I just returned from an unforgettable conference in Arusha, Tanzania. The conference was organized by Cornerstone, an organization Educate! works closely with which has built leadership academies in Uganda and Rwanda. Cornerstone’s academies teach an innovative character development course in addition to the national curriculum. They base their character development curriculum on the teachings of Jesus, universal principles constant across time, culture, and religion such as respect and integrity. Of all the organizations and efforts we’ve seen in Uganda, Cornerstone is probably the most effective. In essence, they have created a movement of people who live their lives based on such principles regardless of profession, background, or religion. What is revolutionary about Cornerstone is that they overcome the well known divides plaguing Africa. For example, in their Uganda academy they bring together students from each tribe in the country, while in Rwanda they bring together the Hutus and Tutsis. In the schools, these students, who would traditionally be divided, are united by the common principles central to Cornerstone’s vision.
The conference was organized for people who are united across religion, location, and culture by the same principles. With almost every continent represented, there were Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, and agnostics present.
Several people attending the conference are at the forefront of areas such as encouraging principled leadership among students, character development, and youth mentoring (all three of which are crucial to Educate!’s work). I was able to learn from Doug Coe’s group, which began a youth mentoring program based on the model of the Civilian Conservation Corps that has now spread worldwide, and share more ideas with Cornerstone staff and teachers about how to most effectively use mentors to encourage principled leadership among students, thus allowing them to take full advantage of their potential.
In addition to the people, the location of the conference was amazing. Set at a beautiful mountain lodge on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro, we had time to swim, play soccer, go running, and even golf in the afternoons. In fact, with the gourmet food, luxurious accommodation, and warm water we might as well have been at a resort in Aspen, Colorado… we were, however, quickly reminded of our true location after the group golfing ahead of us had a run in with a king cobra on the fifth hole!!!
All in all, the conference was an incredible experience, and not only for the passion fruit mousse (my new favorite food) we had for dessert one night. I feel like I learned an incredible amount both on a personal level and about how Educate! can most effectively empower students to solve the problems Uganda, and Africa, are facing.