Our students are... incredible!

It’s been a great first week. First of all, we found out on Friday that Joseph Munyambanza was accepted to Cornerstone Leadership Academy, one of the top secondary schools in Uganda. To be accepted he had to attend a ten day practical interview among tough competition from all over the country. It is a huge accomplishment for Joseph and he deserves it – his work in and out of school with the tutoring program, COBURWAS (see below), and much more is truly incredible. He also finished his final round application to the African Leadership Academy in South Africa (www.africanleadershipacademy.org) on Friday. We will keep you updated when he hears back from them. Joseph is off to Cornerstone tomorrow and will be writing an entry in this blog which can be read in the students section soon. I just finished a 7 hour meeting with the Educate! student board of directors. These are four of our students who were elected by their peers to serve as a liaison and provide support and guidance to the students Educate! sponsors. The four students on the board are: Daniel Muhwezi, Joseph Munyambanza, Wereje Benson, and Nziyonvira Ntakamaze (who could not leave school for the meeting). We met in Benson and Daniel’s dorm room in Makerere University.

The first half of the meeting we went over where Educate! is now and what are goals are for the next six months while I am here and beyond: revamp our selection process and select additional students to sponsor, hire a country director (probably a recent college grad from the US), and develop new programs which encourage socially responsible leadership and social entrepreneurship.

Our rationale behind the new leadership programs is encouraging and supporting the work of high potential students who have big ideas to make a positive contribution to society (much like Joseph, Benson, and many of the other Educate! students). The centerpiece of the new programs is The Educate! Leadership and Social Entrepreneurship Institute. It is a three phase institute which helps students develop, plan, and implement their ideas to improve their communities, and provides training and curriculum to encourage them to become socially responsible leaders after graduating. Daniel, Joseph, Wereje, and Nziyonvira in many ways confirm our desire to develop these programs: through these guys we saw the potential our students have to transform their communities and through our new programs want to encourage more students to do the same.

The leadership programs are meant to accomplish our mission of educating and empowering the next generation of socially responsible leaders in Africa to the greatest extent possible. They supplement the formal education of our students by equipping them with the skills they need to transform their societies – ideas and training that the current school system greatly lacks. The new programs will be open to the students we sponsor, but will also reach students from diverse socioeconomic backgrounds in each region of the Uganda. For more info about the new programs check out: www.educateafrica.org/leadershipprograms.

The student board provided very positive feedback and good advice regarding the new programs and goals of the trip. As we develop these programs, incorporating the advice of our students will be crucial. During the second half of the meeting, they went over their own work, and plans for the future.

COBURWAS is the club they started in Kyangwali Refugee Settlement (where they are from) that has taken significant strides to increase access to education and developed tailored programs for different groups of people in the camp (such as pregnant mothers, students, and orphans) which resemble a comprehensive social services organization. The main focus of COBURWAS is building COBURWAS Community Orphanage (CCO), an orphanage/community center in Kyangwali. Nothing like COBURWAS exists in Kyangwali, or in any of the other camps as far as I know, and they have developed quite the reputation. They inspired students in Goma to start a COBURWAS club, showing the potential their model has to expand, and are looking to do outreach to other locations as well. They are using Educate!’s vision statement, annual report, and two year strategic plan as examples to develop similar documents for COBURWAS. Joseph updated me on the progress of the tutoring program he started in the camp. It reaches nearly 60 students and has dramatically increased the performance of the students being supported. It is such a pleasure to speak with them as friends, get each other’s advice, and work together on our separate projects. One of the things Benson said which stuck was, "We always think... how to fulfill the mission of Educate!" They are without a doubt some of the most inspiring people I know.

They say how much they respect Educate! and how important it has been in their lives, but everyone involved in Educate!, including myself, respects them at least as much. Not only have they played a big role in my life, but also in many of the lives of our supporters. They are truly, incredible!

I’m writing this on the taxi back to my place in Mukono (outside of Kampala… and the baby next to me is having fun pressing and slobbering on the keys…). Tomorrow, I’m off to Mbale for three days. Mt. Masaba High School in Mbale is our pilot school for the leadership institute. Aramanzan and Margaret Madanda, helped start the school and are on our Uganda advisory board, and Marjorie and Dick McIntosh, two Educate! supporters from Boulder, CO are working with Mt. Masaba and have taught at Makerere in the past. I am going to be speaking with admin and students at the school about taking the next steps for implementing the first phase of the institute, a day long seminar on leadership and social entrepreneurship.

Mbale is beautiful, nestled underneath Mt. Masaba on the border with Kenya. I am looking forward to seeing the school and spending some time outside of the city… although the mtns in Mbale do not compare to those back home in Colorado!