Forty students, eight mentors, and four Muzungus together walked up the main road outside the Educate! office in Kampala. The sun hit high noon as we passed the local owned shops and neighboring houses. Children waved at us as mothers watched confused, hanging their laundry in mid day heat. In Uganda, few consider walking up hills at noon as a “fun” activity. Nevertheless, we embarked on our hike together. And with this, the first annual Climb for Uganda commenced.
The event Climb for Uganda arose out of an idea essential to the Educate! mission. It is the recognition that across the world the challenges we are facing— such as poverty, disease, and environmental degradation—often appear overwhelming and a bit monstrous, much like the task of climbing a mountain. But as mountain climbing goes, we must embrace the challenge, knowing that step by step we can successfully overcome that which is presented to us. To demonstrate this, the Educate! community in Uganda and the Educate! community in the US were scheduled to summit their respective mountains on the same day. These hikes served to both bring people together in a community event, raise funds for Educate!, and demonstrate the solidarity and dedication we all hold for addressing the mountain-like challenges facing Uganda and Africa today.
To kick off Climb for Uganda in Kampala, we invited our scholars from five of our twenty-four partner schools to climb a mountain near the Educate! compound. As the students arrived I watched them form clusters with their own classmates. Yet, as we began the hike, I noticed that the students slowly began to break out of their school cliques. Some eagerly ran up the hill, competing to be the first to the top. Others walked slower, talking with each other about their Educate! projects and singing the latest pop songs by Radio and Weasel. The true moment of integration occurred when we reached the top of Buziga Hill and looked out over the city of Kampala. The students were now thoroughly mixed, and by the time we sat down to talk about change and leadership, the group had become one Educate! family.
Climb for Uganda focused on the unity between the Educate! family in Uganda with the Educate! family in Colorado. Having the events occur on the same day acted as symbol of this unity. Unfortunately, the simultaneous expedition never occurred. The Colorado base enjoyed a successful event on September 13, as over 50 people hiked up Green Mountain.
Sadly, on the original date we were supposed to climb the mountain in Kampala, was instead watched the city react to a string of violent riots. Politics played off of tribal tensions as the King of Buganda, the kingdom where Kampala is located, and the President of Uganda found themselves in conflict. The riots resulted in tear gas, a death toll of 14 and a penetrating feeling of fear that settled within the people. The lack of unity amongst these tribes, and the politics that seek to exploit it, lied at the root of this violence.
This perhaps made the event in Kampala that much more significant as I watched the Educate! scholars connect with one another. For them, it became a time for bonds to form, despite their different socio economic backgrounds, religions, and, indeed, tribes. Together they shared in their common Educate! experience. Without even knowing it, they were bridging divides that have the potential to be dangerous, as we witnessed just a week earlier. In the aftermath of these riots, the importance of unity became that much more apparent. An event postponed due to the inability of some to reconcile differences, exemplified in the simplest way how people can overcome that which separates them, as our scholars do, and connect through that which they hold in common.
As the day passed bored looks transformed into laughter and everyone relaxed into the community we had created. I asked one of the students afterwards how he felt the hike went. He said “When you do things like this in a group, it is much easier than by yourself.” Well put, I thought, that’s exactly how change happens.