Friday, August 17, 2012

All Good Things Come to an End......
After weeks of interviewing and memos, we decided to take a short break and join a group of 16 students and 3 staff from the University of Minnesota who stayed at Lira Integrated School during 2 weeks for a study abroad class. A trip to Murchison Falls National Park was organized for them when their work in Lira was over. Tagging along with them on the safari was a much needed escape from a now-familiar environment and venturing into the wilderness was the perfect solution. We were lucky to make new friends and share a unique experience altogether. For a lot of us it was our first African safari experience. It was glorious to see so many animals in their natural habitat. We saw giraffes, elephants, water buffaloes, hippos, monkeys, various kinds of birds, alligators, warthogs, antelopes, etc. On our 3 day trip, we managed to include a couple of game drives, a boat ride on the Nile, a hike up to the Falls, craft shopping, and some eco-tourism. 
Murchison Falls

The MN group headed towards Kampala for their flight back and we took an interesting public ride back to Lira. After a couple of hours of dirt road driving, with frequent stopping, a vehicle-swap mid- journey, and being squished in a small van for about 4 hours, we were in Lira….ahhh Home Sweet Home!!
Our sense of relief on being back to Lira safely ended pretty soon. It was crunch time as soon as we returned, as we only had a week to finish our analysis and submit our first draft. It was an interesting process because we all sat in or listened to the same interviews but our interpretation sometimes were so varied from each other. It took us days of discussions and discourse to finally come to a conclusion on our analysis and build our recommendations. We then proceeded with writing the report. Miraculously we were within our self-imposed deadline and had everything submitted on time. We then made a presentation out of our findings and used a few days to edit and finalize our report. We presented our work and our recommendations for the University project, and we were out of Lira by the end of the next day. All signs indicate that it was a success, we were all nervous about how our recommendations would be received by people who were so passionate about opening a University so soon. However, it seemed like our research was much appreciated, and the task force, our audience, was open to our ideas and even welcomed them to an extent. We hope to continue our involvement with the LIU project and offer further assistance to build and strengthen the project.
It was bittersweet leaving the city and the many friends we made during our short time there. In the 2 months we had gotten accustomed to the dusty roads, friendly smiles, wonderful people, kids running after us…pointing at us…wanting to shake our hands or even just touch us, and being called Muzungu or Mono (White Person) wherever we went. We could sense the difference in atmosphere as soon as we got to Kampala. The roads were crowded, heavy traffic, and the children and adults weren’t too excited to see us (to be fair, there are a lot of Muzungus in the city so we’re not quite as novel in Kampala as we were in Lira). However, it is unfortunate that we couldn’t spend too much time in Kampala. We spent the evening with friends we wanted to meet before we left.
Team Uganda after our presentation with the LIU task force

Now that work was over, it was vacation mode for all of us. Chris being the consummate traveler that he is, will spend a few days in Kigali, and then go to Mozambique with a short transit in Johannesburg  before returning to Entebbe and catching a flight back. Geo spent a few days in Kenya. Alejandra and Babina spent a few days in Rwanda with Chris before returning to Uganda for their flight back home. We will be the last group in the University of Minnesota MDP cohort to return to Minneapolis.
This wraps our summer sojourn into East Africa. It has been an amazing experience. We learned so much about Uganda, its people, and the education system. But most of all we all learned a lot about ourselves. This experience tested our strengths and weaknesses, it taught us to be open and adaptable and hopefully better development workers.

                                          Apowyo Matek  (Thank you!!) for reading our blog   
LIS nursery children singing their hearts (and lungs) out during our last visit to their class-rooms

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Meet Beatrice


I’ve just heard the most inspiring story of my life, and this is my feeble attempt to recount it to you in my own words. Where to start?
Beatrice Ayuru Byaruhunga is the daughter of an educator and incidentally, an educator herself. Ever since she was an eighteen year-old mother, with the ambition to provide a good lifestyle for her child and herself, she envisioned doing so by allowing access to education for young girls who, like her, were told that they would be a lost investment for the family, if they went to school instead of getting married off. A deal was then struck with her loving father, Christian, who challenged her and offered to give her any piece of land that she wanted in his possession, so that Beatrice could get started on her project, just as long as she worked hard in school, attended university and graduated with a degree in education.
Needless to say, her firm resolve saw her pass her A-level exams with the topmost scores in her district, allowing her to attend the best university in the country on scholarship and-although not without many challenges (such as raising 2 children and making a living)-graduate to then become an instructor. Beatrice was the first female student from her school to attend University, and the first one to be awarded a scholarship to do so. When the time came to claim the land that was promised to her, more challenges arose, involving her gender and her “right” to own land, and to say the least, a lot of it. Trouble was stirred, many were shocked, and opposition occurred, but this did not keep Beatrice’s father from keeping his promise, because he had colossal faith in her. The only problem that was left was how Beatrice would raise enough funds to begin her project, on a meager teacher’s salary (none of which was actually paid to her until 2 years afterwards) and now mother of 3 children. Beatrice had never been the type to sit and wait for a miracle. To the disenchantment of her fellow educators, she began to sell cassava and tea in the market, early in the morning before she taught her classes. Her colleagues saw it as a disgrace to their profession, and she was soon reported to hierarchy, only to be supported by transferring her efforts to the National Teachers’ College Ngetta grounds, where she supplied a small canteen with her food items.
About 700,000 UG Shillings later, she decided it was time to bring her vision into tangible form. In 2000, Lira Integrated School was founded on the very grounds that produced the cassava crops that allowed its inception, welcoming 6 students in nursery, 46 in primary, and 36 in secondary; all of this with contempt from a community that did not support women’s development. By the end of that very same school year, the nursery held 40 students, primary, 164, and secondary counted over 200.
After 2 years, primary student enrollment shot up to 800 for the primary unit, 200 for the nursery and 450 for the secondary section. During this period, Beatrice was the Head Teacher for all 3 institutions, while still teaching in a government school for 18hrs/week, running her wheelbarrow and the canteen simultaneously.
Today, Lira Integrated School is exploring opportunities for growth and the potential expansion of the institution into a University.
Beatrice said it best:
“Never let anyone get in between you and your vision, or else you will never see your dreams come true.”

The University already has a sign!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Light Force International, Interview Sessions and Learning about the Challenges of Learning.

On Saturday July 7th we met with one of Babina’s contacts, Cathy, a Program Coordinator for Light Force International. She welcomed us to her home, which happens to be on the NGO grounds. She was extremely hospitable and friendly. She explained to us her background, personal story, the work that the NGO is carrying out and her experiences working with Light Force.
Light Force is an NGO that has been assisting and supporting underprivileged youths from the period of the LRA conflict in Northern Uganda, and continues doing this work, although it is facing more and more constraints. Assistance to children would range anywhere from covering education costs, to physiotherapy for handicapped youths and housing them whenever possible.
Cathy has adopted 6 children with families lost during the conflict herself. Having braved similar challenges, she can relate to these children and because of that is funding their education, with the hopes that she can provide them with brighter futures. She has a big heart to say the least. This is a photo of us with Cathy and two of her girls, Sophia and Proscovia.

This past week the team has been meeting people all over Lira, leading interviews to gather information about our research topic. We have involved all the persons we could think of, notably community leaders (deputy mayor and district chairmen), University students, high school students in 2 different schools, University administrators, faculty, staff, parents and community members that served as key informants. All of these sessions were very helpful and enlightening to say the least, we learned so much more about the Lira community, the value of higher education and applicable skills and the challenges faced by youths in the northern region of Uganda to attend University. The government of Uganda has a limited ability to sponsor students’ higher education, and they only do so for subjects related to sciences; so there is an uneven distribution of scholarships across subjects taught in university. University even in Uganda is very expensive to attend even in a middle class household. The point of creating Lira Integrated University is to provide an education to the disadvantaged youths of the north who have been in some way exposed to the violent past decade in the region and to create more opportunities for growth in this disregarded part of the country. We are already keeping in mind some recommendations (that we shall not yet reveal) for our final paper. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Full Moon Folly

Last night a very interesting course of events took place. After dinner, the four of us retreated to our respective quarters in time for a rather strong rain to take place. During the rain, while Chris and I were watching a movie, we could hear our big friend, the Turkey outside agitating his wings, but thought nothing of it.
Some time later, we get a phone call from Alejandra’s phone, which is odd because she lives less than 50 yards from where we do. It turns out they had a small intruder over the night that they needed help getting rid of. After a long discussion about details and how much help we actually would be, we finally decide to set out for their room to find out how we can be of use. As I open the door and step out, I walk into a spider web head-on and instantly remember the very likely poisonous spiders we often encounter around this area. Needless to say, I freak out and start running around. Bad idea. Incoming footsteps and barking…no good… this is the second time this huge dog and I have an encounter, and I’m pretty sure he thought I was a burglar the first time, probably due to the fact that he chased me into my room. 
In any case, I decide to stay put this time and keep brushing off anything that may have crawled on my body from the web, and wait until Chris (Swanson) joins me. As I start to settle down, I suddenly notice a lot of feathers around the cottage area. To my horror, I see our friend the turkey lying on the ground, mauled and bloody, with half of his body missing. The dog had attacked it and eaten part of it alive; his legs were still moving at a slow, desperate pace.
This morning the female turkeys have been mourning him and searching for him around the house crying around his lost feathers.
Here is some evidence…

On a brighter note, our project is coming along reasonably; we are meeting today with the other University in Lira (All-Saints University) to begin tracing a comparative study on the curriculum, recruitment and faculty hiring, among other things. We will be conducting interviews and focus group sessions with students, administration, alumni, faculty and other key informants to determine specific traits of tertiary education in the area.

This last bit goes to the memory of Turkey…

As for Alejandra and Babina’s late night visitor, he may or may not have vacated the premises…

To be continued…

Friday, June 29, 2012

Lira Integrated School and Gulu University

Today we finally made it to Lira Integrated School (LIS). It is a good size school comprised of a nursery, primary, and a secondary in the outskirts of the town. The school caters to a total of about 1100 students. We met with a few key people in the school, toured their facilities, and learned about the school operations. Jonathan, the head teacher for the secondary section was very knowledgeable and gave us some key points on where to begin our research along with a bit of background on the surrounding Universities and how they operate be it in the public or private sector.

After a short break, we proceeded to travel about 150 km (2 hour trip) north-west of our location to Gulu, where we made a stop at the local University to meet with some more key informants, of which the Dean of education and three faculty members. The information they had to offer about the public sector concretized the picture of higher education in Northern Uganda. Apparently, the public sector has less trouble filling up its classes with students, but experiences the reverse issue with qualified instructors. Because of high tuition costs, students would rather get admitted to the inexpensive and distinguished Makarere University (the main public university in Kampala), and for those who fail to make the “cut” their other option is to use their own resources to fund their way into a private University. Private universities tend to attract more of the qualified instructors because of the more generous pay. Also, students are often willing to relocate to fulfill their educational needs, hence most would decide to move to Kampala because of the centralized nature of available services and social assets on a national level. More elements factor into this dynamic, but you have the general picture.

In any case, that’s what we did today… it was pretty productive… and here is a little hello from Alejandra and Babina’s new friendly neighbors: John and the rest of his friends.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Arrival in Lira

Today we set off for Lira, the site where we will be spending the rest of our time piecing together our project. Lira is at about a 5-hour drive northbound from Kampala. We crossed to the other side of the Nile River at which point we encountered baboons. Here are some pictures:
 (in the first picture you will find Chris, not a case it wasn't obvious.)

Lira is a small city of about 100,000 people. Beatrice, the founder and director of Lira Integrated School has generously offered to host us during our time here. We are lodging in two cottages on her property grounds. These are what they look like:

It has been a long journey and we are now going to sleep.
Tomorrow, we are visiting the school for the first time!
Stay tuned!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

A Productive Day in Kampala.

Hello Everyone!
We have the pleasure to announce that Team Uganda is off with a great start to their project!
Today was by far our most productive day! We started with a meeting at 7 am with the Principal of the School of Veterinary Science at Makarere University, who gave us some great insight on the approaches we can take to this education project. We then went to Kyambogo University where Alejandra had a contact that happens to be a U of M graduate (yay!). The Deputy Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs was delighted to have us and provided some practical advice on the process of starting a university from nothing; he was quite nostalgic of Minnesota and the U.S. after a short break we went to Uganda Christ University, which is a private institution about 45 mn outside of town.

The four of us on the campus, it was beautiful (courtesy of Chris Johnstone, our Advisor):

More understanding was provided essentially about how to design the curriculum to make it more appealing and relevant to targeted students.
We then had a meeting with a development consultant, author, entrepreneur and economist about fish farming and education innovation, while we devoured pizzas on a terrace, a very insightful session in my opinion. After such a large and first meal, we all became the willing victims to a well-deserved nap back at one of our hotels.  Then followed the entertainment. We went to Ndege Center to witness an amazing cultural experience!
Here are a couple of pictures that hardly make it justice:

Thank you for reading our blog!
Team Uganda.