Troy Hoppenjan's efforts to build a rural school last summer in Uganda garnered him honors with the Wisconsin Without Borders Recognition Award for Global Engaged Scholarship.
Hoppenjan, who is completing his Master of International Public Affairs degree this summer, went to Uganda as a fellow with HELP International, a nonprofit organization that empowers people around the world to fight global poverty through sustainable, life-changing development programs.
Hoppenjan coordinated in-country projects; nurtured collaborations with international non-governmental organizations, government agencies and other institutions; liaised with HELP's U.S. office; and facilitated logistics such as team project fund-raising and team building.
Above: Troy Hoppenjan takes a turn digging for at new Seya school site. Below: Hoppenjan (second from left) and the school team.
Below: Classmate Christina Miller visited Troy Hoppenjan in Uganda while she was in the area for her summer internship with WE International Inc.
One of those projects was building an elementary school in a rural area. "The original school was in a temporary, open-air, tin-roofed structure without walls a few yards from a heavily-trafficked service road for a local sugar plantation frequented by heavy machinery," Hoppenjan says. "Classes could not be held in heavy rains, which come frequently and throughout the year in tropical southern Uganda. These conditions made learning difficult for the 500-plus students."
A big part of Hoppenjan's job was to coordinate volunteers and connect them with local school officials. "One of the biggest challenges was managing 28 volunteers from the U.S., mostly 18- to 22-year-olds, as they acclimated to being in a developing country," Hoppenjan says. "Prior to project identification and implementation, I prescribed and helped our volunteers conduct a participatory community needs analysis, which identified the community motivation, assets, and potential costs and benefits of the project."
"The results of the needs analysis facilitated the decision to partner with the Seya community parent-teacher association," Hoppenjan says. "The school was already well-known for its exceptional outcomes-based curriculum and for producing outstanding students with competitive test scores at the local level."
The parent teacher group provided the bricks, sand, water, aggregate, timber and the lion's share of the labor to build the school. "My role through HELP International consisted primarily of advising the volunteers and school officials, who performed most of the work and cooperative learning," Hoppenjan says." I also provided backup coordination of logistics and labor efforts; carefully and strategically identifying needs and roles to empower the local community and to avoid developing a perception of dependence."
This cooperation led to construction of a three-room permanent structure made of bricks and mortar in a quieter area near the old school site. "This permanent structure qualified the school for a significant increase in financial support from the Ugandan Ministry of Education and Sports," Hoppenjan says.
For these efforts, Hoppenjan received the Wisconsin Without Borders Recognition Award for Global Engaged Scholarship. Wisconsin Without Borders coordinator Malika Taalbi, a La Follette School international public affairs student, presented the award in April. Wisconsin Without Borders is an University of Wisconsin–Madison initiative that facilitates communication and cooperation among organizations and individuals on campus involved with international projects.
Hoppenjan graduated from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 2001 with a bachelor's degree in fine arts. He then spent a year tracing his Dutch roots in the Netherlands, sailing the Ijsslemeer and delivering Heineken. He joined the Peace Corps and served in Mali, where he DJed a weekly educational radio show and raised funds to build a village health clinic. He stayed after completing his volunteer service and worked for the Mali office of the U.S. Agency for International Development, installing Internet connections at local radio stations. He later worked on a micro-finance project reinforcing Mali's agribusiness sector.
"After my Peace Corps service, I found rewarding opportunities working for development agencies, but I discovered that they strongly prefer hiring employees with advanced degrees that provide a substantial background in development economics," Hoppenjan says.
He returned to Madison to enroll in the La Follette School's Master of International Public Affairs degree program. "I chose La Follette for the wide range of policy analysis covered in a curriculum that allows for specialization in a broad range of competencies, conducive to the pursuit of both domestic as well as international interests," he says, adding that he appreciates working with faculty who are leaders in their respective fields.
Hoppenjan focused his studies on international development. He ultimately hopes to pursue a career that will allow him and his family to spend time in their two home countries, Mali and the United States.
The HELP International fellowship as a country director was a yearlong commitment that Hoppenjan accepted after he decided to attend the La Follette School. The flexibility of the school's program meant he could start in Uganda on May 10, 2012, before the spring semester ended. "The faculty and staff are incredibly approachable and supportive of La Follette students," he says. "They made it possible for me to complete the semester remotely," he says. He continued to provide logistical support during the 2012-13 school year.
His coursework informed his work with the Seya community. "Discussions in professor Andrew Reschovsky's Government Finance in Developing Countries, combined with my experience in Mali gave me a solid background in thinking about the gap between the provision of public goods and services, and rural community needs," Hoppenjan says. "As the HELP International's country director responsible for coordinating a large team of development workers, I had to be aware of the mixed effects of the Ugandan government's efforts to decentralize."
In the public finance course, students studied Uganda's tax structures and compared policies to those of other East African nations. "Familiarity with this subject matter was incredibly valuable and gave me great confidence since I had some ideas about how to leverage Uganda finance mechanisms to help the Seya school."