S.P.E.A.K. Up!

The following blog was written last week by Annie Weber.  Annie is here with us at Educate for Change this summer as a member of the Girl’s Health and Leadership Program Team.  She just graduated from Gettysburg College with a BA in Sociology with a minor in Middle Eastern Islamic Studies.  Annie was awarded the SIT Alice Rowan-Swanson Fellowship and a Projects for Peace grant in order to carry out our programs this summer.  Thanks so much, Annie!  We love you. 

Following weeks of pre-planning and two days of training our wonderful small group leaders, our Educate for Change team has completed the first Girl’s Health and Leadership camp. The S.P.E.A.K Up initiative stands for helping girls to learn about Self-esteem, Protection, Empowerment, Action, and Knowledge about their bodies, rights, and how to stand up for themselves. We are focusing on four schools, each about an hour from Gulu, Uganda in order to target the most vulnerable girls.

To give a little background for those who are not familiar, northern Uganda was beleaguered by political unrest and rebellion for over two decades until 2006, leaving this region still underdeveloped. Health-related issues such as menstruation and sexual/reproductive health still remain untaught within schools leaving girls knowing very little about their own bodies and rights. We have created this partnership in order to address these issues and to help girls reach their full potential in both school and life.

After 16 hours of interviews and 32 candidates, 12 brilliant young Ugandan ladies were chosen to be a part of our leadership team. Our staff and other speakers helped to train these ladies over two days in self-knowledge (menstrual health & sexual health), self-esteem (communication skills), self-defense, and tons of ice-breakers/games to lead their small groups at the camps.

Upon arriving at the first camp in Minakulu, we were so excited to get things going. We started with checking in the girls who had registered. When the girls could barely look me in the face and tell me their names I was nervous about how the camps would go. Would we be able to get these girls to open up? If they can’t even tell someone their name, how will they be able to stand up for themselves when something crucial happens?

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After the second day of playing games, actively participating in class sessions and small group sessions the girls started to become closer to each other as well as their small group leaders. The closing ceremony is when I really understood the magnitude of our program. As Marion, one of our team leaders led the closing ceremony the girls were following along with her yelling “Speak up! Speak Up! Speak Up!” and our theme song for the camps, “I’m strong, I’m beautiful, I’m powerful…I’m perfect just the way I am!” I began tearing up alongside other EFC staff members when the girls had practiced and performed a skit for us to let us know how much they have learned over the past 3 days. I cannot thank Educate for Change, SIT, the Rowan-Swanson family, and the Kathryn Davis Projects for Peace organization enough for allowing me to help in facilitating these camps. We are really providing these girls with critical information to help keep them safe and to help them make informed decisions in their lives.

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S.P.E.A.K. UP!

The following blog was written by Emma Anderson, one of our stellar interns this summer!  She highlighted a critical concern we have for many of our female students and in general, women and girls in the region.  Please read on to understand WHAT our S.P.E.A.K. Up! Series is all about and why you should get involved!  Donations are always appreciated to continue the work we do in Gulu and surrounding areas.  


“Nurse, I have had pain between my legs for a very long time.” When Amito Beatrice*, an 18 year old student in Educate for Change’s scholarship program, finally went to the infirmary at her high school, the nurse gave her a dose of Panadol, the off-brand equivalent of Tylenol, and sent her back to school.

The pain didn’t go away for another month or two. It became so unbearable that her school called Educate for Change (E4C) to report that Beatrice was not recovering. Kristine Sullivan, E4C’s Program Director, made a site-visit to her school to check on Beatrice. After hearing the symptoms and discovering that Beatrice had been suffering from this recurring pain for over a year, she took Beatrice to the health clinic where she was diagnosed with a yeast infection so severe that they had to inject her with antibiotics to fight off the disease.

Female-specific issues and women’s empowerment are not taught in schools in Uganda. When she first contracted this yeast infection, probably from sharing a shower bucket in her all-girl’s dormitory, Amito Beatrice had no idea what was happening to her body or what to do about the debilitating pain. She was embarrassed to talk about it because issues with the female body, though not necessarily taboo, are not culturally comfortable topics to discuss, even with other girl students or women at home in the village. The pain from the year-long infection impacted her ability to concentrate on her schoolwork and to live a comfortable life as a woman.

This incident epitomizes the compounded issues that women and girls in Northern Uganda, and indeed around the world, face due to the lack of education on female-specific medical and personal issues. Dealing with menstruation can keep female students “away from school for the four or five days of their period each month” (NPR). Educate for Change identified this gap in the education system and resolved to do something about it. Girl’s Health and Leadership Camps, they decided, were a way they could help.

These camps are inspired by the work of Kakenya Ntaiya, a Kenyan woman who, at the age of 13, was forced to bargain with her father for her right to education. The agreement? Her clitoris (or participating in the cultural coming-of-age ritual of female circumcision) in exchange for the ability to go to high school. In the face of the innumerable challenges facing a young woman of colour growing up in poverty in a rural village in East Africa, Kakenya was driven to succeed and was awarded a scholarship to study at a University in the United States. She completed her undergraduate degree at Randolph-Macon Woman’s College in Virginia and then went on to the University of Pittsburgh, where she received her Doctorate in Education in 2011 (Ntaiya). She has used her success to return to her village and build Kakenya Center for Excellence, a girls’ primary boarding school in Enoosaen, Kenya. Educate for Change and Kakenya believe that education will empower and motivate young girls to become agents of change in their community and country. To fulfill this vision of female empowerment through education, Kakenya devised a curriculum to teach girl’s about their potential as leaders, knowledgeable women, and change-maker’s in their own communities. Educate for Change has adopted the spirit of this curriculum and revised it to fit the needs of the girls they serve in Northern Uganda.

In April 2015, E4C launched the pilot program of a Girl’s Health and Leadership Camp series that will be implemented in four different communities in Northern Uganda during the month of July 2015. Over the course of three days, their 16 female scholarship students attended workshops on three strategic focus areas: Self-Esteem, Self-Knowledge, and Self-Defense. E4C organized local Ugandan women to come in and present on these three topics and trained University students to serve as small group counselors, acting as role-models for the girls and answering questions they had on topics ranging from whether they could get breast cancer from inhaling the smoke of trash fires that contain plastics to whether they could lose their virginity from kissing a boy. The camp facilitators were ready to dispel the many myths and misconceptions about the female reproductive system and sexual health that the girls had.

A clear indication that the pilot camp was effective came from the entrance and exit surveys. On the first day of the camp on the entrance survey, fifteen out of the sixteen girls responded that they were sexually active. During a question and answer workshop, the camp leaders discovered that the students believed that “sexually active” meant that they had started their periods. By the last day, after thorough workshops on the reproductive system and sex education, on the exit survey just five of the oldest girls marked yes to the same question. All sixteen graduated from the program and each girl was awarded a certificate of completion, a package of Afripads – reusable sanitary napkins manufactured in Uganda, and a T-shirt with the camp motto – S.P.E.A.K. UP!, which stands for Self-Esteem, Protection, Empowerment, Action, and Knowledge.

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By the end of July 2015, 416 female students ranging in age from 14 – 19 years old will gain skills in self-esteem and public speaking, know how to manage and track their periods, be able to identify and prevent sexually transmitted diseases, and learn basic risk prevention techniques as well as practical self-defense tactics. With this toolbox of knowledge, these girls will not have to go through the pain and embarrassment that Amito Beatrice had to endure. With these new skills, over 400 girls will be empowered to speak up when they return to their villages and share this invaluable knowledge with their mothers, sisters, and aunties. With these Health and Leadership Camps, Educate for Change has found an effective means to improve the lives of women and girls in Northern Uganda.

*Actual student’s name has been changed to protect her privacy.

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A Beautiful Experience

The following post was written by Ieasha Ramsay, our most recent intern and newest member of our Board of Directors.  Read on to catch a bit of her insight to the girls’ program we piloted in April.  We are currently planning to roll this program out in July to 400 girls and we could not be more excited!


One day during the peak of Uganda’s dry season, I found myself hiding from the crazy sun and brainstorming ways I could directly impact the community before I ran back to my familiar (and lets face it – self absorbed) NYC environment. The universe must’ve thought it was the right time because the organization I was working with entered a transitional period, which left me with a whole lot of time and some pent up creativity.

After meeting with Kristine a few times to discuss a program they were trying to implement for their female students, I quickly realized this was my window. I had the same ambitions that Educate for Change did, providing educational opportunities to the future of Uganda. Together, E4C and I would put on a pilot Health & Leadership workshop, to test run a curriculum for widespread implementation later this summer.

I jumped on board and began the search for guest speakers, started thinking about some imperative topics that needed to be covered, and then tackled some fun stuff like t-shirt designs, workshop bonding and game ideas. It was surprisingly easy to get people excited and willing to participate in the program, which really gave me an insane amount hope for its impending impact.

Time passed quickly and before we knew it, the weekend was upon us! We set out to address three main topics: Self-Esteem, Sexual Health, and Self Defense. During that weekend we covered it all in a variety of incredible ways – since all three are so heavily intertwined with quality of life and the weekend’s motto of S.P.E.A.K. UP (Safety, Protection, Empowerment, Action and Knowledge), they were addressed easily and naturally in and outside of workshops. Through this umbrella theme we introduced the girls to things like communication skills, menstrual hygiene and risk reduction, areas that are rarely addressed with such a vulnerable population.

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We broke up our educational workshops with games, icebreakers and activities to put our girls’ skills to use and get them comfortable with themselves and their fellow ladies. The weekend was filled with laughs, emotional story telling, and even a few sick dance moves; everything a weekend with your girls should be right?

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The only word I can use to describe this experience for me is beautiful. From the minute the girls sat together and made their name tags, to the minute where we all darted away from the Caritas Center in the pouring rain, it was a beautiful experience. The freedom they obtained from simply being able to ask questions, gain clarity, and relate was something that shook me to the core! I’m so excited to be able to have participated in something that will continue to grow and change the lives of girls all over Uganda. This summer’s larger program is going to be epic, I can’t wait to see it unfold and to see all those precious girls take steps to better their lives.

There’s not a woman more powerful in this world than the one who knows herself, understands herself and believes in herself. Helping to support that statement will be one of the most fulfilling things I’ll ever have the pleasure of doing!

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Thank you, Ieasha.  You were, and continue to be, such a positive role model for young women.  Our ladies adore you and benefited so much from your willingness to share your entire self with them.  Apwoyo matek.  We miss you!

Three Months in America

This time next week, I’ll be traveling from Kampala to Entebbe by shuttle to hop on a plane to NYC.  24 hours later, I should be hitting the runway at JFK.  It’s been a long time.  I haven’t been in the USA since early January; however, I won’t have much time to relax and soak up the crisp New York weather before I head off to the first leg of my fundraising “tour.”

In October, I’ll be in Los Angeles, Pennsylvania, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Chicago, and St. Louis.  I’m looking to spend significant time in Boston, New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey area in November before heading south to Alabama, Georgia, and Florida this December.  Come January, I’ll be back on the plane to Uganda in order to prepare the office for the influx of applications and the beginning of a few exciting programs we’ll be rolling out in 2015.

We have many ways that you can help this Fall and Winter.  I will be attending as many meetings and meet-and-greets as possible, but if you know someone who might want to get involved and just doesn’t know how?  Shoot me an email (kristine@educateforchange.us)!

In addition to speaking at schools and clubs, I will be selling locally made products from Gulu.  I am coming home with a suitcase of jewelry, bags, and quilts (among other items) for sale at fair-trade fairs, open houses, and church holiday bazaars.  You can check out the products and prices ahead of time by clicking on our Facebook page.  Similarly, a student from St. Mary’s School in Medford, OR is selling his beautiful photographs — and all proceeds from this folder go directly to us at E4C.  We are so lucky to have such talented supporters all around the world!  Please encourage their trade by making a purchase.  If you have any questions about this, please contact us.  We’d love to help you make sure you have some fantastic presents that support students in Uganda this holiday season.

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coin purse

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DSC_0029Some of our products for sale.  Interested?  Contact: kristine@educateforchange.us.

Lastly, we are seeking administrative sponsors for the coming year (and beyond).  We love being a 100% so that our donors know their support goes directly to our students; however, it is impossible to function without further donations that you specifically allocate to our administrative costs.  We are seeking current donors, new donors, businesses, or new ventures in order to help raise the funds that will allow us to continue our work.  We are a registered 501(c)3 in the USA and any and all donations you make are tax deductible.  (We will also be starting our first income-generating activity within Uganda in the coming months to generate some funds for our programs and also to offer exciting new programs for not only our students, but their families, too.  More on this soon!)

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I am so excited to see many of you in the coming months.  Thank you for your continued support.

-Kristine

Well, friends, there’s hope!

Mother Teresa is my hero.  She once said, “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.”  It’s true.  Look around you.  Turn on the news.  Get a newspaper.  The world seems to be in disrepair.  People everywhere are losing hope.  But you and I?  We can’t.

I find myself getting quite overwhelmed lately, especially with respect to our mission in Gulu.  UNICEF reported that from 2008-2012, only 17% of youth in Uganda attended secondary school.  SEVENTEEN PERCENT.  Given the state of many primary schools, this means that even if a student completes primary level (which is also a staggeringly low number), they might be leaving without basic literacy and numeracy and in most cases, be unable to continue.  Being unable to continue in school limits the economic opportunities of these individuals significantly.  These numbers are even worse in the northern part of Uganda, where many people are marginalized.  I meet children every single day who want to go to school and are seeking my help.  And every time, I have to tell them, “I’m sorry.  We’re full.”

This year we increased our number of secondary students from 15 to 40.  25 new students meant 25 new people to visit, families to work with, marks to track, and funds to raise.  It’s been a tough year, to say the least.  We are fortunate that 18 of these 40 students have scholarship sponsors.  A scholarship sponsor is an individual, family, group, club, classroom, school (the list can continue) who verbally commit to send their student through secondary school.  As long as the student upholds their end of their scholarship contract, they will remain in school.  My goal is that every one of our scholars has this individual or group by the end of 2014.  Maybe then we can add a few more worthy, hardworking, amazing students to our program.

As Director of Programs and Development, half of my job is to ensure that our students, programs, and projects are funded.  I’m writing project proposals and grant applications this week!  The other half of this is fundraising.  As a 100% model, all of our fundraising goes towards our students.  The money raised and donated by scholarship sponsors pays for their school fees (including boarding school), uniforms, registration requirements, emergency medical care, and our mentor who works one-on-one with each student to provide academic, social, emotional, and any other guidance necessary.  In certain case-by-case situations, we provide transportation costs and school supplies to students in extremely tight circumstances.  All of it adds up, and fast.  

I have people contacting me all the time wanting to help, but not knowing how they might do it.  “I’m on a tight budget.”  “My school is 90% reduced/free lunch.”  “My students have nothing.”  “I’m a teacher and I only know teachers.”

Well, friends, there’s hope!  We have met some amazing supporters over the past two years and I’d like to share some of the things they’ve done that WORK and work well.  The following examples have been completed at schools (but may also be adapted to work in the office or community).

  1. Coin Drive:  One school uses Penny Wars to compete between classrooms.  For two weeks, each classroom raises as many pennies as they can.  The catch: opposing classrooms can put silver coins into their opponent’s jars that count AGAINST the total!  The winning classroom walks away with pride and maybe a free dress or jeans day (at Catholic schools or charter schools with uniforms).
  2. Bake Sale: One school advertised their bake sale to raise funds to support a student they had previously committed to after my trip last Fall.  Two Friday’s later, they made double the cost of one student and decided to sponsor two!
  3. Movie Night: One school hosts regular movie nights on campus.  They charge admission and sell treats — and send the proceeds to Educate for Change.
  4. Benefit Concert/Talent Show: Have a local band?  Want to help organize a school talent show?  Most administrators are more willing to approve these types of events if there is a cause you are working towards.
  5. Clubs: There are several schools who have Interact Club or similar types of community service clubs always searching for international projects.  They do their own fundraising, and need a place to send their cash.  We have the support of two different Interact Clubs in New York and California!
  6. Restaurant Nights: Several restaurants and fast-food places will offer 10-20% of their nightly proceeds to NGO’s or other causes.  Sign up, advertise the evening, deliver coupons around campus (if needed), and eat your heart out!
  7. Solidarity Lessons: As a teacher, I had ample opportunities to discuss the state of the world with my students.  They all knew about my passion for Uganda and education, and most of them were willing to help in any way they could.  So I put a jar on my desk.  At any point the students felt called to drop a few coins or maybe some babysitting cash in the jar, they would.  No pressure.  It adds up, folks.

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I always get overwhelmed by fundraising.  But, it’s really not too difficult if we take small steps and if people join together.  As an educator, working with students to raise money was a beautiful thing.  I saw some of my students begin to take more financial responsibility, in some cases realizing that the cost of a pair of sneakers (they didn’t need but wanted) would send a student to boarding school for one term.  It also allowed them to learn about, connect with, and be in solidarity with students they may never meet.  

For those of you who are not teachers or do not have children, there are some of these ideas that can also work for you.  An alternative taken by one of our scholarship sponsors was that $500 a year was a bit too much, but between two families maybe $250 a year was something they could commit to.  

And of course— we do not only take donations in chunks of $500.  Any and all donations are essential for our work.  No amount is too small or forgotten.  

I will be traveling to the US in October for three months and would love to discuss these ideas with you further, if you are ready and willing.  If you are in or around any of the locations below, please email me at educateforchange.us@gmail.com and maybe we can work something out!

  1. Saratoga Springs, NY
  2. Poughkeepsie, NY
  3. New York, NY
  4. Boston, MA
  5. Worcester, MA
  6. State College, PA
  7. Pittsburgh, PA
  8. Cleveland, OH
  9. Indianapolis, IN
  10. St. Louis, MO
  11. Los Angeles, CA
  12. Tampa, FL
  13. Jacksonville, FL
  14. Anywhere down the eastern seaboard
  15. Name your place (you never know)

As always, THANK YOU.  Much love from Gulu.

Apwoyo Matek!

As we wrap up our second fiscal year, we owe a huge thank you to the fifteen individuals, families, schools, clubs, and companies who have joined us on our venture to provide sustainable educational options for our students in northern Uganda.  

These fabulous fifteen have committed $500/year for six years to ensure that their assigned student can complete his or her secondary education.  Three of these groups have even taken on two students!  The consistent support and encouragement from the scholarship donors not only affects the lives of our students in a deep way, but our Educate for Change spirit as well.

We would love for more of you to consider taking part in this meaningful and impactful mission to see that the remaining twenty-two students also have scholarship sponsors.  To find out more or how else you can be involved, email Kristine at educateforchange.us@gmail.com.  

Apwoyo matek!  Thank you so much.

Paul Doherty
Maureen Doherty
Thuraya Haddad
Betsy Moore
Pamela Murphy
Lawrence and Cynthia Sullivan
The McCready Family
The Naumes Family
The Eccleston Family
The Morford Family
St. Mary’s School (Medford, OR)
St. Anthony’s School (El Segundo, CA)
Our Lady of Perpetual Help Interact Club (Downey, CA)
LaGrange Sunrise Rotary
Environmental Consultants

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Much love from the Educate for Change students!

(Some students are not pictured).

Building Bridges 2014

I am so pleased to introduce you to Trine Parsons, a wonderful young woman from Medford, OR. You may recall reading a blog Trine wrote last summer after she participated in our Building Bridges Program. When Trine left Gulu, I knew she would be back.  Trine returned this summer for our Building Bridges Program and stayed as an Intern working with Mother Teresa’s Primary School and Educate for Change. You will be hearing more about her internship in the next month or so. For now, sit back and enjoy her musings on the student trip and life in Gulu.


On July 8th a group of Oregonians left the busy streets of Gulu. As I waved goodbye to them, I thought about all of the memories we had created over our three weeks together. While only some departed with tears, they all departed with warm new memories. The three week trip included sixteen students and teachers from the Rogue Valley in Oregon. The trip was cultural and service oriented, connecting high school students from the USA with their counterparts in Uganda. In addition, we worked on service projects at Mother Teresa Primary School. During the trip, the group painted a large section of the school, created a mural, and provided rubbish bins, but most importantly, we loved and learned.

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10442986_10202737711817200_8603256892466563299_o(Malia on Tim’s shoulders, adding final touches to the mural).

IMG_0956(Three of students from Mother Teresa Primary School).

We did a lot in the three weeks. With our free time, we would walk into the busy markets to see all of the locals staring at us saying, “muzungu muzungu,” pointing out that we are foreigners in their land. As we entered the ten foot by ten foot tailor stalls, each one of us searched through the ocean of material to find the perfect pattern. Then came the laborious process of deciding what to make out of it. Finally Florence, the currently overwhelmed tailor, would look at us like we were crazy. Chaos. But this chaos is what we learned to love.

The sense of “African time,” as we learned, is nice. We began to find beauty in the things we would have never recognized in America. If we ate out in town, there was no guarantee the restaurant would have everything we ordered. Even if they did, we found out quickly that it was unlikely to come out promptly. So we learned to wait. We learned to sit with our group and talk. In fact, the main thing we did in Gulu was learn. We began to adapt to the lifestyle of Gulu.

During our individual town adventures, we would begin to miss the kids with their goofy smiling faces and their mischievous tendencies. By the end of the trip, each American had their own posse. Gabe and Moses were inseparable, while Emily and Prosy shared the same sassiness. It has been fascinating to individually get to know these kids. I have found out what sports they like, what they want to be when they are older, and how they have been living. It is heart breaking to meet someone who seems helpless, because in our society we see everyone who is poor as sad and helpless. But I have seen that simply is not true. The happiness the students of the school radiate is unbelievable and unmatched.

In the end, our group came for the culture, the joy, the children, and the friendships, even if we did not know it beforehand.

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(Okello Calvin Joshua, an S1 GLOBAL Scholar from St. Joseph’s College Layibi upside down on the zipline at Recreation Project, Gulu).

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(Students partnering with GLOBAL Scholars at the Recreation Project, Gulu).

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(GLOBAL Scholars, E4C, and friends from St. Joseph’s College Layibi at Prefect Handover).

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(Malia from St. Mary’s in Medford and Malia, an S1 GLOBAL Scholar from Sacred Heart, Gulu)!


 

Trine stayed in Gulu to continue working with the deaf students at Mother Teresa Primary School. She is learning as much Ugandan Sign Language as she can absorb, sometimes fifty new words in one day! Her goal is to create teaching videos so that future visitors and teachers who come to Mother Teresa Primary School can learn to communicate with the deaf students. In addition, she is helping us at Educate for Change with everything and anything she can get her hands on! It has been an absolute pleasure to have Trine with us and we look forward to the remaining three weeks of her internship.

Thank you, Trine!

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Going Home

We’re a family here at Educate for Change. And like with any family, it’s always special when we get to visit home.

Living so far away is not easy, but I’ll save the sappy lists of the people and things I miss for another day. Indeed, many minutes throughout my weeks are spent longing for familiar things, the feeling of being welcomed, and the comfort of sharing words and coffee with a loved one. It is because of these feelings that I am always excited when my schedule allows me to attend home visits.

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Home visits here are a BIG deal. And I mean big. The hospitality of the families involved in our program is unparalleled. In fact, the hospitality of nearly every Ugandan I’ve had the privilege to meet ranks quite highly. No matter who you are or where you come from, individuals and families open their doors and offer whatever they have on their table or wandering around their compound. (Yes, we get a lot of chickens as gifts). It’s one of the most evident ways that the country of Uganda is community centered more so than it is individualistic. It challenges me to consider my own generosity. And each time I travel home, I learn more and more about the GLOBAL Scholars and the place they come from.

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When I travel to visit our Scholars and their families, it is undeniable that I am better able to assess our students. To understand their motivation and consider why being granted access to a secondary education is quite honestly life changing has opened my eyes over the past few years to many realities I used to be blind to given my upbringing and exposure to education. When I go home, I see the pride in the eyes of the students’ families, even sometimes from members who were not necessarily ecstatic about them attending school in the first place. Indeed, as we continue to encourage education, real change is happening. (We would love to applaud the amazing teachers, mentors, and family support for these changes, in addition to other stakeholders within the community here in Uganda. You rock).

  • Girls who were expected to stay home after primary school and get married or start their own families are studying and performing well. Their families who may have initially been unsupportive of their attendance in secondary school are starting to come around and be the encouragement they need to be successful.
  • Students who were shy and withdrawn are gaining confidence and exuding pride. They know how to talk and present themselves well; they know how to articulate their goals and the benefits to their hard work; they know where they come from and they are motivated to make a change in their community.
  • Our students have a renewed sense of responsibility at their homes. In certain situations, their home environments are quite difficult; however, they return with renewed spirits and aim to assist in whatever ways they can on their holidays. They rebuild thatched roof huts that have been burned down or destroyed, they work in the garden, sell mats, slash the compound, and they do whatever they can while studying their books, to better help their families and raise what little money they can for various things they need or transport money. They give back in whatever way they know how, and it’s remarkable.

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The majority of our students are from out of town, which means that we need to cover quite the distance when we meet them from home throughout the year.  The terrain is rough and tough and depending on the amount of rain we’ve had, the roads are quite interesting (to say the least).  Adjumani is close to the South Sudan border and one of our boys is from deeper in Amuru than I ever imagined existed. Though this makes scheduling and travel difficult, working with students from such a broad part of the country allows us to better understand many aspects of our work in Uganda and will help us to eventually transform more than just the Gulu region.

 

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The few days I was able to go on the road with David were long. Some days we traveled far to see only one student, and other days we had eight home visits stacked on top of one another. There was no shortage of mango juice, soda, biscuits, and goat. While my stomach rumbled and tumbled, I kept thinking about how blessed I was to share in a meal with our families. They are amazing to offer us everything they can to make us feel appreciated, loved, and welcomed. I get so excited to see how their homes have changed since the last time I visited and watch their siblings and neighbors grow like weeds. Indeed, I am always impressed with what our students do from home: many build their own huts and even in one case, I was pleased to see that a Scholar constructed built-in shelves and a seat so that his family would have less things to purchase in the market. Creativity really has no limit for these kids.

 

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At home visits,  I am able to evaluate the family situation and certain issues we’ve ‘heard about’ from a first-hand perspective. This one-on-one, intimate attention allows us to follow up on any and all complications the family or student may be experiencing. Health issues, land wrangles, and deaths in the family are constant topics of conversation and issues putting stress on the Scholars and their families.

Going home also allows us to better understand family dynamics, witness emotional distress the students might be facing due to specific situations, and better guide them through these scenarios alongside their parents or guardians. In addition, we have learned a lot about the individual communities our students come from and difficulties that are being faced from their land. One issue I have been shocked to learn about is that in a few families, the stress of having their child home is difficult to carry because of the neighbors! In fact, there are a few villages that are reportedly so “jealous” that students have been granted scholarships that our families and/or students fear for their safety. It is not uncommon for the threat of attack or poisoning to be there. Despite this threat, it is our task to encourage structure that might help the student avoid problems while allowing him the time at home that is so crucial for personal development.

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Blogging, social media, research, grant searching, communicating to our donors, and programming from here take up the majority of my time. However, feeling the heartbeat of my community and the families and students of Educate for Change is crucial to keep me going. It’s imperative that we constantly assess and evaluate our projects and even take them in new directions, depending on what we find from school and home. Our ever-evolving mission is completely dependent on those we serve. Each one of our students is so amazingly special in their unique, individual ways and we are more committed each and every day to do whatever we can to ensure their success in every aspect of their young lives.

We are so proud to know that as this community continues to grow here in Uganda, so does our community of support at home in the USA. Thank you to all of our donors and advocates, we would be unable to do this work without you.

If you are interested in sponsoring a scholarship for one of our GLOBAL Scholars, please contact us at educateforchange.us@gmail.com. Generous individuals, classrooms, schools, groups of friends, Rotary clubs, and businesses are currently supporting seventeen of our forty Scholars. In addition, we have a select group of committed individuals who are constantly giving when they can.  We are so blessed to receive your support.  Truly, no amount is too small.  So if you’ve been itching to give back in a small way to make a big change, we would love to welcome you to the family, too!

Visitation Day: Welcome to the Family!

The following post was written by our Director of Programs, Kristine Sullivan.

Visitation Day in Uganda is a big deal. It is the one day per term that student’s look forward to almost as much as they look forward to the last day of exams. Knowing full well that most of our students’ will not have visitors for various reasons, we try our best to get to their respective schools to show them support, guidance, encouragement, and love. And when we can’t, it breaks our hearts.

We have forty-one students at twelve different schools in five different districts. Many Visitation Days are at the same time, but somehow we try to get to each one over the course of a few terms. Luckily, this term I was blessed to be able to visit four separate schools on their Visitation Days.

I get to experience many things on VD. They are essentially parent-teacher conferences, Open House, and a time to check in with the students all wrapped into one. Because of this, there’s certainly some joy, some frustrations, and some soda and snacks: a welcome break from water, posho, and beans all the time.

A few weeks ago on my way back from Kampala, I stopped in Luweero to visit seventeen of our GLOBAL Scholars for a few hours at Pope John Paul II. I first met with the Senior 2 students who were receiving marks for their beginning of term exams. I was happy to see improvement across the board; however, as any parent or guardian would do, I spoke sternly to the students, reminding them of the importance of preparing for exams with seriousness and focus. Thankfully, I was able to meet with the students’ English teacher, as all of them had their lowest marks in that subject. I immediately began to brainstorm how I could tackle this issue head on and gave them some tips for English exams before we parted ways.  (Over this first holiday from school, I have been planning a workshop with our student’s for general study skills and various subject-specific tips for success)!

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After I sent the Senior 2 students off to enjoy their Sunday, I met with several Senior 1 students. All eleven of our GLOBAL Scholars sat with me along with five other students from Gulu who apparently wanted to join in on the family fun. You see, a family is not just blood relation.  In fact, family to me is “a group experience of love and support.”  So, the more the merrier.

In Luweero, we sit in a circle and celebrate successes and talk about the struggles of being so far away from home.  Luweero is very different than Gulu.  It is located in central Uganda, about one hour north of Kampala, the capital.  The people in Luweero are from the Buganda tribe and speak Luganda.  I’m telling you, Luganda and Acholi are no where near the same.  The sounds, the way the words roll of the tongue… you could be on opposite sides of the world, really.

Aside from the difference in the local language, the students tell me how they are sick of matooke (boiled, smashed plantains and formed into plops of mystery) and wish they could have posho all the time like at Mother Teresa’s. I laugh. I never thought they would miss the food at Mother Teresa’s.  They will return to Gulu in about ten days.  I know they cannot wait and most of their families have let us in on the surprise that they’ll have a slaughtered chicken waiting for them.  Delicious.

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The next weekend I had the opportunity to attend three schools in one day., St. Mary’s Lacor and Graceland Girl’s School. At Graceland we have one GLOBAL Scholar who adores school visitors. Anena Ketty Gloria spotted  me from roughly 500m away and came sprinting towards us as though she had not seen us in years. After quick embraces and her reassurance that indeed, secondary school was getting easier, we got to sit and learn about how she had adjusted much more since our last visit. She told us she started running Track and Field and was making many friends while becoming more comfortable with all fourteen subjects. No, you read that right. Fourteen. After only about an hour, we were off for St. Joseph’s College Layibi; even though the time was short, the timing was just right.

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Here at Educate for Change, we consider ourselves a family. In a family, there is give and take.  Sacrifice and service.  Love and compassion.  We all have our various strengths and weaknesses and it is our desire to lead each member of the family to his or her fullest potential.

All of our students, their families, and our staff come together very often at school visits, home visits, and on holidays. We believe that in order to raise a community of educated, focused, committed, and contributing members of society we need to include all stakeholders in open and honest communication and programming. This means that our job does not stop with the student’s and paying their school fees. We want to continue to work alongside the students, their parents or guardians, their teachers, mentors, role models in the community, local politicians, and every one and anyone else. You name it. We want to exhaust our resources to ensure that change happens. And soon.

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As we near the end of Term 1, we’ve started to brainstorm new ways Educate for Change will be moving forward. We want to make certain that the joy and familial love we all feel when we gather with our students on Visitation Day and when we travel to see our families deep in the villages endures for many years. We want to continue to embrace more students, often the forgotten or unseen of the community whether it is due to their distant home location, lack of resources, or physical and mental differences that are not yet well understood within many communities here in Uganda. Until that day, I promise you to keep working tirelessly because I firmly believe that if we are to “give light…people will find the way.”

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Much love from Gulu.

Wake Up

The following post was written by Laura Anderson, our Resource Coordinator here in Gulu.

“Wake up, all the teachers
Time to teach a new way
Maybe then they’ll listen
To what’cha have to say

‘Cause they’re the ones who’s coming up
And the world is in their hands
When you teach the children
Teach ’em the very best you can”

If you want children to be empowered to bring peace and stability, you must first educate them.

Education is a word that can mean so many things, but what is universally agreed is that education in some form is a good thing. One dictionary says that education is: “the knowledge, skill, and understanding that you get from attending a school, college, or university”, another: “The wealth of knowledge acquired by an individual after studying particular subject matters or experiencing life lessons that provides an understanding of something. Education requires instruction of some sort from an individual or composed literature. The most common forms of education result from years of schooling that incorporates studies of a variety of subjects.” I have always loved learning. Not necessarily the process of learning, the rote memorization, the mundane and often repetitive solving of math equations, chemistry…but the ability to answer any questions about anything because I had the books or teachers or later the computer. I was never really good at creative writing and maybe that says something about who I am, but I am really good at research and I think that comes from a curiosity to KNOW.

I have had the opportunity to see different aspects of the formal educational process- private school, home school, public school- American, British, Ugandan…there are similarities in them and pros and cons, but what needs to be addressed in any educational setting is the uniqueness of each child. While I don’t advocate an un-schooling model, because I believe that children need to be guided, encouraged, empowered, and provided the resources to learn; I have been frustrated by teacher centered learning, parent dictated learning (often not allowing for students to develop their own voice), and a completely centered approach that basically lets the teacher off the hook and requires a child to know what the educational options are that are available to them.

I have been traveling to different school settings since I arrived back in Uganda, trying to learn as much as I can about what is already in place, how it is serving the kids and how it is failing them. I was fortunate enough to watch an amazing group of secondary students debate a topic about education. Their arguments were insightful and intelligent. And at the end I wondered if they had truly listened to what they had just said…had they realized that they had discovered many of the failures of a broken system? Did they see the irony in a system designed to elevate the elite and keep the poor in poverty? A system designed by a Colonial power that failed so miserably that it no longer has colonies? Because the truth of intelligence is that it does not come with money. It comes with curiosity, determination, hard work, and a love of learning. Any child can have this, it is not reserved for those born into wealth, for those attending the “best schools”, for those with loving families, a safe place to sleep and food to eat.

Mother Teresa Primary started with the children of the most vulnerable women, girls really who had been abducted and returned to find they no longer had a place in their community. There are still many students who in our terms have “nothing”…and I mean literally nothing more than the clothes they came in. And yet they are bright, hopeful, curious and so eager to learn. Our mission two years ago was to empower these young people who so desperately want to change their world. Keeping them in school is a start. But finding those who are not in school or are in such rural areas that they lack the opportunity to explore their potential is part of our mission moving forward. We cannot change the broken system, but hopefully we can support those who will. If those wonderful young men and women debaters take what they learned about their failed system and work to change it…work with courageous teachers who care about their students more than their pay check; work with local leaders willing to affect change with action and not just words and promises; and work with each other not to empower “the best” but to encourage all those who follow them…well that will be education in action!

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