About five weeks ago I began work with the Maendeleo Foundation after being hired as an intern earlier in the year. Having never worked outside of the United States I was curious to see how Ugandan culture would shape my experiences with the organization. I had read through their website (www.maendeleofoundation.org) and spoken with my supervisor about some expectations of the internship, but it wasn’t until I actually stepped into a local school that I really understood the mission they’ve been striving so hard to achieve.
We arrived at a frightfully under-funded rural school, which appeared to have been forgotten about by the government entirely. 30-40 kids sit in a crowded classroom and repeat some misunderstood English phrases about a surprisingly obscure topic. Posters about alimentary canals, parts of the leaf, and the life cycle of an adult cockroach pattern the walls. They exemplify the same type of aimless theories fed to students of all ages. It appears Uganda does not value experiential learning in the same way some other countries do.
Therefore, the first aspect of Maendeleo I admired was its ability to transform its classrooms into a lively lab setting. Students laughed and spoke and exchanged information. But most importantly, they tried and failed. If they clicked a button and it didn’t work the way a teacher explained, they tried a few different techniques. Even when a life of rote memorization deteriorated some aspects of their critical thinking, the opportunity for trial and error inspired some truly independent thinking.
Albeit minimal, I have gotten to witness the empowerment of children learning skills they may not have encountered otherwise. After a few conversations with Asia, Maendeleo Foundation’s current Executive Director, I learned the real goal of her organization: empowerment. Sure, we teach kids and adults how to use computers and access valuable technological skills, but most importantly we encourage people to strive for uncharted territory. Most students we teach may never see or access a computer again. But at the end of the day, they might go home and say, “Hey, if I can learn how to use a computer, what else can I do?” They start to think and analyze on their own; wavering from the tendency to simply repeat the thought on the blackboard. Everyday I’m amazed by the subtle impact one organization can have on so many children, simply because it gave them the world’s opportunities. I’m excited to continue working and learning about the fascinating work of the Maendeleo Foundation.
B.A. International Studies
Amnesty International at UM | Community Building Chair
University of Michigan 2017