Acting to Transform Lives

James Katumba is an Educate! Mentor, currently working at five of Educate!’s partner schools.  James teaches Educate!’s Social Responsible Leadership Course.  Through this course, Educate! Scholars create a club, which launches a social initiative.  Below, James writes about the work his Scholars at Aga Khan High School are doing through their club and the partnership they’ve created with a local literacy program.


For months the Aga Khan Educate! Club struggled to start a socially responsible project. They struggled, until they met Juma Moshin, a man who runs a literacy program in one of Kampala’s poorest slums. Moshin’s literacy center, People Concerned Children’s Project, emerged from nothing more than his own ability to read and write, a donated space from a neighboring woman, and out-of-school youth’s desire to learn. After seeing all Moshin had done with the little resources available to him, the Aga Khan Educate! Scholars felt inspired. They decided that if he could do so much with so little, they could certainly do some good with what they had. Upon meeting Moshin and seeing what a positive impact looked like, a project idea came easily. They planned to create a theme week within their school: Acting to Transform Lives. During this week they would raise money to support the literacy center, and through the process I would watch them transform the entire culture of their school.

Aga Khan High School and Moshin’s literacy program, People Concerned Children’s Project, are two educational centers within a five kilometer radius of each other. But yet, in reality, they are worlds apart. Aga Khan High School is a prestigious school. The students of Aga Khan High School come from a formidable list of Who’s Who in Uganda’s social economic circles. The school is fully equipped with the best education facilities in Kampala — meticulously maintained classrooms, well stocked science laboratories, and multiple sports fields.

In contrast, People Concerned Children’s Project is located in the muddy slums just outside the city center. It is run by Moshin and two other men, with few resources at their disposal. It is a make-do learning center by day and a video shack by night. Benches double as desks, the floor is dirt and mud, and the walls and roof are made up of tin. The children come from poor backgrounds, with jobless parents or no guardians at all. There are no fancy classrooms and no full time teachers. Nevertheless education occurs here five days a week.

Understanding all that they had, our Educate! Scholars from Aga Khan partnered with Moshin to raise money for the eighty-six children in his literacy center. They recognized all the obstacles they would have to overcome: they needed administration support, time in the busy school schedule, and most importantly, interest on the part of the students.

The Educate! Scholars met with the administration and convinced them to visit People Concerned Children’s Project. Juliet Sseruwagi, the head mistress, visited the center, and the sight of true poverty flooded her spirit. She pledged to support the Educate! Club in all its efforts. The ball was now rolling! The Educate! Scholars even researched and presented a report on their project idea. Within one month the Educate! Scholars convinced the school administration to set aside a week dedicated to the Educate! Club’s project.

To raise funds, the Educate! scholars borrowed 120,000 Ugandan Shillings, approximately $60 dollars. They invested this money in snacks to sell during class breaks. Within forty minutes their initial stock sold out. They re-invested again and again. Right in front of my eyes I saw a strong sales machine at work, with everyone playing their role to ensure that they all succeeded.

The Scholars showed the movie Slumdog Millionaire, charged admission, and donated the profits to People Concerned Children’s Project. The school administration put off a whole afternoon of academic programs for the event. It is then that it dawned on me; the scholars had transformed into movers and shakers in their school.

In all, they raised 700,000 Ugandan Shillings in profit (approximately $350 dollars) in only three days— almost six times their initial investment! In addition, they collected clothes, scholastic materials, toys, and other goods to donate to Moshin’s students. They even brought the nursery and primary administration on board to mobilize the younger kids to donate food stuff. They received items worth over 3 million Ugandan Shillings (approximately $1,500 US dollars). The Educate! club was instantly transformed from a little known entity into a club to reckon with. The Student Council even consulted the Educate! Club to run a fundraiser for another development project. The Scholars have started a movement within their school, and on every level the students and staff rallied around the Educate! Scholars dedication to social action.

After the assembly, the Educate! Club and the People Concerned Children’s Project kids shared lunch together. I watched my Scholars learn how far their potential stretched. Their efforts awarded them respect among teachers and classmates. As the two groups of students ate, I realized that it was not my scholars alone who created this change within their school culture, and it was not only Moshin’s students who benefited from the Educate! Theme week. Both sides grew in the collaboration between the Educate! Scholars and People Concerned Children’s Project. The bridges that were built this term between Educate! and People Concerned Children’s Project taught me that change is always a two way street, and I was pleased to see the transformation that took place on both ends.


- James Katumba, Educate! Mentor