that same stretch of road takes 2 hours or less.

Credit: Sister Schools

Poverty is still a major problem, especially once you get out of the city and into the rural villages.  You could take hundreds of photographs like the one above in a single day.  What we would consider rags might be the only articles of clothing a child owns.  Often, they tie their clothing up in knots to make it last just a little longer because they know what a burden it would be on their families to buy them new clothes.


Poverty is also very apparent in the schools.  If they’re lucky, students and faculty will get to work in a building.  Otherwise, their classroom might be a bunch of logs thrown under a tree so they have some shade and a place to hang their chalkboard.

Students and teachers are resourceful, however.  The adults are passionate about giving their students any chance they can.  They know that even a few years of school can be the difference between working in the fields for the rest of their lives and getting a job in the city.  Whether it’s painting murals on their school for lessons or having their students draw in the dirt, these teachers are always trying to make it work.

The kids desperately want to learn; they know that getting an education is the only hope they have at a decent life.  In Uganda, schooling is only free up to the approximate equivalency of middle school.  At that point, students must sit for an exam, taken entirely in English, that determines whether or not the government will continue to fund their education.  If they don’t get a scholarship, most cannot afford to continue.  Whether it’s squeezing into a classroom with 100 other first-graders or using a pencil until the very end, these kids seriously value their education.

Thanks For Listening!

UP NEXT: My Dad’s Story



Hi Friends!

I’m so glad you stopped by and are interested in my research.  For those of you who don’t know, my name is Ella McGill.  I’m a rising senior at Ursinus College with a major in History and minors in Management Studies and Economics.  This summer, I was selected to be a part of my school’s prestigious Summer Fellowship Program.  I get to spend 8 weeks living on-campus, pursuing my own independent research with the guidance of my mentor, Dr. Edward Onaci.

Me working at a Ugandan orphanage during a trip in 2013.


For my project, I will be researching the connections between colonialism, education, and non-profits in the country of Uganda, East Africa using four major questions:

-How did English colonialism affect the education system in Uganda?
-What lingering structures still exist today in the former colony?
-Do they affect nonprofits?
-Do these institutions make it easier or more difficult for them to operate?

In addition, I was given permission to spend two weeks in country, interviewing Ugandans and creating my own primary documents.  To be given the opportunity to perform field research as an undergraduate is incredibly unique and I’m super excited to return to Africa for the 5th time!


UP NEXT: Uganda, the Pearl of Africa