Emily, our first Country Director, reflects on her time at Educate!

Emily on why she does what she does

Emily Lutyens, who is leaving us at the end of this month, is our first Country Director. She pioneered the Educate! project in Uganda during her two years with us, 2008 to 2010. Loved and most certainly fondly remembered by all Educate! Staff—especially the mentors—she has been an inspiration and a tower of strength. This post serves as her good bye and is a reflection on her time with us, here in Uganda. Wereje Benson

Educate! student Wereje Benson’s impression of me is pretty hilarious.  Always proper and reserved with impeccable manners, Benson sometimes reminds me of someone who should have been born two centuries ago.  When he impersonates me, all that changes.  He sticks his mobile phone to his ear (holding it in place with his shoulder), starts typing an air keyboard furiously, sticks a super stressed look on his face and yells “Chiiiiiiiiiica” (which is my nickname for Angelica when I need her in the office).  It seems the impression I’m leaving behind is of this super-time-conscious, efficient, crazy workaholic with Olympic typing speed.

I’ve been in denial about leaving for some time now.  Head teachers have berated me for not giving them enough notice – but I try to explain to them that really it was a case of not giving MYSELF enough notice.  I’m moving onto a new part of my life and completely jumping into the deep end, as I normally do.  It’s what I did when I first came here – putting faith in two Amherst grads who were younger than me and an idea that was still on paper.  I’m leaving behind a family that I have become so comfortable with that it makes the next step even more daunting. 

I think the most important thing I’ve learned during my time at Educate! is to have faith.  You have to see the good in the world and have patience that the bad will change, someday.  There have been days when I have woken up and wondered how much of a difference I really am making, whether it really is possible to create a new generation of leaders who have the guts to create real change in their communities.  There have been days when the pressures of the world have just gotten to me: In Kyangwali, where I see kids with infected cuts that would make any Western mother run to the ER that they got just from playing …  When I drive through Kampala and see the street kids so tiny and so grimy that they blend into the tarmac…  When I think of the Educate! friends and students we have lost just in the past 2 years…

Sometimes you have to wonder if a little change is really going to make such a difference.  After all, we’re not building schools.  We’re not building hospitals.  Those are easy to see.  We’re building courage, resourcefulness, creativity and belief.  It’s not so easy to see some days.  So what if one female scholar from the West is planting bitter tomatoes, or if a male scholar from the North is creating a fuel efficient clay stove?  How much change does that actually SHOW?  But as my mentor Tim says, you just have to keep letting the drops fall into the bucket.  Big change starts with little change.  It fills up, it builds, and it transforms.

People say a lot of different things about Africa.  Africa is poor.  Africa is dangerous.  Africans have no motivation.  Africans can’t change.  I’ve heard Ugandans says Ugandans can’t change and that Ugandans are naturally negative.  And here’s Educate! claiming to create changemakers! 

Back in 2008, I don’t think Angelica and I ever thought how ludicrous we were being.  Not because we ever believed change isn’t possible.  But because we were starting a program that had never been done before and had never been heard of.  In my first few meetings with head teachers, I sat in their office and sold to them a curriculum that hadn’t even been written.  I sat in their office and sold to them the concept of mentorship when those mentors hadn’t yet been hired.  I sat in their office and sold to them the concept of creating leadership that would generate change with no proof that we could.

I remember Jimmy, head teacher of Greenhill College, looking at me suspiciously as I walked into his office.  Who is this strange muzungu coming here and picking out my school out of so many in this country?  Why do you want to work here?  Why do you want to work with us?  What is the advantage to you?

Emily with Mentor Class 1 and Mentor Class 2 at her good-bye party

I remember sitting in a coffee shop eager to sign contracts with our first two mentors, the best two we had selected from over 100 applicants.  I remember how dejected I felt when we realised they were both still in school, studying part time and could not work for us full time. 

I remember watching a classroom of boys, deadpan eyes staring at the wall while Esther addressed them at Mbale High School. They looked right past her, giving no indication that they were listening.  At the end of class, I spoke to them about confidence, being able to stand properly when addressing somebody, being able to look somebody in the eye.   I saw so much defeat in their eyes as they avoided looking at me. 

I remember the days when we would be rushing to prepare for a meeting and the power would go off, killing the power in our laptops, any chance of internet and the power of our printer.  This was generally disastrous as it meant we had to go into town and find an internet cafe that had power and a working printer, delaying the day by at least two hours and sapping your patience for the rest of the day.

Did I ever think we could fail?  Once or twice.  Did we ever consider giving up?  Never crossed our minds.

Now, Jimmy from Greenhill College will pick up my phone call and say “Now Emily, when are you coming to see me?”  We will debate about life questions, like whether a wife is the property of her husband—you can surely guess which side of the argument I’m on.  His school was the overall winner at our National Social Entrepreneurship Club Competition and our enormous check hangs proudly in his small office, matching the size of his entire desk.

Now, I see our family of mentors, all 15 of them, and think how much of a foundation we have laid.  We went on to try three more recruiting strategies after that first failed attempt.  The amount of change and empowerment I have seen in our mentors alone will surely give me faith for the rest of my life.

Now, I visit Mbale high school and Christopher and Derrick will tell me how much they have changed through the Educate! course.  They will introduce themselves to the new Country Director with all the confidence in the world.  Derrick shook my hand, looked at me straight in the eye and announced “You see, now I can look you in the eye and address you.”

Now, the power still goes out (obviously).  That one may take a while longer to change!

My favorite part is when I walk into a school and see the flash of an Educate! t shirt.  The E! t shirt is the sign of an Educate! certified socially responsible leader.  It means that scholar has passed the leadership passbook test by practically completing various tasks such as “Write a personal business plan” or “Interview a community leader or entrepreneur” or “(Provide a) testimony from someone you have impacted.”

On my last trip to Kyangwali, I woke up and the air was fresh and moist from the night rain.  It’s a smell you never get in Kampala.  I remember my first trip running in the morning mist through maize fields as the sun rose.  Eric and I would play goat- goat-lion (as opposed to duck-duck-goose) with the kids.  We’d chase after them, the tall scary white faced muzungus, and they’d scamper chirping into the fields. There is so much possibility when you’re lucky enough to smell a fresh morning and play with carefree kids.  And I realise how lucky I have been – the super-time-conscious, efficient, crazy workaholic with Olympic typing speed – because when I look up and take a breath, I know that investing in people is the most rewarding work in the world.

- Emily Lutyens, out-going Educate! Uganda Country Director

Emily and some of the children at Kyangwali Refugee Camp