African academy empowers youths
Girls in Uganda learn how to teach others to realize their visions, create jobs and wealth in rural areas.
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As part of URDT's signature "two-generational approach," each student at the high school must help her own family start a project that improves their lives. First, the girls have to sit their parents down to articulate a "vision" for how they want their lives to be and a feasible plan for what they – not anyone else – will do to bring that vision to fruition. Then they have to work together to make it all happen, with guidance and support from the school's staff. They are graded on the results.Skip to next paragraph
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In the nearby village of Kabuga – a series of subsistence farms connected by a bumpy mud road and small paths through the lush green crops – URDT high school senior Sanyu Provia tells how she took lessons learned at school to encourage her father to plant sugar cane instead of buying it.
Soon, the family had three large fields of sugar cane that they sold to villagers to boost their income. With the extra cash they built a new, more spacious house and bought a small motorcycle, which allowed her father to open a convenience store in the nearby town.
URDT staff are now helping Ms. Provia and her father boost their sugar-cane yields and teaching him business and bookkeeping skills to maximize earnings – and savings – from the store. More than 260 girls are offering leadership in their own households this way.
URDT also has an open-door policy: Any local villager can come in and ask for training on farming techniques and business skills. Fred Nkunda has taken advantage of this.
Not long ago, Mr. Nkunda had no regular income. Now he's making 500,000 Ugandan shillings (nearly $225) a month from the sprawling fields of pineapples, sesame, chilies, cotton, and vanilla orchids that URDT trainers helped him plant. They taught him how to do a cost-benefit analysis, which helped him determine that there was a solid demand for the pineapples that now account for most of his income. They also taught him leadership skills and how to budget. He now hires a small staff of farmers to tend his crops and is saving up for a machine to produce his own jam and juice.
"I'm passing the skills on to other people," he says, explaining that he's started selling pineapple plants to farmers so that they can plant them on their own land. "If you have a vision, you can mobilize people around your vision."
Without a doubt, 'vision' is Musheshe's favorite word. His eyes light up when he says it.
"We don't start with the problem, we start with vision. Our inner eyes have the ability to picture what we want to see," he says. "We help the person bring the future into the present and say: 'This is what I want.' "
"We need to get out of the straightjacket of traditional thinking," Musheshe says. "At a very early age, we teach kids more don'ts than dos."
This point is personal for Musheshe.
"I grew up curious about issues of change," says Musheshe, who consistently managed to run afoul of boundaries proscribed by authority figures. Teachers at his Anglican school used to write on his report card that he was "too argumentative." That carried into Uganda's Makerere University, where he studied agricultural engineering but spent much of his time agitating with student groups until one day he found himself locked in a jail for challenging the rule of strongman Milton Obote.
He says he was questioned and beaten by soldiers who gave him a large scar in his chin. Once freed, colleagues asked him to join the rebel movement of the current president, Yoweri Museveni. "People wanted me to fight. I said, 'No.' "
It was a pivotal moment: "I recognized that using the gun would take longer than working with communities."
When asked why the school is only for girls, Musheshe quips, "Why not girls?" before explaining: "If you educate a woman, you educate a family. If you educate a man, you only educate an individual."
In Charlotte Mbaime's case, she's educated a village.
How to Help
Uganda Rural Development and Training Programme
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P.O. Box 16253
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