Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Olivia's Potential, Realized

Olivia receives medical care from her Mom.

Blog post by One School Director, Bay Roberts.

Never doubt that surprising and wonderful events can happen. In this case, three little girls living in a coal bin in the slums of Kampala, Uganda were connected by our One School at a Time Program Manager to another Ugandan organization called Watoto Ministries.

This organization gave them a new life, a new home, safety, regular meals, medical care, and a guaranteed education. The youngest of the sisters, Olivia, turned out to have musical talents. She recently traveled as part of the Watoto Children’s choir to the UK for music and dance performances.

How many other children are out there with hidden talents and marvelous capabilities who will never receive the opportunity to manifest their true potential?

Olivia and her mother at the coal bin in Kampala.

Olivia's family at a small room they lived in near the coal bin.

Olivia (far left), dancing in the U.K.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Working in Uganda

One School's Ugandan Program Manager, Hussein Tadesse, meets with teachers at the Kassanda Boarding Primary School this summer.
(Click images to view larger)

Blog post by One School Board member, Ken Driese, who visited Uganda last summer (2014) to work with Ugandan Program Manager, Hussein Tadesse.

Most of us wake up, turn on our coffee maker or electric tea kettle, take a hot shower, and jump into our cars for the commute to work, perhaps spending a little time online to read our e-mail or survey the day’s news and weather while we sip our coffee.  It’s easy to take these conveniences for granted when you live in Boulder, Colorado, where One School is based, or in just about any town in the United States. But working in Kampala, Uganda or rural Kassanda, where One School at a Time partner schools are located, is a different experience entirely.  I spent a humbling two weeks living with One School’s Ugandan Program Manager, Hussein Tadesse, and his family this summer in Kampala, working with Hussein as he balanced day-to-day life in a sprawling East African city with his passion for One School’s mission—improving educational opportunities for the students at our partner schools.

What are some of the challenges of working in Uganda?  The morning routine is a good place to start.  Life at home for Hussein is a partnership.  His wife, Afwa, and her helper, Monika, play a huge and largely unrecognized role in One School’s success by managing much of Hussein’s home life so that he can devote more of his impressive energy to our projects.  Before sunrise, they are out of bed to start a small charcoal cook-fire in the cooking alcove behind the house.  Breakfast is not taken lightly—at least not with a visitor in the house—and eggs, chapatis, potatoes, and fresh fruit are prepared as one by one Hussein, his four children, and one house guest (me!) emerge sleepily from our rooms.  Milk is heated for coffee, and water is boiled; laundry is piled in a plastic tub to be washed by hand later in the day.  Kids dress and get ready to walk to school.  Hussein lays out the day’s work plan.

Hussein and his wonderful family in Kampala.

The schedule during each day of my visit was dominated by one or two meetings along with a "short" list of errands—visiting the bank to deal with One School financial matters or negotiating chaotic markets to purchase supplies.  Normally, these activities require Hussein to walk from his house out to the main road in Ntinda, the chaotic “suburb” of Kampala where  he lives, to find a boda-boda (motorcycle taxi) or matutu (minivan taxi).  Although ubiquitous in the city, these taxis are notoriously dangerous.  Boda-bodas weave recklessly in crazy traffic, squeezing through tiny gaps between massive cargo-laden trucks and cars jockeying for position in major unregulated intersections.  Matutu drivers are paid by the trip, so speed limits and “sane” passing strategies are often ignored.  And while the roads in Kampala have improved a little since I was there in 2009, they are still pothole-riddled obstacle courses that, along with the traffic, made progress slow even with the hired car and driver that I enjoyed during my visit.  In the rainy season this scenario is awash in tropical downpours.

Boda-bodas with passengers in Kampala, riding past a misleading billboard touting fast internet.

Another huge challenge to productivity in Uganda is internet access, something that most of us assume that we’ll have just about anywhere we go. There is no widespread network of fast internet in Kampala, despite enthusiastic billboards suggesting the contrary, and most professionals who do have computers access the web using plug-in USB modems that connect excruciatingly slowly to the cell phone network.  In Hussein’s office at his house, just connecting to an e-mail provider could take 15 minutes or more before you even began to try to peck out a message.  And posting images onto One School’s Facebook stream, an activity I had naively intended to do regularly while in-country, was nearly impossible. 

To sidestep this, our first mission of the day was often a trip to Garden City, a shopping mall about twenty minutes from Hussein’s house, where we could sit in a small restaurant with intermittent wireless service that was faster than Hussein’s cell connection.  We’d order coffee and desperately work to conduct online business as the wireless signal came and went.  In rural Kassanda, where the partner schools are located, there is no usable internet, and all business is transacted in person or on the phone. 

 Hussein preparing for a meeting at Garden City in Kampala, a shopping mall with intermittent faster (but still slow) internet than at his house.

Malaria poses another formidable challenge.  During the two weeks that I was in Uganda, diligently swallowing my anti-malarial tablets every morning, Hussein worked while dealing with bouts of malaria suffered by two of his children, his wife’s helper, Monika, and Pius, the man who takes care of One School’s field office in Kassanda.  When we arrived at Kassanda, Pius jumped into action despite feeling horrible, and the next day Hussein spent considerable time and some of his own money taking Pius first to an impossibly overcrowded public clinic and then to a more expensive private clinic to get treatment.  Back home in Kampala, his kids had to be shuttled to the local hospital—in Uganda people go directly to the hospital rather than to doctor’s offices.   

Pius, diligently cooking in Kassanda despite suffering a pounding malaria headache.

These are just a few of the challenges to working productively in Uganda.  Complex bureaucracies, petty crime, corruption, and even shopping are time consuming activities.  And yet Hussein maintains an impressive focus and dedication to mission.  He is One School’s primary strength and the key to our success. 

One night in Kassanda, as I sat around the dinner table with Hussein, Pius, and our driver, also named Hussein, thinking about how much I didn’t like having to pee in a bucket at night because it was too risky to go to the outhouse in the dark, Hussein, with typical eloquence, described a vision for education in rural Kassanda.  “We need to give these children skills to help them thrive in Kassanda,” he told me.  “Mathematics and reading alone aren’t enough if they aren’t tied to the lives these kids live.”  

While I worried about the outhouse, Hussein had been thinking hard about learning activities that tied basic academic skills to the economics of raising chickens.

It’s easy to visit a developing country like Uganda for a couple of weeks and muddle through the inconveniences that are part of  life there.  It’s something else entirely to live these “inconveniences” every single day, while at the same time pushing relentlessly forward with an intensely focused vision for improving the lives of students.  This is the life Hussein lives and the vision that he brings to our projects.  We’re lucky to have him.  

Saturday, October 11, 2014

One School Directors Recognized in Boulder

Congratulations to One School directors, Bay Roberts and Patty Gilbert, who were honored in the 19th Annual Women Who Light the Community Celebration!

The article below is from Boulder Lifestyles Magazine.  Click on the article to view larger:

Friday, September 26, 2014

A Girl with a Book

A young woman at the Kukanga School.
(Click images to view larger)

Blog post by One School director, Bay Roberts:

Did you know that girls in Sub-Saharan Africa who go to school are:

     •         more likely to enter the work force
     •         earn higher incomes
     •         delay marriage
     •         have fewer children
     •         have lower HIV infection rates
     •         have reduced infant mortality
     •         plan their families
     •         seek an education for their own children?

Girl’s education is the highest-returning social investment in the world.” (Gene Sperling, Director of the Center for Universal Education at the Council on Foreign Relations). Girl’s education not only changes individual lives, but also has the power to change entire communities—and countries. According to USAID:

     •   A 10% increase in girls in school raises a country’s GDP an average of 3%
     •   Girls who stay in school for 7 or more years marry 4 years later and have 2 fewer children

Journalist Nikolas Kristof writes, "Yet we’ve also learned that done right, education changes almost everything. Evidence suggests that educating girls increases productivity, raises health standards, reduces birthrates and undermines extremism. Drones and missiles can fight terrorism, but an even more transformative weapon is a girl with a book, and it’s one that is remarkably cost-effective. For the price of a single Tomahawk cruise missile, it’s possible to build about 20 schools".

What are simple, cost effective interventions that can help Ugandan girls stay in school?

     • Provide new uniforms for their developing bodies.

Girls often drop out of school because they lack a school uniform. Historically, students who do not wear uniforms can be sent home at the discretion of the principal. Girls may solve this problem by finding a "sugar daddy," an older man with money who will pay for her school uniform as long as she has sex with him.  Girls who do this may suffer greatly since older men are more likely to be infected with HIV than younger ones.

     • Provide a way for girls to manage their menstruation.

Imagine telling your menstruating daughter that she must stay home from school because you can not afford to provide her with sanitary pads? This is the sad reality for many Ugandan girls, especially those whose families are living in rural areas on less than $1/day. These girls cannot afford to buy sanitary products and instead resort to using old rags, toilet paper, newspaper, ash, mud and even cow dung. They skip school to avoid embarrassing leaks and stains in public. Some girls just drop out of school completely.

Teacher demonstrates how girls use banana fiber to make a sanitary pad.

     • Provide peer to peer mentoring, educational and emotional support meetings for girls and their parents.

The onset of menstruation puts African girls at educational risk. Negative practices include sexual harassment (even from teachers), withdrawal of economic support from the home and the sudden pressure to marry. Efforts to keep girls in school should include regular support and informational meetings for both older girls and their parents.

     • Provide private girl’s latrines and wash areas at school.

Rural schools in Uganda sometime do not have adequate toilet facilities, especially for girls.

     • Provide clean on site water.

In Africa, girls are expected to collect water. Girls can be subject to assault while collecting water, and they also lose valuable classroom time.  A complete clean water system helps girls while benefitting all the students and community- overall health and sanitation improves.

A typical water collection site in rural Uganda.

How does One School at a Time support girls to stay in school?

     •  165 needy older girls received uniforms at our 4 partner schools (2013). Each uniform cost about $10.
Tailor working on Partner School #4 girl's uniforms.

New uniforms at Partner School #1.

     •  161 needy older girls received re-usable sanitary pads at our 4 partner schools (2013). Each re-usable sanitary pad kit costs about $8.
A parent distributes sanitary pads to students at Partner School #4.

Re-usable sanitary pads at Partner School #1.

     •   Informational meetings with the girls enrolled in the uniform program, their teachers and their parents were held each school term since the uniforms and pads were distributed in 2013. The purpose of these meetings is to provide these girls with information about their changing bodies and to encourage parents to support their daughters to stay in school.
     •   Construction of girls latrine and wash area at Partner School #2 (2012).

New girl's latrine and wash area at Partner School #2.

     •   Construction of simple maintenance-free clean water systems at Partner Schools #1, 2, 3.

Cistern completed!
Support One School at a Time to help more Ugandan girls beat the odds! Your tax deductible donation will pay for re-useable sanitary pad kits for 500 older girls at our 5 partner schools in 2015, and clean water systems at Partner Schools #4 and #5. Donate Now!

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Staying with Hussein Tadesse, One School Ugandan Program Manager

Hussein, his wife Afwa, and his five children (youngest to oldest:  Oman, Marshall, Shamsa, Shiaoban, Firdaus)

Blog post by One School board member, Ken Driese, who is in Uganda working with the program staff there (Hussein and Diana). 

I leave Kampala early Sunday morning for a two-week holiday in Namibia before returning to the U.S.  It’s been a whirlwind.  After a week working from the field office in Kassanda (a couple of hours from Kampala—see previous post), we returned to Hussein’s house and have been busy with a series of meetings and activities about One School programs, planning, and philosophy.  I’ve learned a lot from Hussein, Diana, and the very strong Ugandan Board. 

One  School employee, Diana, working in the office at Hussein’s house.

I’m staying with Hussein, in a house that serves as his family home, the One School Kampala office, and guest quarters for those of us that visit from the U.S..  Hussein and his family are remarkable hosts, and I feel guilty about being waited on hand and foot with little recourse!  Even my laundry is cleaned almost daily, which is helpful, since I didn’t bring many clothes. 

Photo taken at the local market, while shopping with Hussein. 

Hussein has five children.  I will undoubtedly butcher the spelling of their names here, so forgive me, Hussein, as you read this!  The eldest (Firdaus) is in boarding school for the term, and won’t return home until late August (summer doesn’t have the same meaning here on the equator as it does in the U.S.).  The next two (Shamsha and Shiaoban) are gone most of the day at school—they leave the house not long after 7 a.m. and don’t return until close to 5.  The other two, Marshall Rosenberg (3) (named after the man who developed the Non-Violent Communication philosophy that Hussein is studying), and Oman (1) (means “peace”) are home, though Marshall would normally be at school during the week—he’s recovering this week from a burn on his wrist.  Hussein’s wife, Afwa, and their live-in helper, Monika, have their hands full with cooking and caring for the kids, not to mention dealing with a house guest.  In many ways, their quiet support on the home front allows Hussein to do all that he does for One School.

Shopping for Firdaus before dropping her at boarding school for the term.

Mornings and evenings are spent with the family or working in my room.  Shiaoban loves to play a version of Chutes and Ladders with me (called snakes and ladders!), and Marshall loves to follow me around and ask questions or push buttons on my watch, as 3-year-olds are wont to do.  He’s very precocious, and I joke with Hussein that someday he will be president.   

In the mornings I drink my coffee under the avocado tree in the backyard while Afwa makes chapati on the charcoal burner and Monika sweeps the yard.   Interesting birds come and go, and sometimes a few chickens cluck around the yard, puckish.  Hussein and Afwa hope to augment the number of chickens drastically (to 300, and it’s not a big yard!) and sell eggs for profit, but that is a future plan. 

Yesterday, while I peacefully sipped my Peet’s, there was an enormous whoosh as a giant branch from the neighbor’s papaya tree spontaneously broke lose and crashed into their yard, sending the resident dog pack into a tizzy; it’s a different environment here on the equator. 

I’ll have a lot to digest and report after I return home and have more time to write and think, and access to the internet here is inconvenient, so I’ll leave those meatier posts for later in the summer.