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Photo by Michael P. King

Not many UW students can say they’ve led a beekeeping operation in Uganda. In fact, there may be only three, and Ciara Michel BSx’19 is one of them. A senior majoring in microbiology, Michel and two of her peer undergraduates spent four weeks in Uganda in the summer of 2017 managing The Apiary Project, which benefits communities affected by civil war in Uganda.

Many factors prodded Michel to travel to Uganda, including her passion for global health, her aim to better understand international partnerships, and her desire for experiences beyond the academics of the global health certificate she’s pursuing. The journey itself was coordinated through GlobeMed, a UW student group that raised money to sponsor a grassroots organization in northern Uganda called Children of Peace Uganda (CPU).

With GlobeMed’s support, CPU expanded its efforts to teach residents of Lira, Uganda, and the surrounding region the technical side of beekeeping and the particulars of selling honey to local markets. Many of the city’s residents have endured decades of hardship since the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebelled against the Ugandan government from 1987 to 2006. Michel helped advise children born in captivity, former abducted child soldiers, and women who were kidnapped by the LRA to serve as the wives of soldiers.

These Kenyan “top-bar hives” in Lira, Uganda, are safer and more productive than older “local hives” built from hollow logs. Photo courtesy of Ciara Michel
These Kenyan “top-bar hives” in Lira, Uganda, are safer and more productive than older “local hives” built from hollow logs. Photo courtesy of Ciara Michel

So far, the project has reached 169 households. The residents use the beekeeping income for food, medical bills, school fees, livestock, and apiary expansion.

“Beneficiaries are able to fly solo after being supported with supplies and training,” Michel says. “They continue producing honey and expanding each year, making it a sustainable project.”

Michel also took steps to ensure that CPU’s work in Lira continues. Through interviews with residents, she identified priorities for the next apiary team. One primary goal is to budget for better hives.

“The original hive — the ‘local’ or ‘log hive’ — was hard to transport and wasn’t as efficient as the more expensive Kenyan ‘top-bar hive,’” Michel says. “It’s newer technology that has a screen that you pull out; it’s safer and produces more honey.”

Michel’s trip abroad expanded her horizons and made her want to learn more. After returning from Uganda, she started working toward a certificate in African studies.

“The biggest eye-opener was seeing how disproportionate wealth and health are around the world,” Michel says. “Everyone should experience global health work; it’s so different in person than in a classroom. I am more conscious of my identity and privilege, and I am more passionate about making a difference and getting involved in grassroots organizations.”

Michel plans on returning to Uganda to work with CPU, see friends she’s made, and explore more of the country.