By Mackenzie Rafferty

Last semester, I had the pleasure of conducting a phone interview with Jolly Lux, the founder and executive director of the non-profit organization, Guiding Light Orphans (GLO). GLO was founded in 2014 by Lux and her husband, Kurt. Through charitable donations, GLO aims to provide support to HIV/AIDS orphans and their caretakers in rural Uganda. By providing basic health care and health care training, they hope to implement skills for self-sustainability throughout these villages to break the cycle of hunger and poverty in this region.

Last year, the Office of Public Engagement held a Service Learning Expo that gave Lux and other community partners a platform to speak about their charitable efforts. The Expo was the first step in implementing a community partnership between GLO and UConn. Here, Lux connected with Dr. John Redden from the Department of Neurobiology and Physiology. Upon their meeting, Redden expressed interest in partnering GLO with his science-based writing course, where he planned to create science-based infographics for non-scientists.

Lux recalled her excitement towards this idea, “the education component is key to brining awareness and breaking stigmas.” She discussed how the infographics could help educate villagers to take care of their patients in a useful, beneficial, and safe manner.

Dr. John Redden, in an interview, further explained his relationship with GLO. In regards to his course, he wanted to implement a writing component that focused on “communicating with non-scientists about science… it’s more likely that people have conversations in elevators, and with their friends and families.” Redden hoped for his students to master this type of communication, focusing less on jargon and more on the basic communication of ideas.

Redden realized that as a scientist, it would be difficult to evaluate non-science writing by himself. At this point, he understood his need for a community partner. Roughly two years ago, with interest in Service Learning pedagogy, Redden applied for a Service Learning Faculty Fellowship and was accepted.

Upon his acceptance, Redden noted, “I was able to develop a whole course around service learning. The fellowship gave me the vocabulary to describe the things I wanted to do.” Redden was embarking on a very unique path, as life sciences and service learning are rarely combined at UConn. “It was interesting to pilot a new way of teaching to physiology students,” Redden noted.

Redden also discussed his meeting with Lux at the Expo last year. The idea of a community partner was extremely interesting to him. Additionally, the mission of GLO was “really compelling to me and I knew that it would be for the students also.” Redden noted how the various facets of GLO and their Clinic inspired and pushed their partnership.

According to GLO’s website, they tackle health care in a two-part approach, the first part being their semi-annual medical camps. Held twice a year, these camps offer direct and urgently needed aid to patients. Health screenings, immunizations, and education on disease prevention are just a few examples of the care offered at these camps. These camps serve approximately 4,000 patients in two days with a team of about 100 volunteers.

Due to GLO’s partnership with other health care providers, they’ve acquired medication for a decent cost. For roughly $3,000, they can screen and provide treatment for approximately 4,000 patients. When worked out, that means that care for one patient is roughly $0.75.

The second tier of their two-part approach is their resident Village Health Teams (VHTs). These teams are community-owned and consist of roughly one man or woman per every two villages. These VHTs deliver their health care services year-round and are trained, monitored, and evaluated. They’ve enhanced health care structure of local communities and increased trained leaders and community members. GLO has trained 10 individuals to deliver basic health care services to 26 villages. In addition to this training, GLO has given VHTs bicycles and solar powered lanterns for their traveling.

Redden found this mission extremely compelling, leading him to form his relationship with GLO for his service learning course. “Our specific project,” Redden explained, “was to try to help them [GLO] train their community healthcare workers to better educate community members.” During the interview, Redden displayed materials similar to those that GLO had used to teach their VHTs prior to their partnership. The materials, he pointed out, had factual inaccuracies and stereotypes that he believed could hinder the education process.

“We thought we could basically take this information and put it in a way that is a lot more visually attractive and really to rely on visuals, knowing that most of the people were not English speakers.” His students worked on infographics in various areas. One group worked on creating pamphlets for what to do when someone is having a seizure.

“There’s a huge stigma, people think that they’re possessed by evil spirits. It really fit in with the theme of the course, to try to address a lot of misconceptions that non-scientists have.” This group tried to explain what a seizure was in very simple language. They described causes, what you’re likely to see while someone is having a seizure, and also debunked a lot of misconceptions.

Redden and his class hope to print and send their graphics to GLO so that they can be distributed to community healthcare workers and aid them in their training. Redden is currently looking for a translator to translate the information into Swahili so they can be useful to the villagers as well.

When it comes to the students, Redden hopes that his course “helps them connect and apply the things they’re learning in their coursework better.” This course gives his students an opportunity to practice and implement skills that are developed in the classroom almost immediately afterwards. They don’t have to “wait for this delayed gratification that comes from graduate school or medical school,” Redden added.

Lux, while excited and grateful for the partnership with Dr. Redden, is always looking to connect with other departments within the UConn community. She’s recently spoken with both the School of Pharmacy and School of Nursing. One of her other main needs deals with their clean water initiative, which aims at implementing irrigation to help the villages gain access to clean water. The Office of Public Engagement is working on connecting Lux with the School of Engineering in hopes of fostering a new partnership for this important initiative

While extremely impactful, GLO is a small nonprofit organization, meaning that they are constantly in search of volunteers and fundraising. Lux detailed their need for help, “fundraising for us as a nonprofit has always been a challenge. How do you keep your promises to the people and be able to move forward without funds you need?” Lux noted that they always could use fundraising help, especially from younger voices.

Lux noted that the key to their success was “listening to the people and giving them a voice.” She stressed the importance she placed on asking the community members what their needs were. Lux thought they needed education, but the community members asked for help in health care. Listening to the community members was the key to success for GLO. Humbled by her experiences, Lux is thrilled about her partnership with UConn. “To me,” Lux noted at the end of the interview, “it looks like a win-win scenario for everyone.”

When asked what her advice would be to anyone hoping to dedicate their life to social work, Lux gave a humbled and simple response: “Look around, look around yourself and see the things that are out there and need to be addressed. Go in with an open mind, ask questions and be willing to listen. It’s imperative to listen to what is around you and to the people you’re looking to help.”

For those interested, GLO is always accepting volunteers for events. Lux expressed that even the simple act of talking about GLO with your friends helps them in the long-run, “the more voices, the better, the more people we can reach.” All information regarding volunteering and aid for GLO can be found on their website, www.guidinglightoprhans.org.