It Takes a Village
For Elsa Kraus M.A. ’17 and Rachel McDonald M.A. ’17, second-year students in Lewis & Clark’s Marriage, Couple, and Family Therapy program, the idea of launching a nonprofit organization came during a long bus ride on their last day in Uganda this past spring—and it wasn’t just a whim. As part of their program’s international track, Kraus and McDonald had been immersed in the idea of Uganda for six months before their journey. Now they were heading back to Portland, following a two-week intensive where they collaborated with, and learned from students and counselors in the Bishop Magambo Counselor Training Institute (BMCTI).
A Big Idea
“Elsa and I were playing cards,” McDonald says, “talking about bringing back necklaces, selling them in Portland, and sending the money to support the school.” Sitting nearby was Teresa McDowell, professor and chair of the graduate school’s Department of Counseling Psychology. This was the third group of students McDowell had taken to Uganda since 2010, but the first to return with a vision of how to strengthen the existing connection with BMCTI.
“We’d been wondering about the ways we could provide the most support,” professor McDowell recalls, “basically searching for a how. Someone suggested starting a nonprofit organization. Elsa simply looked up and said, ‘I’ll do it.’”
Kraus sought out people she knew who would support the idea. One was a friend who founded It Takes a Village Global, an organization that facilitates the cross-cultural exchange of knowledge and ideas between students and professionals in the United States and parts of Africa.
“We realized right away that we shared the same values and goals,” she says. “It was a perfect match.”
By summer 2014, It Takes a Village Uganda was born, with Kraus serving as treasurer and McDonald as president. Key to their mission is the opportunity to enhance the cross-cultural exchange of ideas and resources that exists between Lewis & Clark and BMCTI, thereby improving education, professional training, and outcomes for all parties.
“Counseling is an emerging field in Uganda,” Kraus says. “It’s not like it is in the U.S. There are fewer set places that people come to.. The entire idea of trusting counseling is still up and coming, and seeking counseling isn’t entirely accepted.”
“And there’s a major difference between individualism over here, and collectivism over there,” McDonald adds. “It’s extremely eye-opening for us, especially in the exchange of knowledge. We support their efforts, we learn from them, and we become more open-minded counselors in the future.”
“Counselors over there aren’t always paid for their work,” Kraus continues. “They spend lots of time on outreach, connecting with under-resourced youth, adolescent mothers, and other groups for free—all because they want to benefit their people. That passion can extend to all of us.”
It Takes a Village Uganda’s mission involves marrying such passion with real-time, grassroots support: whether continuing to share cross-cultural best practices, fund community counseling interventions, or supplement salary and education expenses for BMCTI faculty and faculty-in-training.
As professor McDowell points out, “Two-hundred dollars can fund a project over there. Or you can pay $100 a month and increase a counselor’s salary by a fourth. Imagine what can happen with $10,000! We could either bring three Ugandan students over here for a visit, or we could send that money to them and train enough counselors to help an entire village.”
It’s that type of thinking that motivates Kraus, McDonald, and the organization’s growing body of student and community volunteers.
“We’re helping others acquire more knowledge,” McDonald says. “In turn, they’re helping us do the same. If knowledge is power, then being able to help a counselor get her education, acquire skills, or even support herself while she helps an entire community is enormous.”
Reflecting on the work of Kraus, McDonald, and their volunteer staff, professor McDowell is excited, amazed, and hopeful.
“These students get it,” she says. “They’re busy, and yet they are absolutely willing to volunteer what little time they have, from building a web site, to organizing a funding event. They just do it. It’s not something I’ve seen in many other groups.”
“We see this being a true community nonprofit,” McDonald adds. “We want as many volunteers as possible. That way we can support the educational advancement of as many counselors over there as possible.”
“To me, it’s just the way people should be,” Kraus continues. “I feel like I got really lucky to be a part of this. I moved 2,000 miles away from Wisconsin and found a great group of people who have the same values I have. We all want to do the same work.”
Dave Jarecki wrote this story.