We just returned from a great trip to Kyangwali Refugee Settlement with Beth and Aimee Heckel, two of Educate!’s strongest supporters. Aside from Boris having to cram in the back of a truck with two sacks of charcoal and all our bags in the rain on the way home, the trip was very successful. We held a two day conference with the Educate! students in a classroom of Kinyekitaka Primary School, where the COBURWAS Educate! club holds its meetings. Almost all of our students, except the two in Rwanda and one who attends nursing school in the north, were able to attend. We held conversations about everything from email writing (led by Boris) to leadership, which was the main theme of the conference. It was our goal to encourage our students to take on leadership roles in their school, develop independence from Educate! by raising money to supplement our sponsorship, and build social entrepreneurship skills that will help them become successful upon graduation while giving back to their communities or homelands. We asked three of our students who have already taken on leadership roles to speak about their experiences. Marcel Bahati talked about becoming head boy of Sir Tito Winyi Secondary School and the challenges he faced as the school's first non-Ugandan head boy. Daniel Muhwezi talked about becoming the computer lab prefect of Sir Tito. Wereje Benson spoke about his experience starting COBURWAS, the numerous obstacles he faced, and how he was able to overcome them. Marcel Bahati also spoke about choosing a career path and Wereje Benson spoke about personal finance and managing money. I think the students took the speeches and discussions to heart, especially those by their peers. Overall the conference was successful and several students came up to us with ideas they had about social entrepreneurship or becoming more involved in their communities after the conference.
Things have truly started to come together at the end of our trip. Yesterday morning we returned to Windle Trust, an organization that has been sponsoring refugees for thirty years in several African countries and has been operating in Uganda since 1996. Their mission is similar to ours: provide refugees with an education and the skills they need to become leaders in solving the problems that face Uganda as well as their homelands. Windle has offered to administer the financial aspect of our sponsorships: transferring money for our students’ tuition fees to the schools directly and delivering additional funds for supplies, healthcare, and transportation to the students directly. This will avoid the difficulties we have faced trying to transfer our students funds via Western Union or directly to their bank accounts. What is more, the administration fee Windle charges is less than the transfer costs we are currently paying through Western Union. Windle also has developed sound accountability methods so we can be sure our students will be receiving the appropriate amount of money in a timely manner. Windle has field officers who visit each student at least once per month and the organization has relations with the schools our students attend. Windle will also help with the non-financial support, such as advice and friendship, our students currently receive from members of Educate! student clubs as well as Boris and me. Our students can reach the Windle field officer at any time, as well as the directors of the organization, who have an open door policy. In many cases, we wish we could see our students personally about issues they are dealing with rather than communicating through email. Now, if they would like, our students will be able to speak with someone from Windle personally, at any time, who has experience mentoring students. And we will still be there to provide support, friendship, and advice to our students where we can.
We introduced the idea of partnering with Windle to the Educate! students at the conference in Kyangwali. After much heated debate about the exact terms of the contract, our students agreed to the partnership. Yet, if for some reason our students are not satisfied with Windle then we reserved the complete right to end the partnership and we can return to running our sponsorships under our current system. Our students will be in constant communication with us during the beginning phases of the partnership to make sure that everything is going as planned with Windle. In the long run, we believe the partnership will provide more support and opportunities to our students and allow Educate! to greatly expand our sponsorships as the primary limitation will now be money, not time.
We are scheduled to leave Uganda tomorrow and I think Boris, Stacey, and I all feel very good about the trip. I can easily say this has been the most productive trip I have had to Uganda, largely thanks to all the contacts and networking Boris did here Kampala. His work led to our partnership with Windle as well as the ideas we have for new programs focused on leadership, which he outlines in his blog. I am looking forward to planning in more detail the implementation of our new programs and getting feedback from our supporters about the direction Educate! is looking to take in the future.