Boston College home page | office of public affairs | BCinfo | bc Media | event calendar | directories | search BC

Katya Wheelwright,’12 in Uganda: “This summer I stepped outside of my comfort zone, and in doing so, learned things about myself that I never knew.”

What They Did This Summer: BC students get a real-world education, at home and abroad

Profile 1 of 3 in the series - features Katya Wheelwright who traveled to Uganda to teach disease prevention in schools
Bookmark and Share

By Melissa Beecher | Chronicle Staff
Nursing student Katya Wheelwright,’12, arrived in Uganda this past summer expecting to teach disease prevention to children at five schools. But after her first stop at an elementary school with more than 1,000 students, and a frustrating language barrier, she quickly realized she needed to adjust her expectations.

Although Wheelwright gamely went ahead and instructed the children about germs and the importance of hand-washing, as well as basic first aid, she was not confident about the results.

“The teachers helped me out as best they could, but English is not their first language. I walked away uncertain about whether or not I had really gotten through to the children.”

But on one of her last days in Uganda, Wheelwright returned to the school, where she visited a kindergarten classroom.

“Upon my entering the room, the teacher spoke one word in the native language, ‘Ruturo,’ and in unison, the entire class brought their arms up to their mouths and coughed into the crook of their elbows.

“It almost brought me to tears.”

Wheelwright’s second journey to Africa was made possible from a BC Advanced Study Grant. In addition to educating children about disease prevention and hygiene, Wheelwright spent time observing and assisting at two medical clinics and a hospital in the Kibale National Park region.

The summer in Uganda marks a continued effort of Wheelwright’s family to serve people worldwide. Her parents Debbie and Elliot were avid travelers, working for the Peace Corps in Africa and teaching refugees in Indonesia and Thailand.

Throughout her life, Wheelwright has volunteered for various causes. In high school, she became involved raising money for the Kasiisi Project, a nonprofit organization that aids schoolchildren in Uganda by building schools, funding scholarships and promoting conservation education. As a high schooler, she raised thousands of dollars and used books for the children and delivered the donations personally last year.

Service, Wheelwright said, “is just part of who I am.”

This past summer’s trip was different, as the Holliston native traveled alone. Throughout the month in Africa, Wheelwright said, she became keenly aware of the need to help the residents of the villages help themselves. In the future, she hopes to support sustainable causes, like setting up a soap club for girls at the schools.

“The soap I brought over with me this summer is not sustainable,” Wheelwright said. “A soap-making club would provide the schools and the homes with soap, while in the long run, possibly serve as a way of making money for these girls and their families.
Despite illness and a few minor setbacks, Wheelwright gained a broader perspective on the issues of poverty and healthcare — but also a finer self-perception.

“The whole experience was a growth experience,” she said. “I learned so much about health care systems, about the people of Uganda, and about myself. This summer I stepped outside of my comfort zone, and in doing so, learned things about myself that I never knew. This said, I am not a changed person. I am just now more aware about certain things than I ever was before.”

To see the second student profile in the series 'What They Did This Summer', click here: