Big two weeks

These past two weeks have been very productive for me.   After taking the first week to settle in and get more acquainted with life in Uganda, I hit the ground running with numerous Educate! related meetings and activities.   


 Before I get to the highlights of the meetings, I wanted to talk a little about Springs of Hope ( www.cetu.org.uk).  The school, which just opened in February after being constructed in a period of two months, has about 35 students (20 in the first year of secondary school and 15 in the second year), many of whom are AIDS orphans and stay on campus even during their vacations.   They are all great kids and are very well behaved – I was surprised at how well they pay attention when you are speaking and how rarely we have to tell them to quiet down. I have a few pictures of the school and kids in my Uganda photo album.  Carlito and I teach five classes – two on entrepreneurship and three on various subjects from the environment to having a role model. Teaching is very difficult no matter where you do it, and this experience has definitely reaffirmed that for me.


 The school has some great plans for future expansion, including building more dormitories, constructing a dining hall, and expanding to support more needy students who cannot pay their fees.   The Headteacher, Angelo, is a strong visionary and truly cares about these kids and teaching in general.  I even heard from someone here that at a previous position as Headteacher he worked unpaid for 8 months while the head official at the school stole all of the money. I am glad that he's no longer working in such an environment.  If you are interested in learning more about Springs of Hope, please let me know ( boris@educateafrica.org). 


 Apart from volunteering at Springs of Hope, I have been setting up various meetings, and in the process have met some truly incredible social entrepreneurs.   Last Friday I met up with a man named Collins, who runs a social enterprise (a business that aims to do good) called Afroeducare, and who more or less blew me away with his ideas and insight into development.   Though he is only four years out of college, he has already run Afroeducare for two of those four years.  The organization aims to work towards the development of Africa by focusing on Uganda's education system.  Based on my understanding, it makes money by marketing universities and secondary school institutions -- that can afford to do so -- to other East African countries.   I believe the idea is that by marketing these institutions and increasing international enrolment, demand for them will increase, leading to increased quality, and in the meantime resulting in cheaper fees for native Ugandans.


 In addition to this venture -- which I think is great, since it is the epitome of a social enterprise (making money by doing good) -- Afroeducare has a social development unit that for now is only implementing one of the several very innovative development initiatives it has in mind.   The project is called Kids Helping Kids (you can read more about it on their website – www.studyinuganda.com ) and aims to change the community service culture in Uganda, which Collins told me is more or less nonexistent, since very few incentives for it exist (as opposed to the states where every student needs it on his or her college application).  


 Kids Helping Kids, which is in its first pilot run, has groups of ten students in privileged secondary schools submit proposals for community service projects.   Out of the 28 applications, 12 were chosen and funded $500 to implement the project in the school's community.  Those that complete the project successfully will receive $50 per participant, and any teacher who is shown to have helped considerably will receive $200.   In addition, as a requirement for each participant, he or she must mentor students in primary schools, in effect passing on the culture of community service to younger students.   The award ceremony for the first run is tomorrow, and I will definitely be there.    


 This project seems very innovative and well thought out, and I am eager to learn about the results of this pilot run.   Collins really struck me as a very dynamic social entrepreneur and based on our one meeting, I am fairly confident that his organization will go very far.  


 The following day I met with another very impressive social entrepreneur named Martin, who started a school very similar to Springs of Hope, which also just opened in February.   Similar to Collins, Martin is only five years out of college.  To build the school, which lies on his family's land, Martin took out a $9,500 loan as a donation to the school (a huge amount by Ugandan standards, where real GDP is about $600 per capita).   Another $9,500 was raised from others who took out loans in smaller sums.  He also uses about 60% of his current salary (he works as a commercial loan officer for a rural development bank) to make up for the shortfall in monthly operating income.


 I was thoroughly amazed at all Martin has done, all while working a full time job several hours from the school.   He commutes back to Kampala every weekend and teaches in the school on Sundays.  All of the teachers currently get paid a fraction of the standard wage and pretty much volunteer their time so the 45 students there can get an education.   It's truly remarkable how far this school has done with so few resources.  Yet Martin is now aiming to enrol an additional 100 students in the next year.   His goal is to eventually have a total of 1500 students, with 1000 well-off students subsidizing 500 needy students. 


 This Tuesday I visited a school called McKay, which the Teachers for East Africa Alumni organization I mentioned earlier is very enthusiastic about.   After spending some time learning about the school from the Headteacher, Gertrude, I can see why.  Since Gertrude became Headteacher in 2001, the school has grown from 260 students to its current 700, and the percentage of students sitting for the A level exam (graduation exam) who pass has went from 68% to 93%.   The school has also implemented a variety of sustainability and income generating initiatives.  It has reduced its fuel and electricity costs and completely erased water costs with a water collection system.   It has also started a piggery to generate income, and encouraged students to sell the arts and crafts they produce.  It has even started a quarterly magazine that it sells to the community.   I was quite impressed. 


 In addition, to round out my highlight week, I finally got in to speak with the Peace Corps today.   I had tried to go to the office yesterday but was stopped at the security gate (the compound is very well protected…).  After trying to explain for fifteen minutes that I wanted to learn more about getting a Peace Corps volunteer, the best I got from the security guard was an offer to come back the next day with a letter stating my desire to meet someone.  I instead pulled out my notebook and handed him a quick impromptu letter and left somewhat irritated.  But when I got home, I was happily surprised to see an e-mail in my inbox from the Uganda Peace Corps country director telling me to reach out to the country program officer (I love Amherst College connections…).   I quickly arranged to meet with the officer, Mary, today.


 The meeting went incredibly well and it appears that we may be starting the process to acquire a volunteer.   A Peace Corps volunteer would be incredibly helpful as an on-the-ground resource to develop our programs in Uganda.  I have met several here and they are all incredibly motivated and eager to work (one that I met was transferring because he did not have enough to do).   This could really be the start of a much more serious Educate! presence in Uganda…


 More to come soon.  Several of our Educate! students are volunteering at various schools in my village and I'm looking forward to writing about some of the exceptional things these students are doing and plans they have for the future.  


In case you missed the earlier link, here are the first Uganda pictures