Empowering Youth in Rural Uganda with AAH

by Arlington Academy of Hope, Inc.
Empowering Youth in Rural Uganda with AAH
Empowering Youth in Rural Uganda with AAH
Empowering Youth in Rural Uganda with AAH
Empowering Youth in Rural Uganda with AAH
Empowering Youth in Rural Uganda with AAH
Empowering Youth in Rural Uganda with AAH
Empowering Youth in Rural Uganda with AAH
Empowering Youth in Rural Uganda with AAH
Empowering Youth in Rural Uganda with AAH
Empowering Youth in Rural Uganda with AAH
Empowering Youth in Rural Uganda with AAH
Empowering Youth in Rural Uganda with AAH
Empowering Youth in Rural Uganda with AAH
Empowering Youth in Rural Uganda with AAH
Empowering Youth in Rural Uganda with AAH
Empowering Youth in Rural Uganda with AAH
Empowering Youth in Rural Uganda with AAH
Empowering Youth in Rural Uganda with AAH
Empowering Youth in Rural Uganda with AAH
Empowering Youth in Rural Uganda with AAH
Empowering Youth in Rural Uganda with AAH
Empowering Youth in Rural Uganda with AAH
Empowering Youth in Rural Uganda with AAH
Empowering Youth in Rural Uganda with AAH
Empowering Youth in Rural Uganda with AAH
Empowering Youth in Rural Uganda with AAH
Empowering Youth in Rural Uganda with AAH
Empowering Youth in Rural Uganda with AAH
Empowering Youth in Rural Uganda with AAH
Empowering Youth in Rural Uganda with AAH
Empowering Youth in Rural Uganda with AAH
Empowering Youth in Rural Uganda with AAH
Empowering Youth in Rural Uganda with AAH
Empowering Youth in Rural Uganda with AAH

In a country like Uganda, where young leaders are not yet a prominent fixture in the country’s public offices, young people are still finding ways to be politically conscious and active. AAH scholar Joshua is a young person finding ways to make contributions towards progress in his community in every way he can. Recently, the second year law student ran for Guild President, the head of student government, at Uganda Christian University – Mukono.

Joshua has always had a service-oriented streak. In 2017, he tackled the issue of a broken water well in his hometown which we featured on our blog.  By mobilizing the community, securing donations, and recruiting those with the right skills, he fixed the broken water well in just a few short months, a task that would have taken the government much longer to sort.

When running for office, Joshua’s strategy was based on engaging with the student body as much as possible — “via clubs, societies and classes, talking to see what kind of benefit my leadership could bring to them.” The election was on November 3rd, and with 874 votes, Joshua ended in second place. However, he does not feel diminished and still believes in student leadership. For him, “it is about service and the opportunity to mobilize and understand the struggle that many people are passing through.  Student leadership is important to address challenges across academics, security, welfare, and infrastructure,” he says.

While he may not be a part of this year’s student leadership cohort, that will not stop him from serving. “Young people are facing a lot of challenges, and we are the ones who will have the solutions to those challenges,” he says.

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Some say that it takes a village to accomplish many great things, and in the case of the Arlington Junior School pupils, the saying rings both literally and metaphorically true. In late August, schools from around the region convened at Bududa Secondary School for the regional singing competition. AJS earned a spot at regionals by placing first in the zone, sub-county, and district level competitions.  

This year, both the pupils and the staff exhibited an extra level of passion and commitment. Music supervisor Teacher Edith led the weeks of training before the competitions and recruited some of the best trainers the district had to offer. Teacher Diana led the kids in drama, poetry, and storytelling; Teacher Frank who had previously trained the first place regional winners for three years running also shared his skills as did Teacher Wellbon, a civil engineer with an infectious passion for the arts who has trained students to reach nationals for four years running! During the rehearsals, Teacher Wellbon could be seen swinging his arms as he directed the singers and instrumentalists to one of the most memorable performances of the competition. 

Over two days at regionals, students engaged in singing, dancing, acting, poetry recitations, and instrument playing.  Their weeks of training saw them emerging with a second place win! Their scores across all the categories qualified them for the national competition.  Given their fifth place placement in last year’s regionals, theirs is an amazing accomplishment.

The community trooped out to offer the students support including Head Teacher Sarah, Teacher Amos, and others. “We are confident in their capacity,” one of the teachers said. Well predicted, indeed. As the students then took a rest and soaked in their well-earned win, the staff had their minds on nationals. Of it, Teacher Wellbon says, “We cannot underestimate other schools. They are preparing, but we are preparing.” Call it a victor’s joy, but the pupils were more optimistic. “We are going to smash the competition!” many of them repeated, gleaming. 

And smash it they did!  After a hectic ten-day finale at nationals, AJS returned with tenth place, a step up from their fourteenth place position last year! AAH Program Director Milton Kamoti congratulated the team and thanked everyone for their efforts and contributions, stating that the efforts to give the students access to better trainers paid off. Teacher Edith also expressed joy at the outcome and gratitude to all the hardworking students who are now headed home to enjoy the term holidays.

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Jennipher (center) with two visitors in Uganda
Jennipher (center) with two visitors in Uganda

In addition to empowering youth in rural Uganda, AAH gave a natural humanitarian the financial independence she desperately needed.

As Jennipher, the AAH Guest House Manager, reflects on her time with AAH, (ten years in 2018), she sits on the arm of a couch, smiling. Throughout the conversation, it is obvious why she is such a good fit for the organization. Every time the subject of children comes up, either hers or the many she taught while she worked at the Sunday school in a Bududa church, her face transforms immediately. Her teeth show, her pitch elevates and when she says “I like children and children love me”, it is with total honesty and love. She talks about spending some of her pocket money to buy sweets for the children she used to teach.

Not long after she was contracted by AAH for domestic work, she took up managing the guesthouses unofficially until the position was offered to her. She constantly remarks on the ways working at AAH has changed her life, particularly with giving her the financial independence she needed. Since earning a salary from the organization, she has been able to build her own house and send her children to school two boys one of which is in secondary school four, and the other who works as a mechanic.

For anyone interested in becoming involved, she encourages them to take a trip to Bududa and see “with their own eyes” the good work the organization has been consistently doing.

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7th graders at Matuwa with their flashlights
7th graders at Matuwa with their flashlights

As a fourth grade teacher at Tuckahoe Elementary School in Arlington, VA, I was first made aware of Arlington Academy of Hope by way of our mutual affiliation with Matuwa Primary School in Uganda. After learning more about AAH’s righteous intentions – their goal to improve the quality of life in rural Uganda and to transform poor villages into self-sustaining communities – I was compelled to become more actively involved in their cause. Their focus on schooling, healthcare, local development, and community outreach perfectly align with my own core values of education and empowerment. 

After visiting Matuwa, I was deeply moved by the culture of a people who present the world with great hope despite their many struggles. One pressing need quickly stood out in my mind: the need for light. Despite how frequently it is taken for granted in more developed nations, light is often denied to these students as a result of the lack of accessibility to electricity in most villages. The rainy season brings overcast skies and darker days, and standard electricity is not available in many of the districts our sister schools are housed. This limits working hours both inside and outside the classroom. Tuckahoe helped Matuwa install solar panels last year, and the positive impact was immediate and constructive. A seemingly trivial thing, light, had completely transformed a school. 

I set out to find a light source that would be appropriate for use in sub-Saharan, agrarian Africa. I reached out to Bigfoot Outdoors, an American company specializing in reliable adventure and survival products and secured a generous donation of 500 flashlights to send to our students at Matuwa Primary. The waterproof flashlights run on solar power and hand-crank capabilities, making them perfect for use in Bupoto.

Students can now read, study, and complete work without relying solely on the sun’s hours. These flashlights help eliminate the need for kerosene lamps, whose fumes are dangerous and costly. These portable light sources will make everyday tasks easier for the families who received one. It is a simple yet effective way to improve the living conditions of 500 families.

Boniface using his flashlight for homework
Boniface using his flashlight for homework
Jared charging his flashlight on his home's roof
Jared charging his flashlight on his home's roof

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Esther with one of her campaign posters
Esther with one of her campaign posters

In the world of student politics at universities and colleges across Uganda, the top spot is Guild President. This is an elected position which AAH students have run for before, but they have never succeeded until now! AAH students didn’t just win one top spot – they won two! And what’s more, both are young women.

Esther and Georgina were both elected to the top spot at their schools within just a few weeks and a few miles of each other. Esther attends the Uganda Christian University in Mbale (UCU Mbale) and Georgina attends Salem Nursing School, also located in Mbale. Both young women were experienced in student government from their secondary school days where both were elected prefects. 

I met with Esther on her campus and while finding a place to sit, many students called over to us to say hello to Esther and congratulate her. Esther is only the second woman to become guild president at UCU Mbale, but she was confident that she could win. “I felt that I was someone with potential.” She wasn’t worried about who her opponents would be plus she had the support of the extended AAH family on campus who helped her “so much, so much, all of them supported [her].”

Running on the platform “spirit of togetherness and integrity,” Esther used a positive message to try to bring together students of different tribes. Her team went into full campaign mode by branding water bottles, t-shirts, and, of course, banners and posters. They put on events, like a cododi dance (traditional drumming and dance routine) and attended school events like the sports gala. By making themselves visible and promoting her positive message, Esther took the lead.

Now that she has won, she is determined to see that she fulfills her campaign promises. One of her top priorities is getting water tanks installed in the student dorms for dry season next year. Esther also wants to stay true to her campaign slogan. “I want to see that the different tribes and different campuses come together.”

Georgina attends an all-girls nursing school on the outskirts of Mbale and became involved in student government during her first year. The previous guild president befriended Georgina and encouraged her to run for the role in her second year because of her strong leadership skills. Georgina used her previous experience in her main campaign message saying, “I am capable of making the environment as you would like it.”

Because Georgina’s school is small, only 158 students, she had to run a campaign that focused on getting to know as many students as possible and speaking to each one herself. She went from dorm to dorm speaking with each student to ensure that they knew her message and her goals. She also participated in debates where her previous experience helped.

After such a close race, Georgina knew she had to prove herself still. She immediately got to work on her campaign promises and goals, and when I spoke to her she had already accomplished one of them – only 2 weeks after being sworn in! Georgina managed to move the guild office to an unused office, rather than sharing an office in the main admin building with school staff.  Georgina also plans on having another set of washrooms built and adding trenches to help with flooding on campus during the rainy season.

Both Georgina and Esther were able to get to this point because of their own determination and a little help from fellow students and the encouragement of AAH staff. University Coordinator Sam is exceptionally proud of his students and hopes that their success will encourage our other students at other campuses across Uganda to run for student leadership positions. He hopes that Esther and Georgina are just the start.

Georgina at Salem Nursing School
Georgina at Salem Nursing School

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Organization Information

Arlington Academy of Hope, Inc.

Location: Arlington, VA - USA
Website:
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @AAHUganda
Project Leader:
Arlington Academy of Hope
Executive Director
Arlington, VA Uganda
$454,662 raised of $521,526 goal
 
1,470 donations
$66,864 to go
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