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Day 12: Robinah's Drum

By Karri DeSelm, Program Manager

As we prepare for Christmas, we are counting down our 12 Days of Opportunity - celebrating the many gifts we have received while working with our clients and staff around the world.

Every time I look at the little wooden drum on my desk engraved with the word “Uganda,” I think about Opportunity International’s work to support improved education quality for children. Well, not exactly. When I look at the drum, I think about the first time I met Robinah.

Before she saw me standing outside the training center in Kampala, Uganda, I was peering in the doorway trying to ensure I was in the right place. I saw her warmly welcoming the school proprietors that were arriving for the training that morning. She greeted everyone by name with a wide, kind smile, as though they were family members she had long anticipated seeing again. I was happily surprised to receive the same warm greeting and hug from her when she saw me, though our only previous communication had been via email.

Robinah works as an Opportunity Education Specialist in Uganda and was one of our first hires under our new Education Quality initiative this year. When I got her alone, I asked why she wanted to do this work with Opportunity. Before I could finish the question she jumped in, eager to explain that she—a Ugandan—wants to see education in Uganda “move forward,” and she wants to be part of it. She believes Opportunity’s model has the best potential to tangibly improve education quality. Relationships are the key to this work, she noted, explaining that she provides her phone number to all the school proprietors and teachers she works with, taking their calls at all hours to seek her advice on challenges they are facing.

From the vantage point of my desk in Opportunity’s Chicago office, I try to absorb as much information as possible from field update calls and emails. But being with Robinah reminded me that there is no substitute for spending time in person with those that work most closely with our clients, hearing their stories of successes and challenges and what drives them to keep going.

Not only did I find Robinah’s passion for her work with teachers and proprietors to be infectious, but I quickly learned they know it is sincere. On my last day in Kampala, I accompanied Robinah to a cluster meeting of six school proprietors. I asked everyone if they could share a brief introduction about themselves and their schools. However, they saw it as an opportunity to declare their overwhelming appreciation for Robinah, whose smile revealed modest embarrassment by the attention.

“I thank the Almighty and Opportunity Bank, and especially Robinah. She really loves us. She has a sweet heart. [She is] always in touch and communicating. She visits us and checks on us. We thank you for the workshops you prepare for us. We have been running the other way around, but now we are coming in the right way.”

“I’m glad that Robinah introduced us. She has been supporting us; whenever we call her, she is always around. She gives us ideas and updates us.”

“And we thank Robinah being with us between Opportunity and our schools. She is there between. We have changed so much from where we were.”

As we departed, Robinah offered the cluster a formal thanks for the invitation to attend their meeting. “We promise we will always be with you to stand with you to achieve quality together.” And then we spent another 30 minutes saying goodbye, because that’s how it is when you say goodbye to family.

Robinah gave me the drum that now sits on my desk. When I look at it I think of her passion to participate in improving education for the children of her country. I think of the phone calls and hours she spends building deep relationships with educators in Uganda. Robinah’s gift to me was the reminder that what we do at Opportunity allows us to be part of something bigger, something that matters, something that will impact the lives of students now and in the future. Robinah is Opportunity. My time with her reminded me that I am Opportunity too. 

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