The Newest Editions — Welcome, Senior 1 Scholars!

On Monday, six new students began class under our program. These newest GLOBAL Scholars are bright eyed, energetic and focused. They have real passion for education and their drive and determination is quite evident.

This year, our application process was extremely competitive. While we received many students in our office, we only accepted twenty-five applications and we were only able to grant acceptance to six students. Due to our constrained budget and our limited resources in terms of staffing, going over forty-five students is currently impossible. As we stand to date, we have forty-four! We want to make sure that we are able to uphold our commitment to them: that if they maintain their marks and behavior and continue to remain focused, we will stand by them through secondary school.

The new students are pictured below and by the names of Oketayot Geoffrey (Te-Owak, Bobi; attending St. Joseph’s College Layibi, top left), Lakica Janneth Oketta (Pece Pawel, Gulu; attending Sacred Heart, top middle), Kilama Benjamin (Gang-Kal, Amuru; attending St. Joseph’s College Layibi, top right), Opiyo Morris (Abera, Pabbo; attending St. Joseph’s College Layibi, bottom right), Omar-Rwoth Anthony (Kwanji, Nebbi; attending Ocer Campion School, bottom middle), and Abacaba Nixon (Ajubi, Nwoya; attending St. Joseph’s College Layibi, bottom left). We were so impressed not only with their results, but also their ability to present themselves, their families, and their goals to us orally during an office interview and home assessment. We even had one student who stood up and presented his debating skills, unrehearsed. Literally, we were blown away. We know you would have been, too.

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We are so excited for these new students and that’s where YOU come in! Would you help us ensure that their education is secure for the next six years? We need six new sponsors who are willing to partner with us to see them through. I promise you, they will not disappoint you. If this is something you are interested in, please contact us at educateforchange.us@gmail.com. We will let you know which students still need support and then the decision is up to you! Remember, it’s not something you have to do alone. Our sponsors come in all shapes and sizes: individuals, entire families, classrooms, entire schools, businesses, or clubs. $500 per year split between a school of 1,000 students?! $.50 per student, per year. It’s that simple, really. We work with them, not only to make sure they are in a desk, but to ensure that they are successful, confident, self-aware, and contributing in a positive way to their school and local community. We believe in the power of education and are sure that the best way to promote change is through this opportunity.

Join us.

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.

Introducing Annie Weber!

Annie Weber is 22 years old and comes from Baltimore, Maryland. She just graduated from Gettysburg College with a B.A. in Sociology and a minor in Middle East and Islamic Studies.

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In the fall of 2013, Annie studied post-conflict transformation in northern Uganda/Rwanda with the School for International Training.  Annie has been back in Gulu for the past month partnering with us as a project coordinator for the Girl’s Health and Leadership Program.  This program would be impossible without Annie!  Her efforts and organization are so much appreciated and she is an amazing addition to the office.  Additionally, our funding for this program was made possible through her successfully receiving a Kathryn Davis Projects for Peace grant as well as the SIT Alice Rowan-Swanson Fellowship.

Over the last month, Annie has enjoyed watching the girls in the Health and Leadership Program gain confidence, self-esteem, and new knowledge that can help them become strong female leaders in their own lives and in their communities.

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In her free time around Gulu, Annie loves playing basketball, finding homes for in-need kittens & puppies, as well as getting local dresses made out of traditional kitenge fabric. When Annie returns home to the U.S. she wants to pursue her masters in Social Work or Public Health.

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Annie: thanks so much for everything you’ve done and continue to do for this program.  We love you!

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:

Welcome to Gulu, Emma and Emily!

It’s an exciting time of year for us in Gulu, Uganda.  Two of our three interns for the summer have arrived!  I’m so pleased to introduce you to Emma and Emily and beyond excited to work with them over the course of June and July.  Enjoy reading a bit about them… because you’ll be hearing from them over the next two months.

Emma Anderson is 21 years old and hails from Southern Oregon.  She attends The New School University in New York City and is studying Global Studies.  She will graduate in the Fall of 2015.  In her spare time, she loves reading, listening to funky tunes, writing poetry, cuddling with baby goats, and making positive changes in herself and her environment.

This is not Emma’s first time in Gulu.  In fact, she was here in 2013 for a short trip while she was studying abroad in West Africa.  She decided to come back because she wanted to see “all the incredible work you (Kristine) and my momma (Laura) are doing through Educate for Change.”  She also wants to learn more about the culture and people in Gulu.  For her time in Gulu, Emma is most excited to learn as much as she can about the workings of successful and sustainable non-profits, help out with the Girl’s Health and Leadership Camps, and develop personally as a positive force in the world.  She hopes to use the knowledge she gains this summer to complete her Senior Thesis in Global Studies. Back in NYC, she wants to share all that she learned about Ugandan life and Educate for Change’s various projects with her college community at The New School University.

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Emma Anderson with a baby goat in Gulu

Emily Eccleston is 18 years old and was born and raised in beautiful Southern Oregon.  She just graduated from St. Mary’s School in Medford, Oregon and will be attending Northern Arizona University this fall where she will study Hotel and Restaurant Management.  Although she will not be studying something that correlates directly with her internship, helping others is a major part of her life.  She likes to spend her free time with her family, hiking, and enjoying some peace and quiet time.

Emily first came to Uganda the summer of 2014 on a school trip where they assisted with different projects at Mother Teresa Primary School in Pece Division of Gulu Municipal.  After spending three and a half weeks here, she knew she had to come back and spend more time in Gulu as well as assist with more projects.  Emily is so thrilled to go back to Mother Teresa’s to see the students she met last year and get started on the Educate for Change literacy project.  She is so excited to be back in Gulu and working with E4C!

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Emily Eccleston with students from HELU Nursery in Gulu

Thank you so much for your constant support and all the work you have already done for our organization.  We cannot wait to see you shine this summer.  Your impact has already been felt.

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Emma and Emily, together!

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!

Welcome to the family, Ieasha!

We are so thrilled to share the news with you!  Ieasha Ramsay, our intern extraordinaire, has accepted to be the newest member of the Educate for Change Board of Directors.  We could not be more excited.

Ieasha initially came to Gulu to work with a company that was going through a transition period.  She really wanted to get more involved with something here instead of returning back to New York — and that’s when we found her!  She spent February through April planning our Girls’ Health and Leadership pilot project with us and let’s just say, it went SO well (more on that program later this week).

Before Ieasha left for New York last week, I sat down with her so that I could share some of her words with all of you.  Check out this amazing woman below!

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Ieasha Ramsay was born and raised in Bristol, Connecticut.  For undergrad, she attended the State University of New York at Albany (SUNY Albany) where she majored in psychology and graduated in 2012.  Immediately, she pursued her MA in Social Work from NYU and finished in 2013.  Ieasha worked as a substance abuse counselor in Brooklyn, NY before she decided it was time to take a break and check out what was going on in northern Uganda.  I’ll let her tell the rest. 😉


What brought you to Gulu? I wanted to facilitate change in an area I normally would not have any interaction with — to try to step outside my own box and challenge myself and the people around me to grow.

How did you get involved with Educate for Change? It’s simple: one door in Gulu closed and another one opened. I realized how big of a need there was for workshops and information sharing and how much I missed working intimately with adolescents.  When the opportunity came to work with E4C, I jumped on board without hesitation. And BOOM! It’s all history from there.

You spent a large portion of your time planning for a health and leadership workshop for teenage girls.  What was your favorite part of the workshop? The affirmation bags. The girls had the opportunity to write notes to one another. They didn’t feel like they were just trying to pass a test. They were able to be honest about how they felt about one another and us and express their creativity. It’s just such a good habit! We never tell one another good things. I also enjoyed drawing the female reproductive system for my presentation. 😉

What was your favorite thing about your time in Gulu?  In addition to riding on bodas? Because that’s really my peaceful time.  I really enjoyed having the chance to interact with people who I would have never met in a million years. That’s so dope to me.  I made connections with people that will literally take me all over the world.  (Note: bodas are motorcycle taxis that usher many commuters around both day and night).

What are you most looking forward to when your return to the States? Cheeseburgers, being on rooftops in high heels, and nail polish that actually stays on my nails longer than a day.

Why are you excited to be on the Board of Directors?  I will lose myself in whatever work I decide to go back to – because NY is going to be insane. But I get to hold onto a piece of Gulu forever, which is really neat to me. It gives me the opportunity to keep myself attached and to stay grounded, really.

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Thank you so much Ieasha.  We were so lucky to have met you and our girls will always remember you and the wisdom you bestowed on them.  You are most welcome back to Gulu at any time, and we could not be more thrilled to have you join our Board.

Girls’ Health and Leadership Camp!

April 24-26th, we will be hosting a pilot program for our girl scholarship beneficiaries.  This project serves to empower, liberate and motivate Ugandan female youth through education; providing them with the knowledge and esteem to become agents of change and break the cycle of ignorance about their sexual health, leadership capabilities and rights as women.

DSC_0087Anena Ketty Gloria, S2 Scholar, Graceland High School

The pilot program is a warm-up.  This summer we will host recurring multi-day Health and Leadership Camps to provide imperative education to female youth on topics including feminine health, sexual health, self-defense, and self-esteem.

In July and August 2015, Health and Leadership camps will be held in several sessions for students from various villages. Taking place throughout rural northern Uganda, each camp will provide approximately 100 at-risk girls with critical information on topics including feminine health (menstruation, HIV/AIDS and STD’s, pregnancy), gender issues (domestic abuse, gender-based violence), self-defense, and self-esteem.

By providing a comfortable and culturally sensitive atmosphere, girls will become educated, empowered, and able to make smart decisions that benefit their general and sexual health for the rest of their lives. Attendees will receive reusable feminine products, providing approximately 400 girls with a better means of dealing with their monthly cycle.

The learning and passing on of knowledge will be a boundless cycle of change after the program ends. These girls will be equipped to serve as information ambassadors to their peers in the village; spreading accurate, life-changing information about sexual health/care, self-defense, and self-esteem and creating a long-lasting, effective and sustainable project.

DSC_0232Acan Babra, S3 Scholar, Pope John Paul II (Luweero)

We need your HELP!  We are hoping to take E4C a step further than school scholarships and provide our girls with an opportunity to gain lifelong skills to care for themselves and their sisters, but we cannot do it without you! All pledges on this Indiegogo page will be allocated to the expense for our pilot program this April which includes: venue, menstrual kits, visual aids/education materials, guest speakers and educators, food, lodging and transportation.  By funding this project, you will have a direct hand in a life changing experience for our 16 scholarship students — but also, eventually over 400 young girls. Consider a financial contribution to aid in the expansion of knowledge, resources, and an equal right to education!

Make sure you check out our Indiegogo Page for donating by clicking HERE.

Thank you. 🙂

THE PIGS ARE COMING!

Thanks to a generous grant from the Joe and Francis Naumes Family Foundation, construction on the piggery has commenced.

20140827_133401 (1000x750)Several of our scholar’s spent a week of their long holiday in December making 3800 bricks which with be used for the walls.  This helped us a lot, but it was also great to employ some of our students.  Youth unemployment in Uganda is ridiculously high these days and every little opportunity to raise funds helps.

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This project will not just create sustainable income for our programs, but also jobs for the local community (and even our scholars on their holiday, as you have seen), vocational training opportunities, and a family livestock loan program. Built on the site of the future Mother Teresa Secondary School, it will eventually be turned over to the school as part a permanent scholarship funding activity and agricultural curriculum.

Construction is going quickly and we are currently interviewing for a piggery manager.  We hope to implement a natural pig farming system by using IMO’s (read more about that here).  So far, all the research and meeting the right people has been a blast.  We are so proud of the way the building is looking and cannot wait to hire the manager and get to work on the real business.

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More updates soon!

Holiday Program 2015

This long holiday between class levels in Uganda, the students are out school from the end of November until the beginning of February. At Educate for Change, we wanted to see what we could do for our students to ensure that those who might have areas of weakness can work to improve academically over the break and better his or her chance of success in Senior 2 or Senior 3.

On Monday, we began the pilot of a three week Holiday Program focused on learning and revision in Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, English, History, and Geography. The teachers for these courses are University students, mostly studying Education in various fields. In the fall, Laura trained them in methods of working with students and how to be an effective tutor or leader in the classroom. They went over information on everything from the importance of empathy and respect in a classroom to different learning styles and methods of instruction.

image1(1)As of Monday, we have 34 students in the classrooms at Gulu Plaza (graciously provided by Cavendish University) representing two different programs: Educate for Change and Unified for Uganda. It has been an absolute pleasure partnering with a similar organization in Gulu, as collaboration and the sharing of best practices continues to challenge both of us to provide the finest services possible to our scholarship recipients.

More to come too—they are only on day #3!