Angelica touches down in Uganda
This is Angelica Towne writing to you live from my new home in the Pearl of Africa. Firstly, I am honored to be a part of the Educate! family and extremely proud to represent Educate! in Uganda for the next year. From inspirational humble beginnings, Educate! is soon to emerge as a powerful force of social change in Uganda and even greater Africa. This short month in Uganda has exposed me to the core values of our organization and that youthful indomitable conviction which characterizes all great breakthroughs. I can honestly say that here I am daily inspired anew.
When I arrived in Kampala I couldn’t believe I hadn’t returned to Ethiopia. They share metal sheet rooftops, perilous ditches for rainwater run-off and the sweet smell of passion fruit. Going to a local Ethiopian restaurant for dinner my first night didn’t help my disillusionment. There are also similar signs of poverty: small street children scattered across the city, heads down and hands outstretched, sitting cross-legged on the dust-red asphalt, inches away from hot boda boda exhaust pipes and billows of black smoke. In especially smoggy alleyways of downtown Kampala the air tastes just polluted enough to remind me of my winter romping in pre-Olympics Beijing. Chinese characters also dance across the face of countless taxies and imported trucks. My limited travel however has never led me to encounter the beautiful diversity of birds and flora that I have seen across Uganda.
The learning curve is steep here. By day three I was out discovering the wonders of Kampala’s public transportation system alone; by day five, I was contributing to meetings with partner school teachers; within the first week, I collaborated with the savvy intern named Helaina to think of a profit generating activity for Educate!; and finally, by day fourteen, I started to receive phone calls from someone other than Eric. I learned quickly that you can bargain for just about anything here (for hours if you are with Eric) and the midnight pineapple truck in the old taxi park is definitely worth the wait. Mainly, I learned that I had a lot to learn: about Ugandan social issues, the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and an interesting school called Cornerstone Leadership Academy if I was going to make the necessary progress on the socially responsible leadership course’s curriculum development. Cornerstone teaches the principles and precepts of Jesus as a leader instead of focusing on his traditional role in Christianity. It hopes to unite all religions and peoples in the name of Jesus as an exemplary leader and human being, rather than a religious figure. For example, there is the principle of resourcefulness, committed relationships, and servant leadership.
Our curriculum draws heavily on the principles taught by Cornerstone, as well as some things from the African Leadership Academy and LEAD International. We are compiling curriculum from these different organization’s models because they are proven to be effective and cross-culturally relevant. In addition to compiling and integrating the curricula of these sources, I have included some of the leadership training exercises and multi-cultural games I’ve learned in my years of working in non-profits. Truth is that I didn’t actually “work” for these nonprofits as much as I was raised and molded by them. Growing up in the public housing projects of East Harlem, I know firsthand what it means to be literally saved by nonprofit organizations that embody creative solutions to society’s opportunity gaps. At Kyangwali Refugee Camp, Benson Wereje, Bahati and I swapped stories of how we all received “sponsorship” or scholarships to attend university and how it changed our lives forever. I felt such a beautiful solidarity with our students and reaffirmation of the necessity of work.
My college sponsorship organization is a New York based non-profit called Posse. Similar to the evolution of Educate! programs, Posse began with the idea of providing more students with a quality education so that they could somehow better society and join the workforce. The founder of Posse, Debbie Bial, shortly realized that she could do and needed to do so much more than simply provide funds for higher education; now, Posse has a six-month intensive leadership and diversity training program which sends groups or “posses” to top liberal arts colleges across the country with the challenge to the students to become leaders and change-makers on campus. The scholarship money was useful in opening the iron doors of opportunity, but more importantly, the training and continued support of mentors on campus opened the doors to our hearts and minds. Posse gave me the skills, confidence, and support to believe that a short halfrican girl with no money and even less confidence could be powerful. I made my voice heard on campus, took action in my local community, worked internationally, and finally accomplished my dream of working for student empowerment in the developing world.
My goal for the socially responsible leadership course and everything we do in Educate! is to empower students to realize their potential and actualize their dreams. The worst aspect of poverty is mental. Poverty erodes your self-esteem: you feel the world would probably be better off without you since you obviously can’t contribute meaningfully to society much less control your own life. I am proud of Educate!’s new focus on both financial assistance and empowerment. With our programs, we can change the course of children’s lives and the future of a nation.