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Meeting Ugandan Students: Reflections of an American Teenager

By Matt Statman

Sixteen-year-old Matt Statman shares his impressions of traveling to Kampala, Uganda with his aunt, Women’s Opportunity Network (WON)supporter Debbie Farrington. He sends us back this enthusiastic report on the connections he made and the lessons he learned by visiting with students through a local education NGO called Educate! Matt’s experience offers a window into the lives of Ugandan students, highlighting their ongoing engagement and need for educational opportunities.

Today, on our first full day in Kampala, we saw the work of local NGO Educate!, which teaches leadership skills to juniors and seniors in high school. After lunch, we went to a school where one of the Educate! mentors named George was teaching juniors and seniors about public speaking, a subject I had taken just a couple of weeks ago at a summer program at home. It was amazing that halfway around the world kids were learning the exact same material as us at the same time!

The school classroom was basically a large shack with two rows of long tables that served as desks with benches where the kids sat crammed together. They all wore uniforms: the boys wore ties and the girls all wore skirts. The teacher George was great – he gave a speech and told the kids to criticize him. He did everything you’re not supposed to do in public speaking, such as holding a paper in front of his face, swaying back and forth, and looking everywhere except at the audience. What George was doing by asking the students to criticize him was very important because in Uganda students are not supposed to criticize teachers. He wanted them to learn to think for themselves and to be critical and analytical.

Several of the students then gave speeches about major problems they saw in Uganda every day, including poverty, inequality between rich and poor people, and corruption. They were given three minutes to do their speeches, and then they got “the hook” from George.

It was up to us visitors — my Aunt Deb, me, and co-founders of Educate!, Boris and Eric– to grade the speakers. We chose the top student, who was a girl named Naomi, and the two runners up: a girl Ruth and a boy McCloud. The students voted and chose Naomi and Ruth as their top picks – it shows that you can tell what makes a good speech no matter where you are!

The students then got the chance to ask us questions – I told them about soccer and that I was considering starting a club at my school to support Educate! and maybe adopt a partner school in Uganda. They then crowded around and wanted to exchange email addresses.

They were so eager to learn and be friends which I thought was great. This visit made me realize that kids all over the world are interested in the same things, especially when a boy named Jeffrey asked me if I had ever met the rapper 50 Cent!

Matt has started a fundraiser on OptINnow for the clients of Opportunity Uganda. Also, visit theWalk for Uganda page to read more about past Insight Trips and to give to other fundraisers for Uganda. Through a generous donor pledge, all donations to Uganda will be matched up to $25,000.

Banking on Education

To expand educational opportunities for children on a larger scale, Opportunity International has piloted education loan programs in several sub-Saharan African countries. In Uganda, Opportunity hopes to achieve the following goals through its Banking on Education program:

  • Provide 151 loans to schools
  • Impact 95,000 people including students, parents, employees and family members
  • Encourage the enrollment of more girls (80% of men and only 60% of women are literate in Uganda)
  • Provide student loans and school fee savings accounts to help more parents afford school fees

Since 2007, Opportunity has given 350 loans to private schools serving 87,000 children living in poverty.

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