Ashinaga Uganda Kokorojuku Activities
Every year, the Ashinaga Africa Initiative (AAI) runs a preparation program in the regional African offices based in Nansana, Uganda, and Dakar, Senegal. Ordinarily, at Ashinaga Uganda, the new cohort of selected candidates arrives in Uganda in July to begin the study camp where they will attend in-person classes to study for IELTS and SAT, work on university applications, and develop important leadership skills alongside their peers and with the ongoing support of staff. This year has become exceptional in multiple ways. Yet, even in the face of closed borders and airports across much of sub-Saharan Africa, the Ashinaga Uganda Kokorojuku (AUKJ) has decided to host a remote study camp for 14 talented Anglophone and Lusophone students. In the couple months leading up to the camp’s start, the AUKJ focused on finalizing recruitment and selection of this year’s students as well as supporting the previous cohort to either depart for their destination country or take a temporary leave of absence until universities’ spring semesters due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Beginning on October 1st, 2020, this year marked the first time the study camp has been conducted entirely online. The camp is composed of students from across sub-Saharan Africa who are bound for Japan, Brazil, the US, and the UK, with classes taught in two languages: English and Portuguese. Now completing the fourth week of remote study camp, AAI Candidates have now mostly settled into a schedule made up of IELTS and SAT English and Maths classes taught by professional tutors, weekly bonding sessions with all of the Ashinaga Uganda staff, and alternating academic workshop, Ashinaga class, and mental health sessions. Brazil-bound students join in on the group bonding sessions and similar activities while attending their own classes taught in Portuguese by qualified interns.
The weekly bonding sessions have been a particularly invaluable aspect of the study camp as students have a chance to interact with their peers and staff in a less formal, but still educational online environment. Each week has a theme, so far including a kokorozashi (life ambition) sharing session, a cultural exchange, and Ashinaga jeopardy. This week’s activity took the form of a seminar and discussion on climate change, where students engaged with the science behind climate change as well as brainstormed possible solutions related to efficiency, innovation, and community action.
Feedback for the taught-classes and other camp activities has been given with an encouraging amount of enthusiasm, passion, and students’ overall dedication to improvement and success. For many students, COVID-19 has made daily lives for themselves, family, and friends much more difficult, with social distancing requirements and various levels of lockdown preventing many sectors of informal work from operating. While studying from home, AAI Candidates must also work hard to balance family obligations and work expectations which would not to be present at a typical in-person study camp. Despite these challenges, this cohort of students has and continues to prove that they want to work hard to achieve their ambitions.
To support students while they study remotely from their home countries, AUKJ sends study support funds every two months. These funds, made possible by Ashinaga’s many generous donors, or Ashinaga-san, cover the costs for internet data bundles, use and travel to internet cafes, transportation to take the SAT and IELTS, and funds for necessary procedures like getting vaccinations, applying for passports, and sending documents via DHL. This year, Ashinaga Uganda has also transferred funds for students to purchase necessary equipment for remote studies, such as a laptop and a calculator.
The camp is flying by and the end of October means the completion of the first month of remote study camp. Classes and activities will continue through November and early December, until the year’s end closing ceremony on December 11th. By the end of the remote study camp, we aim for students’ to have not only improved their exam scores, be well on their way to or have already submitted their university applications, but to have made new friends and cultivated new skills personal, professional, and academic alike. As future leaders of their communities, countries, and the African continent, we realize this is just the beginning of their journey, but we have high hopes for what they will achieve. This may be a rockier start to the preparation year than usual for this cohort of AAI Candidates, yet all our students are ready and capable of so much growth.