Christa Preston is a San Francisco entrepreneur and executive director of EmbraceKulture, a non-profit organization in Uganda. Preson’s objective is to change views in developing countries about children with mental and physical disabilities. In Uganda, discrimination and social exclusion toward people with disabilities is rampant, however, strides are being made in the development of education by NGOs.

What is EmbraceKulture and what inspired you to become so deeply involved?

“I founded EmbraceKulture while volunteering as a special needs teacher in Uganda, where I met Oliva. Oliva was 17, spoke three languages, loved cooking and was extremely capable. Had she been born in America, Oliva might be in college now or working at a restaurant and living in her own place. But Oliva was born in Uganda, and she was born with Down syndrome, where that defines and limits her.

Ninety-seven percent of children with disabilities in Uganda won’t receive a primary education because of the lack of trained teachers and resources. I founded EmbraceKulture to change that for Oliva and thousands like her.”

How does your formal education help you with the skills you need in Uganda?

“I hadn’t anticipated starting a non-profit. At university, I focused on business, as those skills allow for many different roles. The business experience has certainly come in helpful, especially as I was establishing the organization, managing grants and finances. But it wasn’t enough to excel in this space. I returned for an executive program in social impact strategy with the University of Pennsylvania. This program is designed to develop and empower social entrepreneurs, business and non-profit leaders who want to drive effective social change in organizations and communities.”

What advice might you have for a student who intends to pursue an NGO career overseas that’s connected to nursing, health or education?

“Go abroad, particularly to a developing country, and immerse yourself as opposed to just visiting. I think everyone should live somewhere unfamiliar for at least three months. I learned so much going from San Francisco to Africa, including finding unique solutions to problems, especially with low resource solutions. Plus, I learned a lot about myself.

Secondly, accept that you know nothing! Approach everything as a chance to learn. You may think you know how to do something the best way, you may think you have no assumptions, but you definitely do. So sit down, watch others and learn. Talk to them, watch them. Then find another person, then another. This cycle should never stop.”

How can people get connected with opportunities such as EmbraceKulture?

“There are a lot of wonderful volunteer opportunities, a great place to start if you are interested in pursuing a position with an NGO abroad. Start by researching what you are interested in, study the area and the geography. Research organizations doing similar work and reach out. Learn more. If you’re interested, ask whether there are volunteer opportunities.”

Laurie Jo Miller Farr loves walkable cities. A tourism industry professional and transplanted New Yorker by way of half-a-lifetime in London, she’s writing about the best of the bay and beyond for Bay City Guide, AXS, Examiner and more. Examiner.com.

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