McManus Pursues Her Passion for Human Rights in Uganda

By Charlotte Kugler '14

At the age of 14, Elizabeth McManus '14 gained perspective on the outside world and found the purpose of her life during a trip to Uganda. With her mother and other students from the Duke Divinity School, she embarked on a faith-based pilgrimage where she fell in love with the African nation. She knew she wanted to return.

McManus got the opportunity to do so this past summer when she interned at the Church of Uganda as an educational secretary in the North Karamoja diocese. She met the woman who would become her boss, an educational secretary in the diocese, on her trip when she was 14.

"She knew that I had always wanted to find a way to get back to Uganda," says McManus. "When she invited me to work as her intern this summer, I gladly accepted."

Driving her enthusiasm for this offer was her commitment to live a nonviolent life and work for peace and justice for all people. The resilience she saw among some Ugandan mothers whose children had been abducted profoundly inspired her to live by these principles.

When describing her work for the diocese, she explains, "As anyone who has ever worked for a grassroots nonprofit in East Africa can tell you, much of your work is living in community. You have to adjust to a new language, culture, expectations, and way of communicating."

McManus, a sociology and religion double major at Mount Holyoke, met these challenges eagerly. Doing so wasn't easy or immediate, but once she became acclimated to the slower pace of life in Karamoja, she found it was easier to learn from the local residents and church staff.

Her tasks for the church included helping to build a solar oven for the community and analyzing the data her boss collected while conducting surveys throughout the North Karamoja region. These surveys assessed which basic needs were lacking in the area schools. McManus reports they revealed severe insufficiencies in most of the schools.

"Reading about girls not having even a latrine to use at school seriously put my incredible education here in the United States into perspective," she says.

While in East Africa, she also participated in a trip to Juba in southern Sudan. She and some other American expatriate volunteers and activists attended the celebration of Sudan's first independence day. Of everything she did, this experience remains particularly meaningful.

"To be in Sudan, a nation that struggled for so long to achieve sovereignty, on the day that this freedom was granted was incredible," she says. "We listened to President Salva Kiir's inaugural address and celebrated the possibility of a peaceful tomorrow with everyone there. To share in that space of absolute hope was profoundly humbling and beautiful."

Currently, McManus doesn't have a solid plan for after her time at Mount Holyoke, but she knows she wants to continue to travel, see the world, and experience living in new cultures.

"My commitment to working for peace and justice persists, and as of right now, I am also heavily considering a Ph.D. in theology to employ towards community action in underserved populations," she says.

McManus kept a record of her time in Uganda this summer on her personal blog. More information on her experiences can be found here.