We have just returned from five days in Kyangwali Refugee Settlement with several Educate! students in tow. Breakfast this morning is plump chunks of avocado fresh off our tree in the Educate! compound and sugary African tea. Joseph Munyambanza gathered the avocado for us – he is staying with us until his flight to South Africa where he will attend the African Leadership Academy. Sitting next to him is Nziyonvira Ntakamaze leafing through Educate!’s latest Annual Report. Nziyonvira blew me away in our first conversation when he told me he wants to be a gynecologist, a decision he made after seeing the hardships of mothers in childbirth in Kyangwali, where at night the closest hospital is a 60km walk away. Down the hall, Rachel Uwimana is preparing her application for nursing school. Despite her tiny frame, Rachel is one of the most outgoing women I have met since arriving in Africa, and has enough spunk to take on all the Educate! boys.
Spending the last few days in the company of these students and many more in Kyangwali, I understand Eric’s drive and motivation more than ever. The work the Educate! students have done to bring the community in Kyangwali together is inspiring. We attended club meetings of COBURWAS (currently working on organizing a nursery for orphans), the Anti-violence group (a support network and forum for women) and the Cheyeye group (a 1,000 member group of children who gather food and sing traditional Congolese songs to new mothers) all led by Educate! students. The leadership roles Educate! students have taken on in their community is the inspiration behind Educate!’s new programs and its mission - to educate and empower the next generation of socially responsible leaders in Africa.
What drew me to Educate! was not just this mission, but a belief in its method. Having grown up moving from country to country, my own education has been a jumbled product of the Japanese, British, French and American educational systems. Each system had its strengths and limitations, and I have come away with a deep conviction that education should go beyond memorizing textbooks and practicing standardized tests. It should be a time to ask “what is my potential?” instead of “what is the exam like?” I studied for my A-levels at the best British school in the country where acquiring top marks was the focus and an entry to Cambridge or Oxford presumed. The goal was not to encourage individualism, or a push to find and challenge one’s own goals, but instead a push (and a shove) to ensure my school continued to be at the top of the league table by churning out women who knew how to write 4 perfect essays in a 3 hour exam. After graduating, I made the choice to go to the most liberal educational system I could find (Brown University) where I could take charge of my own education and self motivation. At Brown it was never, “here’s what you need to know for the exam” but instead a challenge to really critique the world outside of the classroom to say “what can my contribution be?”
Educate! is not about to take over school curriculums or go to war with UNEB (The Ugandan National Education Board). We are pursuing a constructive approach, partnering with schools that understand our philosophy to provide what I think of as an Educate! package – the Socially Responsible Leadership Course (teach & inspire), the Social Entrepreneurship Clubs (practical application) and mentorship (support and encouragement). In short, the Educate! package is a long-term investment in each student with the goal of creating powerful agents for change. Our Educate! students from Kyangwali are only the beginning!
Angelica tells me she is reminded of Ethiopia here. I’m reminded of my teenage years in New Delhi – lopsided hand painted advertisements, piles of weary shoes laid out on pavements, fluorescent plastic and in particular the pollution and the weaving traffic (only minus the cows). I’m back in the developing world where life is a contradiction between street peddlers with crusty shirts sticking to skinny shoulder blades and polished white landrovers zipping along with smart suited executives. I’ve settled into life in Kampala like a return home, accepting the snail-paced internet connection and the fact that being half Japanese will never prevent me from being labeled a Muzungu (white person). Occasionally I get slightly miffed (upset) when Angelica & Eric gang up on me about my British accent. On my end I have had to interpret conversations such as the following:
Angelica: Yo, E-money, we boda-ing?
On a more serious note however, what I call Angelica’s “American-ness” is really a deep well of creativity and enthusiasm that she is instilling in the SRLC curriculum. My more reserved “British/Japanese-ness” has been serving only as a cultural filter for some activities that Ugandans (used to a British curriculum and teaching style after all) could find bemusing. While Angelica is creative genius extraordinaire, my role will be more on cultivating and managing our relationships with partner schools and overseeing the logistics of the program. With my background in business and consulting I feel we are a well balanced pair together! Most importantly, we’re both convinced that Educate! will instigate great social change and cannot wait to get the programs started.
The day before we left Kyangwali, Wereje Benson described Educate! as a match – one strike and vast plains of Africa are alight. So keep watching…