You see a girl: WE SEE THE FUTURE.

Just let this sink in.

In 47 out of 54 African countries, girls have a less than 50% chance of going to secondary school; average primary school completion rates for boys in sub-Saharan Africa stand at 56%, but only 46% for girls. This gaping inequality is a denial of girls’ rights and carries with it a serious social and economic cost.

  • Educated women are more empowered and better able to demand their rights, as well as having healthier, more economically secure families.
  • A girl who completes basic education is three times less likely to contract HIV.
  • Children born to educated mothers are twice as likely to survive past the age of 5.
  • A 1% increase in the number of women with secondary education can increase annual per capita economic growth by 0.3%.

[Taken from Make It Right: Ending the Crisis in Girls Education (A report by the Global Campaign for Education and RESULTS Educational Fund)].

In honor of International Women’s Day this weekend, we want to celebrate our girls. Sixteen intelligent young women are apart of the GLOBAL Scholars program and we hope that number continues to increase exponentially. With access to school, mentoring, and programs tailored towards women, we know that our girls will thrive. They will be empowered, healthy, and less likely to become married or pregnant. They will contribute positively to their school communities, home communities, country, and world.

In home visits and assessments, we are also able to get to know the women our students have learned from. Many of our total orphans are being cared for by strong women: grandmother’s, sisters, aunties, or friends who work tirelessly to provide what they can. Some of our single mother’s are heads of their village loan program or are working each and every day to provide a better future for their child. It really is a beautiful struggle and we could not be more proud of their dedication.

Our young women are such a wonderful blessing to us here in Gulu and inspire us daily as they work tirelessly towards a bright future. Some are from near and others have come to us from far (Arua, Adjumani, Pabbo, Amuru, Bobi and Kole). But regardless of their backgrounds, health status, and heartbreak, they have big dreams to become teachers, nurses, doctors, lawyers, Members of Parliament, journalists, accountants, and lawyers and contribute positively to their society. And we know they can do it.

These young women are amazing. And they deserve everything good in this world. We will keep working harder and harder and travel deeper and deeper into the villages until more students are reached.

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As we continue to work tirelessly to research and tailor programs that will most benefit our students in Uganda, we hope that you will join in.

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Much love from Gulu.

And Happy International Women’s Day to all of the amazing women of this world.

“A river cuts through a rock, not because of its power, but because of its persistence.”

Let me tell you: our students are unbelievable. They are beautiful, brilliant, and resilient.

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After the long weeks of getting our S2 students and S4 student settled, the applications began to trickle in. I read the student statements and many kilometers were logged on the motorcycle conducting home assessments all over the northern region. From Gulu to Lira to Adjumani and beyond. Our process is long, and it is long for a reason.

Educate for Change is what we like to call atypical. We are holistic in our approach. We are ever-adjusting our programs, plans, and goals to ensure that we are keeping up with the quickly changing landscape of Uganda. We stay close to the news, national exam results, school situations, and most importantly, our students and their families. We like to think that we’re practicing to hear the heartbeat on the ground.

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We are still a very young organization: Laura and I began the process of NGO formation in August 2012. We rely mainly on friends and family as our financial and moral support, and people are just starting to learn a bit more about us thanks to social media, word of mouth, and my most recent trip to the States. I’ve started to get e-mails from college students who have found my personal page on Instagram (ksullii), or have stumbled upon our site somehow. It is so astonishing, but there’s still so much work to be done.

We are small. And we don’t have a lot of money. But we sure have will and as the saying goes: “A river cuts through a rock, not because of its power, but because of its persistence.” Let me tell you: I am persistent. I believe in fighting for what I love every day.

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And you want to know what I love? I love that 41 students are in school that otherwise would not be. I love that so many of them worked over their long holiday so that their families would have an easier time providing their requirements like soap, mattresses, and transport money. I love that we have been to their homes and know each one of them, not just by name and face. I love that I will only get to know them better over the next several years and work tirelessly to guarantee that we can provide support, mentoring, and resources to ensure that they excel academically, physically, emotionally, and socially. I love that they are working so hard both from school and from home to grow up to be educated, responsible, and downright good people.

Nearly every school-aged boy or girl I’ve come across is seeking school sponsorship in some form or another. I get regular phone calls and text messages from numbers in villages around the north pursuing an opportunity to come under our program. When I visit their schools, Head Teachers and teachers ask me if we can support more students. I hear stories of heartbreak, grief, and pain on a near hourly basis. It’s exhausting and makes me wonder if someone’s missing the point (and I usually think that someone just has to be me).

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If you were to consider the amount of money (in relation to their income) families needed to come up with in order to provide an education for their children in Uganda, you would be shocked. There is simply no universal, free education here. And I often wonder what’s better: free education that is taken for granted, or costly education that is valued? And is it valued? Where’s the middle ground? How can I wrap my head around what is really going on here?

The ever changing saga of Uganda’s political, economic, and educational landscape is something I grapple with every day as I try to come up with ideas for educational support workshops, student programs (such as leadership trainings, financial literacy workshops, and girls’ empowerment programs), new fundraisers and locally based Income Generating Activities (IGA’s), and even the future dreams of a collaborative school. I am seeking resources about how best to work with my students, counsel and assist those who are HIV affected, infected, or experiencing true heartbreak and emotional issues while igniting their desire for true education. My mind races 1,000 miles an hour.

I dream of the Uganda my students will see when they are my age and my heart aches for the day when they will see themselves the way that I see them. Their beauty, their brilliance, their resilience.

 

It’s what keeps me going.

NOTE: We are still in need of donors willing to contribute any amount towards the 2014 school year. School began in February and will be completed in November. No amount is too small. And I promise you, it is all worth it. Just you wait and see.  If you are able to contribute in any way, please click the link on our website.  And if you can, please help us spread the word.

Much love from Gulu!

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“Little by little, one travels far.”

I’ve been back on the ground in Uganda since 20 January 2014.  My fundraising and vacation time back in the States reached eight full weeks, and I was itching to get back to Gulu and get things moving for the new school year.

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Fundraising is draining.  While I felt alive and so excited about sharing the Educate for Change story with students from nursery through university, young adults, and various professionals in seven states around the country, it was exhausting.  Exhausting because there were days I would present for eight 45 minute periods in a row without a break; exhausting because I traveled for hours on end and thousands of miles across the country and back; exhausting because I know how hard it is to understand something you’ve never seen, and I simply had to do my best to share the story: the raw, true, inspiring story of our amazing community here in northern Uganda.

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I was so blessed to visit with many fantastic and motivated students and individuals who are working so diligently back in the States to raise funds for scholarships, who want to do what little they can to have an impact on someone they most likely will never meet.  But while my time at home was informative, clarifying, and humbling, it was most certainly not rejuvenating or a time for rest.

I’m running on adrenaline.

Since returning to Gulu twenty-three days ago, we’ve been busy. We have conducted parent meetings, group and individual scholar meetings, and home assessments with all of our returning (fifteen) GLOBAL scholars. We have accepted a new student into the program at S4 after a lengthy application and interview, rounding us out at sixteen current scholars.  This week, we have begun initial school check-ins to make certain everyone is back in school, in good health and condition, and are focusing on their studies to ensure high grades at mid-term.

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With all of this on our plate and day trips to Amuru, Pabbo, Luweero, and around the Gulu region, it honestly seems as though I was never gone for two months.  The cold and snow of the east coast is a distant memory.  I even forget that the Super Bowl already happened and that we’re in the midst of the 2014 Sochi Olympics. (Let’s be honest, I would have been way more excited about reading Super Bowl recaps if it had been a Seahawks vs. Patriots game).

With PLE results being delayed by the UNEB grading calendar and some technical issues, the beginning of the year for all students has been a bit stretched out.  I guessed that by now, all students would already have reported to school, but then again, T.I.U. (“This is Uganda”).

Our incoming S1 class just submitted their applications for scholarship and our programs yesterday by 5pm local time.  I’ve loved seeing the applicants come back to campus at Mother Teresa’s.  Some of them have returned and we’ve celebrated their results, others have been let down by the realities of high stakes testing and have had to be consoled and reassured that life doesn’t stop here and they should be proud of their performance.

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Being back at Mother Teresa’s also means I get to see all of the other students. My sign language is already improving and it’s been a blast to meet all of the new kids and also to see the rest that I have known for a while now.  In fact, when I look back on photos from the summer of 2012 when I first met them all, I’m shocked that they are so different.  Still beautiful and perfect, but stronger, taller, and more confident, for sure.  It’s been such an amazing time with them, and I look forward to many more years of watching them grow.

This morning begins our week of home assessment and interviews for the incoming S1 class. By 8am we began making phone calls to get directions to home and David (our lead mentor) is already off for two family interviews today in Pabbo.  Over the next seven days, we have to assess many factors that go into our acceptance process and interview all thirty-seven candidates for scholarship.  Some of this includes going through home assessments and parent/guardian interviews.  When it’s all said and done, we will send letters of acceptance before organizing admission to the various schools around the country, double check that all students have their uniforms and other school requirements, and have them report to their campus before the end of the month.

I’m exhausted just thinking about it all.  But do not worry: the ridiculous laughter and hot, constant sun keep me alert and ready to make some difficult decisions. I mean, when directions to home include “when you get to the tree, branch left, but be sure it’s not at the road that is deceiving,” how can you not help but laugh?  Little by little, we’re getting there.  And I’m so excited to see where this year takes us and share that with all of you.

A small note of congratulations and appreciation: We were so pleased with the efforts of all of the student applicants who sat for their PLE from Mother Teresa. Of the thirty-nine candidates, we had seven first grades, thirty second grades, and two third grades. This means that all of our students passed and that thirty-seven students qualify for a potential scholarship. This is SEVEN more than we were anticipating at the time of the Mock PLE and my fundraising trip. Impressive, to say the least. A special thanks to all of the wonderful students for reading so hard and the teaching and support staff at MT’s for their dedication and focus. These results are so strong for a school that has only been around since 2007.  If you don’t believe me, read this: http://www.monitor.co.ug/News/National/PLE–5-000-schools-register-no-candidate-in-first-grade/-/688334/2170218/-/y3pxjy/-/index.html

Much love from Gulu!

Choose Wisely

I’ve been thinking a lot about value lately. Value and choices. When you live in a very small place, you have a lot of time to think. I have been constantly asking myself what I value.  Do the choices I make reflect my values or have I been corrupted and broken by this world?

During my recent trip to Kigali, Rwanda I had the amazing opportunity to see a beautiful, orderly, clean city. In fact, there were several times throughout my four days that I felt as though my body had been transported back to the States.

My intention in this post is not even to begin to unpack the politics of Rwanda and how they have developed themselves so quickly and efficiently over the past 19 years. To say that the history is complicated and that political tensions run deep is most definitely an understatement. However, if you ever plan on traveling to East Africa and you know anything about the history of colonial power in Rwanda and how it contributed in a serious way to the 1994 genocide, or even if you don’t, you have to visit the Kigali Memorial Center.

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I spent a few hours there.  I read everything and listened to the audio tour.  Studied every picture.  And I just stood, utterly amazed. The horrific violence that was inflicted upon the Tutsi and moderate Hutu people has made me sick to my stomach since I began to learn more about the genocide while I was in school myself. That numb, enraged feeling was certainly intensified. However, in a beautiful way, the museum curators were also able to capture the humanity of so many of the victims and heroes. It reminded me that tragedy is not just numbers, and people are so much more than statistics. It also reminded me that there are two ways to tell every story. And how you tell it shows what you value.

The news lately is horrendous. Shootings. Bombings. Chemical weapons. It is truly enough to make any sane person crazy. It might even be enough for some people to welcome “giving up and giving in” as an option. But, for many, hope still endures.

This world is selfish, broken, and filled with heinous crime. However, I’m telling you… people are not born that way.

People learn how to be selfish because they are not taught to share.  People are broken because the world has failed to value them and tell them that they matter, no matter how they might be flawed. Our communities have not educated children, teenagers, or adults on how to rebuild their lives. We simply mock and jeer them because it makes us feel better about our own path.

We haven’t given enough hugs.  We haven’t shown one another how to love by loving unconditionally.\

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And then there’s heinous crime. I’m not naive enough to say we should go around hugging criminals… but something brought them to that point. No one wakes up one day and just does something both terrible and tragic. There are warning signs. We are often just too self obsessed and “busy” to notice them.  Our society has failed.

Maybe part of the question is gun control. Maybe it’s background checks. But I’m still stuck on this whole concept of early education, true awareness and attention paid to mental illness (by both schools, government, and insurance companies), and the love and support systems established by a community.  We need to create communities that find value in things deserving of our love and affection.

Value. What do we value as individuals? Is it evident?

This week, Floyd Mayweather got paid $41 BILLION to fight. That amount of money, used correctly, could rebuild and empower a developing nation by educating and employing the people. And people watched. And bet. Won and lost and celebrated and beat their heads against tables over it. Teenagers all around the US (and probably elsewhere) stand in line for hours and shell out $180-$250 (or more) for the newest shoes to take photos of them and put it on Instagram. And then complain that they are broke. But it’s all about keeping up appearances, right?

We complain about everything, want everything, and then in the end… are we every truly satisfied?

Something most of the world’s people might agree on is that we value human life. But I think the majority of us don’t even respect it. We simply tolerate it. As long as it lives according to our rules and standards.

So what do we value? Truly and actually value? Is it money? Status? Jobs? Relationships? People?

I find it hard to believe that anyone actually values superficial things. In fact, I have so much love for and faith in humanity, so I refuse to believe it.  The truth is, however, that the majority of our decisions or the ways we choose to live our lives might tell another story.

Simply put, it’s time to choose to find value in the little things. The person next to you. Clean water. Smiles from strangers. The innocence of children. Family and friends. Health.  The fact that you have a job at all… and if not, the fact that you’re still alive and able to read this. On a computer or a phone… somewhere there’s electricity. Because you had an education.

And then it’s time to wake up and realize that we don’t deserve any of it.  We each need to be thankful and give back because we are all, each one of us, abundantly blessed. We shouldn’t be so obsessed with appearances that what we wear on our feet every day could feed and educate a family. But it’s our choice. We always have the choice.

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I know that I was born with much.  God blessed me with a wonderful family and friends, fantastic education, and amazing opportunities.  But even though I KNOW these things, I have had my days (too many to count) when I’ve felt slighted because my life is not what the world tells me is “perfect.”  When I finally come down, away from the ignorant and selfish place where I feel like I deserve better, I remember that every good and perfect gift is from God (James 1:17) and to whom much is given, much is expected (Luke 12:48).

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I need to choose wisely.  Love and hate are right in front of me each day, no matter where I go.  I cannot let the world corrupt me.  I can choose to love or choose to take the easy path, walk away and pretend that I can have no influence.  William Wilberforce once said, “You may choose to look the other way but you can never say again that you did not know.”

My life and my values have been shaken, broken, and shaped by my 27 years on this earth.  I am not the same person I was in high school, in college, or even a year ago.  I hope that what I value is evident to the world.  But each day is an opportunity for me to step it up… to ask for the Grace to love more.

That is what I do here in Gulu. I love and support and hug. I encourage and empower and educate. Some days are difficult, but it’s stuff that matters. One day I pray that the children I work with (or have worked with in the past) will see the world with bright eyes and pure hearts and love just the same.

That’s how the world changes.

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Let It Be Enough

I’m trying to live by a new mantra these days: “Let whatever you do today be enough.” Work here simply doesn’t feel like work and it never follows a schedule. I love what I do… quite seriously. I love spending time with kids. I love writing. I love networking and forging new relationships. I love fighting for something I believe in. I love learning about methods of sustainable development. But all of it together is quite overwhelming… especially while adjusting to a work schedule that is on “African time.” Long term plans often leave me dissatisfied and impatient. So I’m learning better how to wait.

When there’s not many distractions and the power is out, I find myself doing a lot of “self study.” I find that I am terribly patient with others, but not often with myself or with my goals. I’ve begun to medicate with tea, sunsets, good music, and spending more time with friends. Now that I’m in town, I want to get to the school more often to just sit and play with the little ones. All in all, I’m trying to learn how to effectively balance my passion and my “life” and accept the reality that I will probably never complete a to-do list in 24 hours time. Especially if it’s raining.

Last week was “school visit week.”

We began our week last week traveling to Gulu High and Keyo to see Lubangakene and Mirriam. On Wednesday we traveled to the familiar Sacred Heart and Layibi College. The remainder of the week we prepared for our day trip to Luweero and worked on other projects. We learned much from the Head Teacher at Gulu High that we plan on writing into our programs. The work we have begun here is not as “easy” as it might appear on the surface. There’s a lot to balance and as I am learning, many similar programs have been unsuccessful, leaving students with no support other than financially. Unfortunately, many programs fail for this reason or because the means for their financial support is not sustainable. It also often develops a certain culture of entitlement amongst the students that we want to avoid. Simply, this cannot be the case with Educate for Change. Now begins the time for me to develop plans to ensure our fate.

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On Saturday,I traveled to Luweero to visit the kids from Pope John Paul II Academy.   And after a long day of the Post Bus, boda bodas, hitching a ride, and traveling the last 75km’s in a beer delivery truck, we made it back to Gulu with the most beautiful sunset out the passenger window.  Success.  Our scholars at PJPII are done on the 15th so I will see them back home shortly.  A few of them who live locally will even come visit Mother Teresa’s and perhaps tutor the P7’s!

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Of all the schools we have scholars attending, the most interesting to have visited is Pope John Paul II. It’s a new school so there is a lot to learn from them, especially as we plan to build a secondary school for Mother Teresa’s within the next five years. The school opened in February 2012 with S1 and a few S2’s. Now there are a little over 200 students on a small plot of land, 11km’s from the main road. It’s remote, beautiful, and so peaceful. Our scholars rave about a few things, but mainly how they are able to focus so far away from town. In addition, because they are no longer in Acholiland, their English language improving immensely. And that there is no bullying. That sounds like an A+ report from my end.

In the coming weeks the primary students are going home for a short holiday, leaving the P7’s behind to prepare for exams. I’m looking forward to this time with them so I can get to know them on a more personal level before we begin scholarship interviews. From what I see so far, this is a very special class. I’m hoping more of them will want to join their brothers and sisters in Luweero and maybe even get a few of them to apply to Restore Leadership Academy. More on that beautiful place and their amazing staff and students in the next week or so. Promise.

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Education: A Weapon That Will Change the World

Everywhere I look in Gulu, I find hardworking women. I have also encountered determined and diligent men, don’t get me wrong. In fact, many of my closest friends in this beautiful region are some of them. They do exist, even though it would be rather simple to stereotype them otherwise. What is utterly remarkable, however, are the amount of women I see working from dawn to late in the evening. These powerful and beautiful ladies line the streets and markets, balancing children, jerrycans, and gnuts in a manner worthy of a slot in a Vegas variety show. In many senses of the word, they run this town. But they need to be educated. All people need to be educated.

When I first began to teach Social Justice at Serra, I was amazed by what I learned in order to teach my students. I had always been intrigued by justice; however, I was not well versed on the issues. I had no stats or stories in my back-pocket ready to drop at a moments notice. As the months passed, I became impassioned by social justice. My desire to be a life long learner inspired me to get informed. Now years later, I am certain that the struggle for justice is what wakes me up in the morning. That and seeing and talking with my amazing kids. You know us teachers, we have many children, and by now I have nearly a thousand. My kiddos in LA, Gulu, or as they grow into adults (yikes) and travel and live across the world and continue to pursue their dreams. For the students in LA who I have been beyond blessed to not only teach but love, I know that it has been through education that their worlds were unlocked. In school, they were exposed to the realities of our world and perhaps the path that was best for them. And now they are out there doing it. They are making our world a more beautiful, just, and peaceful place. I’m often so proud of them that I’m moved to tears.

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That same dream for a successful, happy future for all students is what brought me to Uganda. I’m determined to provide what little I can to make sure that my beautiful children here in Sub-Saharan Africa are empowered and exposed to the same rights my kids 9,000 miles away possess and enjoy. But that goal is a little bit trickier here. There are way more hurdles and bumps in the road I’m walking these days.

Education in Uganda is an interesting issue to tackle. Statistics are there, and I’ve done some research but numbers never tell the whole story. For now it’s the little I have.

UNICEF reports that while 92% of primary age children in Uganda enroll in primary level 1, only 32% of these students will finish primary level 7. And of the 32% of children who sit for their P7 exams, only 17% will attend secondary school. Astonishing.

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Around the world, eduction is viewed through many lenses. I think what we can all agree on is that education, good education, is powerful. It is so powerful in fact, some people don’t want it. There are governments who fear the educated, because they are the ones who will challenge corruption. There are men who fear educated women, because they won’t be submissive. These are the truths we need to shatter.

On the other hand, there are families who fear education because of the cost. They know that education is the key, but in many cases, funding school for their sometimes 13 children is next to impossible.

Investing in sustainable education is our mission. Not only will education unlock possibilities and dreams, but it fights poverty and empowers communities. Through education, people are able to remove the blinders the world places over their eyes. The educated and empowered begin to be returned to themselves and see what they are truly made of. Let me tell you: pride and confidence can do wonders for a socially just and peaceful world.

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Around the world 75 million primary school aged children are not in school.  More than half of these children are girls and 75% of them live in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.  Why?  The simple answer is money.  However, when it comes to the girl, it’s a bit deeper.  Many families lack the desire to send their girls to school because they are needed to do the housework, they tend to drop out, and they are expected to get married young and raise their own family.  Another reality in much of the world is that families fear sending their young girls far off on their own to the closest school due to risk of rape, defilement, and trafficking.  The issues run deep and are not easy to eradicate.  But they can be.  There is hope.  “One of the most effective ways to fight poverty and bolster poor communities is through investing in education, particularly that of girls.” (Half the Sky)

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In order to combat these issues, education is essential. Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.” I would argue that deep down, everyone knows this. But until all families and governments are on board, we are counting on individuals to support our mission and to demand education and justice for all.

The beautiful thing about the children who I’ve encountered in Uganda is that they are so hungry for education. They want to be in school. I have P5-P7 students coming every day asking if I can help them find some research on the internet to answer their deepest questions about the colonization of Africa, the benefits of debeaking chickens, and the process of pollination. It’s a very different experience for me compared to schooling and the indifference of many of my students in the past. So I beg you, help us feed their desire. We have 15 GLOBAL Scholars currently reading for exams to finish their second term of S1 and several P7’s preparing for their exams and applying for scholarships to attend secondary school. Education here is not free but a small investment in these children will change their world.

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You can donate today!  No amount is too small.

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There’s Hope

When I got my tattoo in February, I was a stern believer in hope. “Dwell in hope” on my wrist serves as a daily reminder — not only of my faith in the goodness of God and people around the world, but of the miraculous situations I’ve encountered and beautiful people and experiences that makeup my life and memories. I’ve seen some amazing things in 27 years. Miracles, some might even say, have happened seemingly right before my eyes. I’ve also been so blessed to be born into a fantastic family, have a solid group of friends, and unbelievable support system at every turn. But sitting here today amidst the hustle and bustle of Gulu town, I can easily say that my faith and hope in God and in the world is stronger than ever before.

Life in Gulu is not easy for most people. But life isn’t easy for the majority of the world’s population. The difference, it seems, is that despite the daily struggle for survival for some of my students, some of their families, or people I greet on the street, there is always hope. That same hope is lacking in America and in much of the western world. The passion for education and change in this beautiful country is mesmerizing. If I can be of some help and provide an opportunity for those who are desperately seeking a chance at a future they deserve, I will be able to breathe a little bit easier. But truth be told, I will never rest.

My dream may be huge and some people even believe, inconceivable, in Uganda. Educating as many youth as possible. Justice for the deaf and disabled. Equality for and empowerment of girls and women. Building a secondary school. Running a literacy and feeding program for street kids. “What’s the point? It’s too much. Where will you even begin?” I’ve heard it all; the doubters are many. But I am certain that this is my purpose. Each day, even despite frustrations, failures, and wrong turns, there is always hope and promise. Even if it is just in the innocent smile of a child.

We all have purpose. Where you are born should not determine whether you are able to live and achieve whatever that purpose may be. However, currently in our world there is a ridiculously strong presence of injustice. Our current population seem to react to injustice with even more violence and cruelty, as if that will help any situation. Gandhi told us, “An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.” And that’s what I see today, nations of blind men trying to lead us into the future. It will never work.

So I beg you: choose peace. Choose hope. It is so real.

We currently have 15 students on partial or full academic scholarships throughout the country and another 30 or so who will be sitting for exams and applying to our scholarships for February. These children are not only the future for their families and for Uganda, but for the world. Whatever you can do, say, or sacrifice to help give them that gift, I ask you to consider doing so.

You all give me hope every single day and for that, thank you. From the bottom of my heart.

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My Language Is Love

I speak very few words of Luo and I know about five signs in Ugandan Sign Language. I’m really trying. I may not be able to perfectly communicate with all the children at school or people I may meet deep in a village. But I promise you, they know I love them.

I love people, deeply. I seem to trust everyone and that’s not always a good thing. But at Mass yesterday, I was reminded that love is our absolute calling from God. We must love our neighbors as ourselves. And I’m working very hard at that.

The news of the George Zimmerman acquittal hit me hard and made me (continue) to question our American justice system. I am mortified by how the whole situation played out. But at the same time, I think about the 70 people killed in Chicago a few weeks ago and other violence our cities see every single day. I think about being here, caught between a beauty I cannot quite describe and also intense poverty and need. We need to realize that when we are speaking about justice— it should be justice for all.

We are all neighbors. The color of our skin is irrelevant aside from a beautiful gift God gave us that allowed us all to be precious and uniquely special and gorgeous. We certainly cannot all understand one another, whether that be due to cultural differences or language barriers. But love is a silent weapon which when used appropriately, eradicates the need to speak and creates a certain peace that is so desperately needed in our world.

This morning, I was already shattered before 8am, but I suppose that’s typical. I was pouring my tea and I heard the loudest, most desperate cry. As I walked around the compound trying to find the source of the noise, I spotted a nursery boy crouched over in pain, tears pouring out of his eyes, right beyond the gate. All he could “say” to me was a point in the direction of a few older deaf boys. Those ‘stubborn‘ ones who always seem to be getting themselves in trouble. I tried to ask him what was wrong but he just kept screaming. So I did what anyone would do… I got down on my knees, I wiped his face clean, and I gave him a hug. As he stopped crying, I held his hand and walked him towards the sitting room, hoping Sister would be able to get to the bottom of the chaos. As I brought the boy to her, I said, “Sister, can you ask him what’s wrong? He’s nursery so I don’t think he knows enough English to explain.” And that’s when I learned he is deaf as well. She even tried to sign to him, but he’s in the class for students who do not yet know how to sign. Right now he’s learning how to communicate for the first time.

As I sat with the boy next to me, my heart shattered. I gave him a piece of bread and the rest of my bottled water and just watched him. Beautiful, precious, unique. I couldn’t imagine feeling hurt like he was and unable to explain what happened. It made me mad but at the same time, I knew that eventually he would be apart of a rich culture of deaf students at the school and hopefully in a new Uganda by the time he reaches adulthood. One that provides opportunities for the deaf and disabled and does not keep them from school or condemn them to a life of labor without much choice. Justice — allowing equal opportunity and treatment for them; allowing them to dream big dreams and create for themselves a future they can be proud of and enjoy to the fullest.

The news this morning was particularly depressing. George Zimmerman. Protests and riots all over America. Chaos in Egypt, turmoil raging in Syria. Congolese refugees flooding to western Uganda with no food, water, or shelter. If I focused on this all day, I would have been a ridiculous mess. So I did what I could. I wiped the tears I had been hiding, walked my boy to morning assembly and sent him off with a big hug and smile— after I washed his face clean. I greeted all of the beautiful students. And I drove off to visit our scholarship kids at Layibi, Gulu High, and Keyo to tell them how proud I am of them and check on their fees and grades.

None of us can do much. But we must do what we can every single day. Our society needs to wake up. We need to realize that there are more pressing issues than the ones we joke about as “First World Problems.” We need to demand justice ALL the time, and not just when it is popular. I beg everyone… to just start caring about people. It is truly simple. Solidarity is a means to world peace, but it must start with each one of us truly engaging with those around us and within our means. Until then, I’ll keep spreading love everywhere I go and hope that sooner or later, it will be enough.

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“I learned to love like they did”

1014147_339035799559874_922780627_n(1)  This is a guest blog written by Trine Parsons. Trine traveled to Gulu with St. Mary’s School this summer and will be a freshman in the fall.

On July 12, I returned from Gulu, Uganda. Myself as well as nine other St. Mary’s School students traveled with three teachers and another adult to Uganda for three weeks. In that time period I have learned the best skills and life lessons I ever could. I have never been in such a loving and tightly knit community. Everyone no matter what age would run up to you with the biggest smile on their face and hold your hand. All of the little kids were itching to be able to attach to you. All of this love is developed from children that were abandoned, orphaned, abused, abducted, the cruel list of situations these children have gone through is unbelievable and yet they seem to have the most innocent love for everyone. This continually made me wonder how this was possible. How these kids could not be more scarred than they were. Through my travels I learned to love like they did.

The children and the people living at Mother Theresa’s Primary School, where we were working the majority of the time in Uganda lived with next to nothing.

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Before we traveled to Uganda we all had to read a packet about the economic differences of metropolitan areas to small African villages. It told us that many people living in poorer parts of Africa spend a dollar a day. That struck me as unbelievable, I do not know how I could have a budget of one dollar or less a day. As I read it clarified that even though to people living in the United States think of these people in Uganda or other places as poor but in reality they do not view themselves that way. Yes they have little no know money but to them that is their usually income and they do not view themselves as less fortunate or poor. They have learned only to live off of the necessities. Even reading about the kinds of poverty beforehand it still startled me when I met kids that had no shoes and only one shirt that was ripped. By seeing all of this I began to grasp what these kids needed, not just material goods but emotional needs as well.

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While in Uganda I was able to ride boda’s through town and around bumpy side streets. I got to peel a mango and eat it like a apple. The culture is so different than anything I have ever experienced. As we walked into town we passed grazing cows and goats tied up by the road. We continually had people staring at us in awe while little kids would yell, “Munu, munu…” which I discovered ment foreigner. I loved learning little bits of the language. I was able to remember quite a few words but the pronunciations, not so much. Part of what made the experience so great was being able to make so many friends. We visited Sacred Heart which is girls secondary school and Laiybi which is the boys secondary school. We made so many friends and we had a great time. I was fortunate enough to see Obina Brian who goes to Laiybi lip sync to Rihanna’s Diamonds. I also was able to visit many different NGO’s in Gulu. One of my favorite NGO’s was MEND. It is a branch of Invisible Children that provides jobs for twenty two of the most vulnerable women. It provides them with a support structure as well as counseling they may need, it also teaches the women to be seamstresses so they might be able to create their own business later. Fourteen of the twenty two women were previously abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army. Despite that while we were about to leave they began to dance. Soon we all joined in dancing to lively music. That I why I love Uganda we could dance with people we just met.

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I found myself at home in Uganda. In the summer of 2014 my goal is to return to Uganda for three months. I want to raise $5,000 to bring with me so that all of the bricks for the secondary school, that would allow deaf children to go to school, can be made. In Uganda I would like to become functional in sign language to act as interpreter for people in the United States. I would also like to create fun ways to teach English to students. My name is Trine Parsons and I have found my passion by traveling to Uganda. Because of that I have never been so happy.

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We live in such a small, hopeful world

**The following blog post was written by Kristine Sullivan, co-founder and current Director of Programs and Development who is on the ground in Gulu, Uganda**

On Thursday our group went to MEND to visit the ladies.  MEND is a social enterprise that funds many Invisible Children programs while providing sustainable development through vocational training, education, and counseling in the Gulu region to many women who are victims of the LRA.  I visited MEND last year but learned so much more about it on this trip.

It was an amazing afternoon.  One that made me feel nostalgic for my Gulu TEX family as we passed our former house (it’s for rent, so if any of you are moving here to join me— we can get it.  Hurry up!)  One that humbled me — watching the women start a spontaneous dance party because of their overwhelming joy and zest for life.  And one that made me realize how small our world is!  Ten days ago the new MEND IC employee began her two year contract.  She just moved to Gulu— by way of Los Angeles— hailing from Saugerties, NY.  We are from the same area and have traveled a near identical path, landing us here in Gulu for the next few years.  Again.  Small flipping world.

Joining the women as they shrieked joyfully and danced in the middle of the MEND office amidst patterns and sewing machines also allowed me a moment to reflect on our purpose and our path.

Our group had spent the morning at the U-Touch office meeting with Emmanuel and Charles and learning more about their community school and computer training classes.  They had so much joy for what they did every day and it was evident that they have been successful, with over 1,000 Gulu residents going through their training programs since the programs inception.  Rebuilding infrastructure and business in a post-conflict region is not an easy task, and both U-Touch and MEND are equipping the most vulnerable of the community with the means to achieve success.  It’s truly a beautiful and hopeful thing.

I hope and pray that Educate for Change will be able to provide the same opportunities for our students.  The news so far is positive, but there is a lot of work to be done.  I am slowly learning sign language to try to engage more with our deaf students in the primary school.  I am visiting the students at their secondary schools and learning more about the opportunities our P7 students have— whether that be vocational school, boarding school, or day school.  My simple dream is that they are all successful and happy.  And I am planning on doing anything and everything in my power to allow them the opportunity to make that happen for themselves.  I think that’s my purpose and my path.  I wake up each morning with it in my heart, after all.

I just have to “dwell in hope” (Acts 2:26) and trust that it will come.  In time.  The following is a poem that was emailed to me by my amazing friend.  THANK YOU for thinking of me and sending this along, Emily.

“I hope you wake with a gasp, a thousand flutters in your heart

Not from the whirlpool of worry. Not from a bad dream.

Not from a deadline or a string of demands, or the great to-do of the still-to-be-done.

Not from the lopsided weight of futility and failure

or some wayward mutiny shaking your bones.

Not from the loss of letting go or the grief of giving in.

Not from the illusions of your metaphorical imprisonment or escape.

Not from grass-is-greener or anywhere-but-here.

I hope, instead, you rise from the tremble of something finding its edges, earthquaking its way into being.

That riotous pulsing of birth, and the cry that comes just after

the lungs taking in their first overwhelmed breaths.

That same lucid sweetness of entry and release.

The song of your life being sung.”

Much love from Gulu.

He Carries Us

**The following blog post was written by Kristine Sullivan, co-founder and current Director of Programs and Development who is on the ground in Gulu, Uganda**

No one walks alone.

Yesterday afternoon on the road to Mother Teresa’s was the first time I’ve walked the road by myself since we arrived on Friday. It has been a busy few days after 43 hours of travel. My body has mostly adjusted to the time, but not yet the heat or the perpetual “stick” of DEET, SPF 30, and sweat. It will come.

I’ve gotten to know many of the kids from St. Mary’s in our (first American student visit!) group rather well and it feels like I’ve known them for more than a few days. They are fantastic, loving young men and women and I am so happy they are here and working with the kids and on projects around the school. It’s been amazing to watch them lead large groups of song and dance and be able to connect on a personal level with more children than I ever could! On Tuesday, they began to scrub the walls and paint the lower primary level classrooms amidst young students attempting to help or climbing up the side of the structure to see what was going on inside.

We’ve spent a lot of time walking around seeing Gulu as well and I’ve gone to town a few times on my own. It is in those moments and in this walk on the road when the reality of my move actually began to set in. I was ‘alone.’

However, there’s actually no such thing. Mothers carrying babies, men on bikes, boda-boda’s, children on their way home from school all greeted me as I walked. I’ve made new friends at MTN and Coffee Hut and even had a God moment with Beau from Restore on the steps on Uchumi. I’ve already been able to see Godfrey, David, and randomly ran into Papito at Mass on Sunday. We don’t walk this world alone and this new direction in my life will be no different, just different.

It hasn’t started how I imagined. And I still don’t have a phone at all or internet regularly (for those of you who have been waiting for my call or text— give me time!) But as I sat around the children tonight in prayer and listened to their beautiful voices, I was reminded, as I should not have to be.

He is carrying us all on this road.

Much love from Gulu.

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.

References:

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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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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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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