International Service-Learning: Gulu Service and Study Abroad Program (GSSAP)

Gulu P1080635GSSAP is a unique study and service-learning program at the University of Tennessee in which students may earn six credits while studying an on-site course, Conflict and Peace-Building, in Northern Uganda. Taught primarily by Ugandan faculty of Gulu

University’s Institute for Peace and Strategic Studies (IPSS), staff of non-governmental or research organizations, and other members of the community, the team is led by UT faculty co-leaders, Rosalind Hackett, professor of religious studies, and Tricia Hepner, associate professor of anthropology and director of the Disasters, Displacement, and Human Rights Program (DDHR).

As a complement to the classroom studies, students work in local community-based organizations to reinforce what they have learned. This may include working for individuals to implement programs for peace and development, volunteering, or helping various Ugandan organizations and institutions.

For example, Austyn Grooms was a GSSAP participant in the summer of 2015. She worked with THRIVE Gulu, whose mission is to empower and assist communities in post-conflict Northern Uganda.

“THRIVE provides disadvantaged youth with computer skills classes with the hope that graduates of the classes will be able to return to school and/or find employment,” said Grooms.

“THRIVE’s Women Empowerment Group provides a much needed support system for the women who were abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army rebels.”

Undergraduate and graduate students in any major are equally eligible to apply for the GSSAP program which is capped at twelve students. Students who complete the course earn three credits in Anthropology 491: Conflict and Peacebuilding in Northern Uganda and three credits in Religious Studies 492: International Service Learning in Northern Uganda.

UT students have been travelling to Gulu, Uganda for a credit-based study and service abroad program (GSSAP) since 2011. It is the university’s first academic service-learning abroad program, complementing more traditional study abroad service and university exchange programs.


Uganda is a land-locked country in East Africa with a population of approximately 33,000,000. Gulu (pop. 150,000) is the largest city in Northern Uganda, an area that is recovering from a 21-year conflict. It was the site of a prolonged conflict between the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels and the Ugandan Government. Since 2006, the region has been peaceful. General populations as well as a host of local and international government and nongovernmental agencies are actively engaged in peacebuilding, reconciliation, and reconstruction.

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