Uganda's Select Top Students Earn Ticket to Nation's Capital
KAMPALA, Uganda, Dec 13, 2010. While trips to a state capital or college visit are common occurrences for many high school students across the world, for some it can be a far-reaching concept only existing as visualizations created by stories they’ve heard from those who have traveled the distance.
However, with the help of the Uganda’s Peoples’ Defense Forces (UPDF), the U.S. Army 418th Civil Affairs Battalion, Delta Company, assigned to the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), and funding provided by a number of non-governmental agencies, 23 students from Uganda’s northeast region of Koramoja traveled to Kampala, for a week-long familiarization tour of their nation’s capital.
The student participants, who were selected from across six districts based on academic performance, endured a 10-hour bus ride to travel nearly 500 km to reach Kampala’s busy district. The change of scenery was drastically different from what the students are used to. Most live in rural villages lacking roads and infrastructure commonly associated with a modern city and, for most, it would be the first time they would be leaving the boundaries of their home villages.
From December 12-17, the trip consisted of scheduled stops at Uganda’s largest university - Makarere University, UPDF headquarters, interacted with members of the country’s Parliament, toured the U.S. Embassy and had a final stop at the Kitale Dairy Farm.
Their first stop at the university gave them the opportunity to listen to the head of admissions. They also took part in a unique event where they heard from a panel comprised of current students originally from Karamoja. U.S. Army Specialist Greg Kuo, team member of the 418th Civil Affairs battalion working in the Karamojo region and primary coordinator for the event, came up with the idea of holding the panel. He saw it as a chance for the students to see the opportunity of attending a university is within their reach. “The mission of this visit is to inspire the students to succeed in school and go to a university,” he expressed. “That’s why we are very excited that they had the opportunity to meet with the Karamojong who have succeeded in school and have made it to the top university in Uganda.”
One of the panelists, Akwi Novah Rabinah, is finishing her second academic year at the university where she is working on her Bachelor of Adult and Community Education degree. She said she was very grateful for the opportunity being afforded to the students of visiting the largest university in Uganda. “Most of these students have never been outside of Karamoja,” she said. “When they get out they realize that there’s a different life than [the one they’ve come to know].”
Rabinah believes if the students work hard, they can return to Karamoja and implement improvements to will help change their villages for the better. “I’m so grateful for this program … I believe it’s going to change most of the students from Karamoja,” she said. “Like now, those who have come here, none of them will want to drop out of school [and] when they go back they will tell their friends that there’s a different life [out] there.”
Abeduego Achia, who currently serves as the deputy head teacher for Moroto High School, accompanied the students on their six-day trip. Being from Karamoja, he can see firsthand the positive impact the program will have on the student body. “This project is going to make education competitive because they will try to excel in order to come and visit outside the region,” he said.
The selection for this program alone was very keen; only two students were selected from class sizes ranging from 140 to 200 students. With hopes of continuing the program for future iterations, Achia said he plans on expanding the program, allowing more students to participate.
From day one, all who had involvement in the planning or attended the program’s events expressed positive feedback on how everything turned out. The trip coordinators, faculty members and, most importantly, the students who participated thought it was a great initiative to expose them to opportunities outside of their villages.
For Abura Charles, one of the 23 student attendees, it was the first time he left the Karamoja region. Although he had aspirations before seeing Kampala, the feasibility of fulfilling his dreams now appear within reach. “Something very interesting is happening … changes … fast … we are exposed [to] as Karamojongs,” he enthusiastically described. “I have so much hope for the future of my village.”
Once he completes high school, Charles plans to study civil engineering and eventually wants to return to his village to help build it up to provide an improved environment for future generations. “I have a bright future for [my village] … I have a bright future for Uganda,” he said.
The two months of planning and coordinating seem like a small sacrifice for the long-lasting impact a trip like this will most likely leave with the students who participated. An impact that will continue to positively influence hundreds of students back home when they hear about their peers’ experience in Kampala.