Emily Lutyens is the Country Director for Educate!. Along with Angelica Towne, Emily launched the Educate! Program in Kampala in 2008. Educate! teaches a two year leadership program to high school students and empowers students to start social initiatives at 24 partner schools across Uganda. Below, read as Emily shares how much the program has grown since its inception and how the Educate! Scholars have transformed into empowered leaders.
In September of 2008, I visited one of our partner schools, Light High School, with Educate’s Program Director Angelica Towne. It was one of those early school visits, before we had any momentum, before our programs had fully kicked off, before we had hired our Mentors (teaching staff), and before I had perfected my Ugand-lish accent. The school had gathered the entire student body on one sweaty Sunday afternoon to hear our Educate! pitch. The room was tired and sticky, with hot dust billowing in from the barred windows. Students shuffled their shoes in the dust and doodled on their feeble desks.
Angelica and I spoke about the programs, introducing Educate!’s history and the inspiration behind the Educate! program. We spoke about our belief in mentorship and empowerment, and about our trust in the power of students. We spoke about the importance of having a vision for oneself, and setting goals to achieve that vision. The response from the students and the teachers? Lackluster at best. Students were pretty dismal in their seats, resting their heads against their desks, inspecting our clothing more than listening to our words. Even the Director of Studies had the energy and enthusiasm of a vegetarian in a butcher shop. It was a tough crowd and I learned that day what a defeated school looks like. These kids did not have hopes and dreams, they wanted hand outs. Their questions for us were not “What do you teach and why do you teach it?” but “What is the benefit to me?” Questions from “Will I receive a certificate?” to “Will you give us start-up capital?” to the dreaded “Do you provide scholarships?”
We had a lot of work to do.
A year and a half later and I found myself back in the very same hall. No start-up capital and a whole bunch of support and mentorship later, I watched four schools compete against each other for the Educate! Social Initiative Regional Competition. Light High School had been transformed into a proud host school as three other partner schools competed in the event. The Director of Studies rushed home to change his clothes and look “appropriately smart” for the occasion. His address to the students was proud and direct. The Light High School Scholars had cleared away the dust and hung up curtains over the windows to stop the dust from blowing in. The room still looked tired but the students (now Educate! Scholars) were not.
Each school had a different presentation to make, a different story of student empowerment. New Kabale Busega entertained us with an Educate! song before introducing us to their jewelry and agriculture projects. They described how they diversified their jewelry collection by creating different sizes and colours. They practiced intercropping of cabbage, eggplant and carrots to keep their soil healthy. They turned ropes into doormats and presented me with a personalized “Emilly the Great” sign (for which I happily overpaid). Light High School presented their hair salon project—their income and accountability section showed how their profits increased from 20,000 shillings ($10) per term to 80,0000 shillings ($40) per term. Later, they demonstrated their skills by giving our Executive Direcor, Eric Glustrom, a haircut. True to top tier school form, SMACK presents not one but six different projects, ranging from a leadership conference to a recycled paper bags project. They had a powerpoint presentation and graciously thanked Light High School for hosting the competition.
But my favourite school that day was Busiro Modern Academy, probably our poorest partner school across the board. The scholars announced their entrance with a huge chicken skwaaaawkkk. Their project? A poultry farm, and they had brought the evidence. Throughout the afternoon, the cock cock-a-doodled in the back of the main hall to announce “This school really does have a project, thank you very much.” And my ultimate favourite part was when the scholars spoke of how they were empowering the future leadership at their school. They had a tiny 12 year old scholar standing in the back that cheerfully waved his hands and did a little hop to show that he was there to represent and feel empowered for the future of his school.
We have come so far.
~ Emily Lutyens, Educate! Country Director