Givology - give to learn, learn to give

Make an impact on kids around the world.

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Joyce Meng
Pragya Nandini
S. Das
Emily Borden
Matt Grifferty
Sarah Das
JaeSun Hwang
Eunice Kim
Catherine Gao
Yuqing Fan
Joanita Senoga
Hetal Ray
Ranjna Das
Nicole Hwang
Akshay Das

Uganda Peace Primary School


<p> Together we can bring alternative energy options to the Uganda Peace Primary School! </p>


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December 29, 2009

Each day now hurtles by at lightening speed – as I grow accustomed to Uganda and have become very close to the Bbaale family and the Peace School community, I find greater meaning and purpose in the cause. When I started Givology, I really wanted to do my best to help my fellow students because education changed my life. But, I had very limited experience in visiting schools in developing countries. My motivation came from a theoretical and principled reason, not from concrete experience. Some people who go and volunteer with international non-profits often end up feeling somewhat disillusioned, but in my case, I am now even more inspired!

We woke up very early at 6:40 AM to dress in work clothes and visit the Lower Campus of the Peace School to tear down the temporary buildings and relocate all assets and salvageable building materials to the Upper Campus. The plan is to take down everything in the Lower Campus in one day, erect temporary sheds in two days at the Upper Campus, sort through all the books and materials for appropriate re-categorization before the start of term on February 1st, and set in motion longer term plans for the design and construction of permanent buildings at the end of the school year. Joanita, Iria, Jia, Passy (the headmistress of the Lower Campus), and I went with the majority of the children – Sula, Medi (the brother of Teacher Hassan), Teacher Hassan, Josh, Isaac, Elijah, Bashir, Charles, Farook, Sharifah (Farook’s sister). When we arrived, we started tearing down the wooden classrooms as Jia taped – the boys seemed to know exactly what they needed to do, and Charles set about building a ladder from a beam that he took down from the classroom!

[Below is a video where I explain the basics of the work we intended to carry out. You can see some footage of the interior of the classrooms and the very limited furniture and space available for the students.]

[Video of Charles putting together the ladder with Joanita. When I think of my own father, a feat such as this would be rather impossible – in the USA, we’re just too used to having all our tools and materials pre-fabricated for us.]

Then, with the ladder complete, Charles, Mehta, and Sula climbed to the roof of the buildings and began taking down the metal sheeting and beams. While watching them from the ground, I kept on worrying for their safety! Their position on the roof looked rather precarious, especially since the sheds are about 15 years old, weakened by erosion and time. Yet, three large grown men could sit on top to perform the duty of tearing the sheds apart! If they fell or if the structure collapsed as they worked (imagine a game of jenga), then we would have experienced a great calamity.

[Below is a video of the boys efficiently tearing down the classrooms – I guess for them, such work is treated as routine, but in general, I was really impressed and amazed at all their practical building knowledge.]

The work was very tiring – I consider myself relatively fit and strong, but the moving of the wooden planks and beans proved very difficult. The boys are all rather skinny and none too much taller than me, other than Sula, but they managed with great ease. As Jia, Farook, and I worked on digging out the cement blocks securing the swing set, Farook laughed at our poor hoeing and shoveling skills, asking us dubiously whether we ever had the experience of digging holes to plant crops! Three times a year, usually during the break, the children go to the village fields to help plant crops to feed the school children.

All the boys were highly familiar with the process of taking down the house – as a result, we managed to complete the majority of the work by 11:30 AM!

[Below are some photos taken during the process. We have so many more to share that we'll be posting later! Courtesy: Jiashan Wu]



But the devil, of course, lies in the details. I worked with Joanita and Passy, the headmistress of the Lower Campus, to pack up the office. As the office was very poorly ventilated, the dank weather of the rainy season created a lot of dust. A lot of the books and supplies available were clearly not used because they weren’t properly categorized or stored. The books often mildly wet, with large amounts of dust collecting on their covers and in between the pages. One of our hopes at Givology is to fund a library for the Peace School – the books need protection and a much larger space would really help the school administration properly categorize and store the books so teachers and students can access them much easier!

Most of the books were from the 1980s or even 1970s – donated books from US classrooms that had long been abandoned. Most meaningfully, I found the budget records, original student work, and teacher plans from more than a decade ago, when Joanita first started the school. As Joanita carefully dusted and packed the books (each book was treated with a great degree of loving care), she told me that so many memories came back. In fact, the boys who helped us with the work today were all alumni of the first class of students under Joanita’s tutelage!

I asked the boys whether they felt sad tearing down the school that they first went to – most expressed some sense of nostalgia. Indeed, they were melancholic over the loss of their school – Peace Primary remains one of the happiest memories that they had when tuition was completely free, play opportunities plentiful, and the teachers loving and caring. Yet, all of them expressed some optimism that the new permanent building on the Upper Campus would be even better.

[Elijah and Zamu share some of their favorite memories of the school, including the swing set in the front that Jia and I helped dig out!]

The boys were extremely efficient in bringing the materials back to the house and sorting them. The work definitely required a lot of effort, and you could see the different personalities based on their style of tackling the challenge at hand. I really tried my best, and filmed a lot of the work in progress to provide some footage for all of you, our supporters. While we were willing to rush and complete quickly the tear down and construction of the temporary sheds on the Upper Campus in time for the start of term on February 1st, Joanita and the Peace School Task Force were adamant that the design and construction of the permanent buildings be conducted with great diligence and attention to detail at no rush. Before the end of our trip, Joanita and the Task Force wanted negotiate the purchase of the land to the Upper Campus to expand further, as well as hire and contract with a construction team to build the permanent buildings.

Before I describe the evening, I wanted to take some time to discuss the last few moments before we left the Lower Campus. Joanita was very emotional as it was her first memory of the Peace School, when it was nothing more than an operation started on her front porch. When the relocation was complete, I ask the Joanita, Passy, and the kids to introduce themselves and share some of their favorite Peace School memories, as you can see in the video below.

[Above is a video of the alumni introducing themselves and sharing their fondest recollections of the Peace School. In many ways, we had come full circle – the alumni who benefited as the first class came back to help the Peace School tear down the very classrooms in which they started their education. I found the irony very beautiful – as the alumni described playing on the swing set, the care of their teachers, speech day, I could hear their nostalgia and wistfulness.]

We went back late around 5:30 PM to eat lunch – by then, I was famished. But we made sure that before we left, we had fully cleared out the entire area, leaving nothing behind. We even took back bricks and bags of dirt from the Lower Campus! The work was really hard, but rewarding – Jia took complete footage for the entire duration, and I’ll be posting that sometime later. Below are some photos that Jia took of the process in stages.



On a side note, somehow, the people here don’t seem to get hungry – they work very hard, don’t eat snacks, but somehow, never complain. The children are generally very obedient and help the adults as commanded. As you can imagine, this level of alacrity in work and understanding of household order is noticeably missing in many American families.

After lunch, I took a long nap, while trying to ignore the roofing man working. The entire day made me tired and revealed a lot about the character of the people of the school. Joanita is very hardworking and practical, while Charles, the former headmaster, is incredibly capable (he can build houses, ladders, do almost everything…). And each of the boys played their part in heavy lifting and transport of the materials, with Sula and Mehta leading the take-down efforts. Very few shirked on their efforts, and even the smaller and weaker ambitiously helped out. The neighbors surrounding the school were very curious as to the cause of the commotion – with lots of children standing around watching, Joanita managed to successfully co-opt one of the older boys to assist!

That evening, Jia and I worked on collecting the material and organizing our photos and projects. I suggested that we could bring home some of the scrap pieces of painted wood from the school and give them to donors who donate more than $5,000. While I’m here, I want to find as many ways to raise funding as possible! Below is a photo of some of these wood pieces that we hope to cut up. (Photo courtesy of Jiashan Wu.)


Very late at night, we piled into two vans to pick up Lydia at Entebbe Airport. Lydia resides in North London is one of Joanita’s sisters. I found her very pleasant and friendly! After dinner, I thought it would be a nice gesture to give Amina (grandmother) a back massage – I couldn’t communicate very well with her, but I figure that it should help relieve some of her persistent back pain. Remembering that day in the village where she proudly showed us her fields and all the corn that she planted (must have been at least 1-2 acres), I am truly amazed that she’s capable of such level of strenuous activity without further hurting herself.

Well, all in all, a good day’s worth of work and effort!
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December 28, 2009

I woke up today around 9 AM and ate a breakfast of bananas, nuts, and maize, and then sat on a mat on the porch to do some much needed economics studying. (Unfortunately, when I return to Oxford, I’ll have to take my economics midterm, worth 20% of my final grade!) The rain poured very heavily and we lost power in the house, but the light outside made studying under the covered porch perfect.

Jia woke up later, and feeling rather lethargic from doing so little exercise, I asked her to show me some Bikram yoga poses for fun. I never really understood yoga before, but after doing the standing, triangle, and sitting series, I now understand why yoga attracts so many followers. It creates flexibility, focus, and core strength by leveraging natural tension in stretching the body in opposite ways and in positions that require a lot of strength and concentration to maintain. As a rather inflexible person, I struggled quite a bit – I’m sure my awkward balancing acts amused Irene and Josh a lot. In stark contrast, Jia looked very elegant and relaxed.

Afterward, we waited until Joanita and Iria woke up to go to the Lower School Campus and take inventory of the assets for completion of the deed of reassignment. The Lower Campus is actually very close to the Upper Campus, and was the site of the original school that Joanita started more than fifteen years ago! Unlike the Upper Campus, where all the buildings are constructed of concrete and mortar, the classrooms of the Lower School are all temporary structures – dank wooden sheds that look severely weather eroded and rather tattered and beaten. The school started 15 years ago, so you can imagine the state of disrepair of the sheds!


[Above are some pictures of the lower school campus sheds. You can see Teacher Hasan in the second picture! he's a 23 year old teacher at the school, who has cultivated a love of art in many of his students. He lives at the Peace School is a favorite of the students!]

The Peace School had rented the land from an old woman, but when she passed away in September 2009, her son received ownership of the land and demanded that the Peace School leave immediately. Obviously, since term had already started, this wasn’t feasible, so the Peace School negotiated to move the eviction date to December 2009. The man grudgingly agreed, but mandated that in addition to the cost of rent, the Peace School had to pay for his own private apartment rent in Kampala for the months in between! (Ah, I suppose some people are rather unscrupulous…they don’t even bother taking into account the work and mission of the school.)

When I first visited the school, I was shocked at how cramped it felt! Joanita explained to us that the man – to incentive the school evacuation – had constructed a set of his own permanent private buildings all around the school. As a result, there was barely any space left for the play area, and the combination of the cramped grounds and disrepair made for a very sad site. I took the inventory, but frankly, the assets to salvage appeared rather downtrodden.

As an interjection, I discovered is that every material object here has a much longer expected useful life. Computers, cars, posters, etc. that would have long been discarded by their owners in the USA s are meticulously cared for in Uganda to maximize their utility. A lot of the goods sold on the streets are second-hand, imported from discarded goods from China, Dubai, Europe, and the USA, among other countries. In fact, almost all the taxis and mini-buses in circulation still had printed Chinese characters on their side – basically, the generation of old vehicles abandoned from decades past!

We then went back for lunch. Afterward, I chatted with Zamu (Marylove’s daughter, about 18 years of age) about life in Uganda, women’s rights, and AIDS policy, among other topics. At first, she was rather hostile, accusatory at first of all the splendors available in the USA, but she soon opened up and began sharing more of herself and life. Although the families can’t afford much in Kampala, the majority have access to a television through some way or another, and as a result, are very familiar with American pop culture. By watching all these American shows, many of them about the young, beautiful, wealthy, and extremely bored (EX: One Tree Hill, the O.C, etc.) Ugandans start believing erroneously that everyone in the USA lives swathed in riches. With no opportunity to travel and few interactions with tourists and outsiders, you can imagine how easy television can mislead the people.

[Above is a picture of Zamu and me together. She’s really sweet and fun to be around! Photo courtesy of Jiashan Wu.]

Evidently, the Bbaale family had a really negative experience with prior volunteers, and as a result, really worried that we would cause similar problems. I won’t go into the details about the specifics, but some of them worried the family greatly, didn’t follow through on their volunteering work, and created some tension in the community, which would explain Zamu’s initial distrust. Zamu is very much into fashion, clothing, and hip hop – not too different from many of the young people from the states! As she lives directly in the city on her own, she’s very cosmopolitan and savvy about pop culture (in fact, much more ahead of the times that me)!

The rest of the day passed uneventfully, but with a lot of necessary activity. Jia and I passed out the journals for our book project to the girls and explained the intent and details of the initiative. We also sorted through the photos and drawings from the village, played games with the children, and wrote our own journal entry as an example for the kids. We entitled the journal J^2 x J for Jia and Joyce’s Journal!

During the day, a few of the boys asked me to show them different functions of the Internet. Josh came first wanting to know how to use youtube to build a radio. Later, Isaac dropped by to find out how to use youtube to watch a recap of Arsenal v. Liverpool, the latter his favorite team. Unfortunately, even though I showed them how youtube works, the bandwidth was so low that each video couldn’t load properly. Given poor infrastructure, all internet connections tend to derive from a portable dial-up USB modem that leverages the rather slow wireless cell phone network. The older children are all extremely intrigued by technology – at their secondary schools, they probably have 1-2 shared internet stations so that everyone has a chance to try, but no one really has much time to explore and learn. An internet café not only has a rather slow connection, but costs about 500 shillings for 20 minutes (about 30 cents for 20 minutes or 90 cents for one hour), which is considered too expensive of an indulgence by many.

The most fascinating aspect to me is that the children here get exposed to so much American pop culture in our movies, TV, and other media. Most families can gather together to watch one small television that is communally shared. For example, Zamu knows about Prison Break – a show I never watched before – and is completely up to date to the latest episode. As aforementioned, seeing all these American dramas and reality TV shows cultivates an expectation that everything portrayed on the screen is realistic, which definitely result in a lot of misconceptions. No wonder they expect Jia and me to have lots of money!

After a late dinner, I had a chance to present Givology formally to Joanita, Iria, Solomon, Charles, and Morris. I spoke slowly and highlighted our philosophy of micro-donations, accountability, and students helping students. It appeared that all the adults were very enthused by the idea, and surprised that a group of students could build such an organization! Charles, the highly capable brother of Joanita and former headmaster of the school, praised the idea as “genius” and wanted to find out how to register and get involved in Uganda. Well, Givology isn’t a genius idea. Rather, it’s just a meaningful personal commitment we all have to do as much as we can to support students and communities throughout the world.

During the night, I woke up with a series of bad itches (about 7 bites) on my back which I had scratched to the point of bleeding, so all in all, not my most restful sleep. Tomorrow, we have a VERY busy day ahead as we’ll be relocating the Lower Campus temporary sheds so I want to prepare myself. Our plan is rather ambitious: to take down every single one of the classrooms and assets (furniture, chalkboard, building materials salvageable, desks, benches, etc) in the Lower Campus and to move everything to the Upper Campus.
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December 27, 2009

[Note: Be prepared for a very long entry. We took so many pictures and videos today! Photos are courtesy of Jiashan Wu.]

Today we woke up very early to go the village of Chaguey, about 2.5 hours outside of Kampala. We all crammed into Abraham’s mini-bus and set off – Amina (grandmother), Joanita, Jia, Morris (the director of the Peace School), Solomon, Mariam, Amina (the younger), Charles, Iria, Abraham (the driver), and me. We barely fit in the vehicle, as four adults sat crammed in one row, yet managed to brave the bumpy and dusty journey. Along the central road connecting Uganda to Kenya, we passed the slums of Kampala, the industrial district (where Mukwano’s production occurs), the rainforest (which has shrunk considerably with development), and various road-side markets where farmers gathered to sell their produce. About 1.5 hours into the journey, we ventured off the paved path onto a dirt road, highly uneven and narrow. Frankly, I doubted that our ancient mini-bus – a public taxi that probably had already completed a few decades of service in China – would manage the challenging terrain. Yet, as a taxi driver, Abraham seemed to consider hurdling along the dirt roads simply a day’s normal work.


[Above is a picture of some of the fields that we passed. When I asked Joanita whether the landscape at changed, she told me that development had really improved the entire area - before, there would be thick vegetation everywhere. Now, plantations have absorbed much of the land.]

We drove on the dirt road for an hour or so, passing huts and fields, the majority small plots of farmed land. Our first stop was the field inherited by Marylove, Joanita’s sister who resides in Richmond. A poor decision to sharecrop the land without oversight had cost the school a substantial amount of foregone revenue. When we walked through the fields along a narrow path carved out of the thick jungle-like vegetation, Joanita and Amina lamented the disarray of weeds and flora that had overtaken the land. We then made a second stop at the fields owned by grandmother, where she cultivates bean and maize to feed the children at the school. When I saw this second plot of land – immaculately cared for and at least an acre in size – I was truly astonished and humbled by how much work and love the old grandmother had single-handedly invested to support the school.

The level of poverty here is something I have never seen before. The huts are constructed of twigs and mud, with a thatched roof as cover. Due to limited capital to conduct large-scale agricultural production, the villagers rely on subsistence farming. The children who lived nearby were in equal states of deprivation. Clothing in tatters, dirt everywhere, barefoot, stunting due to malnutrition, and solemn faces (at least, at first). I saw children everywhere – all of a very young age, typically primary school. I also saw various elderly grandparents, stooped in their old age, but working hard nevertheless to tend the crops and animals. Strikingly, I met very few middle-aged adults, the result of AIDS, movement to the cities, and the accidents arising from village life.



[Above are some pictures of the huts and the children that we walked past.]

Sickness and death exist as a very normal aspect of daily life. The fact that one woman in the village was killed by a crocodile and another beheaded by a machete due to a jealous spat with another woman (this murder conducted in front of the child, who now refuses to speak, likely from the shock) was treated as normal news and mixed casually in the chatter with Joanita and the family.

We went to a clearing in the village, where the expectant adults and children gathered, waiting for us. As the Bbaale family is recognized within the village for their work at the Peace School and their contributions to support the village (ex: construction of a communal kitchen, provision of food during a bad harvest, offering of land free of rent to a family in need), the entire village came to greet us in excitement, especially in light of Joanita’s return after so many years! Many of the boarding students at the Peace School come from this village and return during their holiday break, so Jia and I really looked forward to having a chance to visit these children in their home environment.

[Here’s a video that I took of all the villagers introducing themselves in the beginning, when we first met everyone in the clearing.]

As a development economist, I generally find the idea of handing out free gifts and goods rather distasteful as it cultivates a mentality of dependency, rather than invest in a sustainable future. Since Joanita had gotten suitcases of donations from various local churches, however, we had plenty of Christmas gifts to give out. To allocate the gifts equitably, Joanita and Iria – in a rather regimented fashion – told the kids stand in a line to receive the candy, stockings, toothbrushes, soap, and clothing. At first, it felt very patronizing – those who “have” ordering the “have nots” about in the allocation of goods, but then I realized that with all the children clamoring for their share, there was no other better way to handle the process. I’m hoping that with the funds we raise on Givology, at least some can be reinvested in the village to guarantee sustained income and to open new markets. The infrastructure is so poor that the villagers are in essence “trapped” – they can’t leave to sell their goods as they own no vehicle to take them to the nearest trading post, and they produce only just enough to survive.

Clearly, just handing out items won’t help the village achieve sustainable development in the long run, and one can even argue that the expectation of gifts in the future may corrode incentives and distort local markets. This village, however, has its own productive activities and our Christmas gift surprise is very much a one-team special treatment, far from a cycle expected to continue. According to Joanita, this village rarely gets outside visitors – the last time occurred two years ago, when a team of doctors came to offer free health services and check-ups for a day (and never since returned). Frankly, Joanita, Jia, Iria, and I are here just for some holiday cheer and to give the kids a break from daily routine and the opportunity to play games and make art. Even throughout the day, the villagers kept on expressing their hopes that we’d come back to play with the kids again – I suppose they found our presence very novel and amusing.


[Morris and Iria hand out the Christmas gifts to the children.]

Before I go into the details of the day, I want to write a little bit about the lives of the children. Very few of the villagers speak English, so I want to caveat my conclusions with the disclaimer that these are mainly my personal observations and the insights I pick up from Joanita when she translates.

As children are expected to contribute to family income, they truly work very hard. Social tradition dictates deference to adults, so the children tend to be very obedient and solemn. When we first arrived, the children sat with their mothers and/or grandparents in a very serious fashion – no expression on their faces, unlike the children of the Peace School complex, who are generally very friendly and outgoing. The parents and adults very strictly instruct the children, and they comply.

Just to test the water, I made some goofy faces to see how they would respond – almost instantly, they all laughed! (Jia and I had a working arrangement in which I would pretty much make a fool of myself so that she could capture some much more natural and relaxed footage of the children.) With us smiling and cajoling the children with games and activities, the children began to loosen up.

[Jump rope definitely helped a lot! Morris had brought one from the school, and as you can see, the kids are really delighted to play]

I couldn’t get over the fact at how small these children were for their age, some with serious medical conditions due to inadequate care. For example, Grace who is deaf and mute because she had a high fever that went untreated (she attends the Peace School), a dear little boy who suffered severe burns that healed poorly, another boy who was cross-eyed and had severe vision impairments…and frankly, just so many fragile looking children, healthy enough but without fully adequate nutrition. As I discussed earlier, we saw lots of children and old grandparents, but not much of the generation in between – all women, no men around at all.

Yet, despite all the challenges, children – in the end – are still children, who enjoy games and playing! To loosen up the kids, I introduced the game of sharks and minnows. As very few of the children could speak English, we needed Amina to communicate for us, but inevitably, some key instructions were lost in translation. The game started off well, with the children laughing excitably, but we stopped early because some o the kids fell down and started crying, and because one kid who was “caught” by me started crying because she thought she was in trouble. (Actually, I was just very unlucky because had recently witnessed the murder of her mother, and was still in a very sensitive and scared state) In general, the interference of the parents and adults tended to cause the children to freeze up (I heard loud instructions in Luganda, so I assume the adults were telling off the children for some misbehavior), so we really tried our best to relax them before starting on the art activities in order to elicit the most natural and creative response.

Just like all of our prior experiences, the kids start off really shy and then they open up. They feared the camera at first (though they were all intensely curious), but by the end, everyone wanted their picture taken and were smiling, laughing, and making each other laugh for us!



[Above are some pictures of me with the kids. I really enjoyed spending time with them – even though we couldn’t communicate in words, somehow we managed to convey a lot to each other nevertheless.]

Jia and I set to work on the $50 campaign. Immediately, we had to modify our original plan because the children have no concept of money or value. Life very much revolves around subsistence farming, and there are very few markets around. At first, I was really concerned that the entire project would fail because the 1) the kids didn’t like talking and sharing information about themselves (even in Luganda Amina had trouble speaking with them), 2) the adults told the kids what to draw (which defeats the purpose of finding out the kid’s actual desire), 3) the adults forced the kids to line up and pay attention to us (which felt very unnatural…as each had to wait their turn to take a photo, receive a piece of paper, and crayons, but we managed to circumvent all these problems with some creative adaptation and some kindhearted assistance from Abraham, Amina, and Charles. Soon, the kids began to open up and relax, and we got some great material. Jia and I managed to create a workflow where Abraham would gently entreat the kids as to what they wanted to draw, and I would then hand out paper and crayons. Afterward, when they finished, Amina recorded the details and Jia took a picture of the kids with their drawings.



[Here are a few of the kids with their drawings! As you can see, the child in the background of the second picture was making a face, trying to get us to laugh! I’ll share my observations about the content at a later time.]

We’re hoping to showcase all the drawings in an online exhibition, as well as an actual exhibition in New York City! I have lots of interesting observations of the entire process and the content that we collected, but I will try to restrain myself and save these for the launch of our exhibition!

The children really had a blast seeing themselves on camera and in Jia’s camcorder. By the end, they were jovially playing, having fun, and making each other smile on the camera. “Seca” means smile in Luganda– I must have used this phrase at least a thousand times today! The children are all so beautiful and charming – as you can below, pictures are worth a thousand words.






[Photos of the children that we met, and the children working on their drawings. Special thanks to Jia for taking such amazing footage and capturing so many magical moments.]

In addition to the children, the adults clamored to get their photos taken. I suppose we handled the demand for photos gracefully enough, but I admit it sometimes felt overwhelming as there were just so many people to satisfy!



[Above are some group photos of everyone together!]

We left the village around 3 PM. I actually found it very difficult to leave – the kids kept on waving bye to us; I truly wanted to stay and spend more time to them. Having spent hours working under the direct sun to collect the campaign drawings and take footage of the kids and families, however, Jia and I felt kind of dehydrated and exhausted. On the drive back, we passed some beautiful sights –green fields bright against an open blue sky. In addition, we drove past the start of the Nile in Jinja!



[Uganda is such a beautiful country. Above are some photos of the fields and the start of the Nile, while passing by car!]

When we merged back onto the main road, we drove past market stalls where women sold fruits, roasted meats, and vegetables. At 5:30 PM, when the smells of freshly roasted food greeted me, I realized belatedly that since departing in the morning, I didn’t use the bathroom nor eat food. I barely drank water too so in all actuality, I felt kind of dehydrated. Regardless of physical exhaustion, however, I arrived home really motivated and inspired. In so many ways, today really opened my eyes and showed me that even though so much need exists, every little bit makes a difference.

During dinner, we had an important discussion about accountability in using funds. This issue is of particular importance to us at Givology because we need to ensure that our partners follow through in their commitment to spend funding in the way they indicated.

No NGO is perfect, but during my time here, although I know there are some problems and gaps in resources, I feel truly and passionately committed to the Peace School cause. Each day, I get even more fired up to do more, as I meet more people and demonstrably see the impact. My heart shatters into a thousand pieces every day when I hear the stories of the children and witness their problems, but there is a powerful sense of hope beneath it all. Going to the village clearly showed me that indeed, it is truly an impossible, Sisyphean task to provide for and save everyone, but something as simple as sharing laughter and activities together can make a difference.

One life at a time, one step at a time.

Each day has so much more significance here than months of poring over statistics and detailed information about poverty assessment data sets in my Economics for Development course, where each life is nothing more than one line in the STATA data repository. I am but one person, but being here has shown me that so much needs to be done, and despite my limited resources, I can contribute at least my own small part.

We all truly can.

PS – Irene was feeling really sick today from her medicine so she’ll be visiting the hospital tomorrow. What a heartbreaking transformation from garrulous and [;ayful to listless and quiet. I really do hope she gets better.

The smiles and laughter of the children will be forever imprinted in my memory.
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December 26, 2009

Today, Jia and I spent a very productive morning figuring out what project we want to do with the kids that can be used as a campaign back at home. Sometimes I feel very helpless because as a student, I have so little money that I can give myself, yet I’ve seen the immense need. So, we’re trying really hard to brainstorm ways we can raise funding and awareness in the USA using the work and footage that we capture in Uganda. As a graduate of art school and advertising professional, Jia has proposed some truly innovative and refreshing ways to use the children’s art as a medium of expression in a coordinated campaign.

As a really general summary, we set a target of raising $20,000 for the Peace School through two different initiatives. First, we planned a “What would you buy with 100,000 shillings ($50)?” drawing campaign with 200 kids to raise $10,000. Second, we want to publish a book with the personal stories, art, and photos documenting the lives of some of the young people we have met here.

[On a side note, in my previous post with the two videos of the Peace School, I mentioned that the children really loved to see themselves on camera. Here’s a photo of the children playing with Jia’s equipment! Courtesy: Jiashan Wu]


To purchase supplies, we went into town and found a supply shop. As it is Boxing Day, only a few stories were open. To accomplish our project, we bought some cardstock, yarn, and A3 drawing paper. The experience was really stressful – I intrinsically dislike bargaining, the mixture of Luganda and English confused me greatly in the negotiation of the prices, and the crammed space of the shop felt suffocating. Frankly, I wasn’t sure what to buy in the store – given the very limited selection and even more limited space, we had to select on the basis of our eyes, rather than actually browsing the materials. All in all, we spent 500,000 shillings (about $27) for not too many supplies. Our hosts expressed dismay at the prices, as the proprietor definitely overcharged us, but alas, there’s little we could do rectify the situation and precious time had already been wasted. (It takes about 1.5 hours to get to the city with the traffic, even if the distance is not far!)


[Jia took some really interesting photos of some of the signs that we see when driving in the city. Rather than printed signs and graphics, everything was hand-painted, but with exact precision to mimic all the relevant logos and trademarks. The above sign relating to fair elections was particularly intriguing. All photos courtesy of: Jiashan Wu]


[Alas, Obama greets us right outside of the Peace School Complex. Photo courtesy of Jiashan Wu]

The entire experience left an acrid taste in my mouth, but a tasty lunch followed by downtime and games with the children soon restored me to my normal mood. I’ll provide more details about our specific projects later, but we’ll be using the supplies to create a fundraising campaign in which each student draws what he or she would want to buy with 100,000 shillings (approximately $50), and then we’ll give every donor who contributes $50 to the Peace School the student’s original drawing, a photo of the child, and his or her story. In addition, we’re using the A3 paper and the yarn to sew handmade journals to distribute to the kids, along with disposable cameras, for the book project.

Today, Amina wasn’t feeling well so we spent a day with a her sisters, Aisha and Mariam. Both girls are really smart and engaged with the world, and share a lot of the same mannerisms of Amina! The sisters made many beautiful friendship bracelets while Jia and I finished binding the books. (Well, more like Jia binding the books in a wonderfully dexterous manner, while I struggled to disassemble the A3 books by peeling off glue with my fingernails.) For the rest of the afternoon and evening, Jia and I set a work-plan and framework for completing the two projects, along with a list of footage and interviews needed for a documentary we intend to film. We really have an ambitious schedule ahead to make the best use of our time here!

Tomorrow, we leave Makindye village (the location of the school in the suburbs of Kampala) to the village of Chaguey, far in the remote rural villages. Some of the boarding students at the Peace School come from Chaguey, substantially poorer than their counterparts in the city. I’m really looking forward to this trip, as I’ll see a part of Uganda and the Peace School I haven’t yet seen. As the kids are all on their summer break (winter = summer in the southern hemisphere), we’ll have a chance to visit these students in their home village.

The one comment I’d like to make is that I appreciate the kindness of the Bbaale family so greatly, and worry consistently about troubling them. Each day, we have the best foods to eat and can eat to satiation, drink bottled water, and live in the main house. Members of the family actually gave up their beds to make space for us. Sometimes this hospitality feels overwhelming, as the children and the household handle all the cooking, cleaning, and laundry. I am deeply grateful, but I honestly feel very bad for not contributing to the work – alas, I have consistently offered my help, but my hosts are too gracious to accept.


[Here’s a picture of the mosquito net that we sleep under. The one phrase in Luganda that I’ve retained is “Nakowa Enseli” (wrong spelling), which translates loosely to “I hate mosquitoes”. Despite all my precautions, I’ve still gotten tons of mosquito bites – seems like they are very good at picking out fresh blood. Courtesy: Jiashan Wu]


[Here’s a picture of Madina, Joanita’s eldest sister, in the kitchen. Madina is really kind and truly hospitable – she takes good care of everyone in the household! Courtesy: Jiashan Wu]
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Just wanted to add in two short videos recorded on Christmas Eve to supplement some of my earlier posts. All videos were taken by Jiashan Wu, my other half during the Uganda trip! Thank you Jia for recording such wonderful footage and helping document the impact of the Peace School!

Video #1: Irene, Natasha, and Shareen sing and dance on Christmas Eve. The kids were really fascinated with Jia's camcorder and tripod, and relished the chance to perform and use the microphone. Generally, all the kids we met were hesitant at first to be on camera, but soon afterward, curiosity and interest supplanted any initial reservation. In fact, at the end of our trip, the kids clamored to use the equipment themselves to take footage of us!

Video #2: Playing "Lost Message in Pocket" (See the post about Christmas Eve). This game was really fun - the way it works is that a child tosses a scrap pebble over her shoulder, and whoever is closest hides it. Then, the child returns to the center of the circle, sings the song, and then tries to figure out who was closest to the pebble. Once the right child is found, a game of tag occurs! I kept on getting the words to the song wrong, to the amusement of the children.

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December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas! We woke up bright and early at 6:00 AM to attend the local Born-Again Christian service at 7 AM at Prayer Palace. The people of Uganda are generally very religious – as a predominantly Christian country, there are churches all over Kampala, nearly all of them of the “Born Again” (Pentecostal) denomination. The service was very different from anything I have ever experienced – everyone gathered under a large covered shed with space for about 500, and for the first hour, the congregation sang songs (no need to sing in tune or along with the words – pretty much, the songs gave free license to everyone to make as much noise and movement as desired). The songs are very modern, set to the orchestration of drums, keyboard, and a group of back-up dancers. Amina (grandmother) is very spiritual – we were one of the first to arrive because she didn’t want to miss anything.


[Picture of Christmas Service at Prayer Palace. Courtesy: Jiashan Wu]

Amina is truly very sweet and loving – even at her age, she never stops working. In fact, she singlehandedly plants and cultivates crops to feed the students of the school on a large plot of land she owns far in the country. She also takes care of the Irene and all the other HIV+ orphans of the school, making sure that each and every child takes their medicine correctly and visits the free clinic on a regular basis. Although she herself is Christian, the Peace School openly welcomes children of every different religious and ethnic background, and does not discriminate. Our church attendance constituted a very much a personal, family affair.

Everyone came to church dressed in their finest for Christmas service – lots of shiny traditional clothing, but also fancy gowns of every type. The Pentecostal church emphasizes God’s unique ability to reward his devout worshippers financially. As you can imagine, in many developing countries, this form of Christianity grounded in material affirmation in this current life, rather than rewards for faith in the afterlife, has attracted a substantial following. In stark contrast to Anglican formality, as evident in the stodgy services at Oxford I’ve become accustomed to, Pentecostalism is very much grounded in a charismatic preacher and the communion of worship. The service was very much a mixture of Lugandan, the main language of the Bagandan tribe, and English, so I admit I didn’t fully follow everything. Then again, speaking in tongues constituted a portion of the impassioned pastor’s speech, so perhaps I wasn’t meant to have understood!

Afterward, we went back to the house to chat with the kids before lunch. Elijah and I had a long conversation bout the Ugandan education system and the challenges he faces. Elijah is the son of Madina, and according to Joanita, has excelled in his classes. He just finished the national high school examinations and is anxiously awaiting his results to see whether he qualifies for a national university.

We then ate a tasty traditional Christmas meal around noon – chicken, cabbage, rice, potatoes, beans, and spaghetti. The dishes were very similar to the food we eat on a daily basis, but with greater variety normally unavailable. As the staple food is “matoke” (steamed mashed plantain), rice and spaghetti are considered luxury items reserved for special occasions. I probably ate too much for my own good, but I was so hungry from waking up so early in the morning.

Afterward, I spent some time informally chatting with the older boys, all about secondary school age (14-16 years old) – Bashir, a boy from next door, Josh, a friendly boy from the village who resides at the Peace School during holidays, Isaac, a rather quiet boy who aspires to be an artist, and Farook, the son of Solomon and brother of Sharifah. There are so many people around that I often lose track of the different family connections. Many of these boys are orphans or from single-parent households, loosely related to the Bbaale family through various distant connections. Sometimes I have trouble distinguishing because everyone considers each other “brother” and “sister”, regardless of whether they are actually related!

[All the boys dressed in the University of Richmond shirts given to them by Joanita and Iria. From Left to Right: Isaac, Sula (tall one), Bashir, Josh, Elijah, and Farook. Courtesy: Jiashan Wu]

Christmas is a big deal because for once, the family rests and the children play rather than contributing to the housework. Joanita and I handed out our gifts today. Joanita had clothes and so many supplies for all the children, while I had some shiny wrapped gifts for grandmother, Madina, Joanita, and supposedly the “best behaved” children (Joanita’s recommended way of allocating, as I didn’t bring enough for everyone). Honestly, I didn’t realize how many children stick around the Peace School during Christmas vacation, else I would be better prepared! I reserved a gift for Barbara, who we support on Givology, but gave out a railroad calendar to Sula, a very bright and hardworking boy and Christmas tumblers to Elijah.

Jia and I then led the kids through some games. In particular, the game of charades resulted in cheerful hilarity as the kids typically put down very simple words and were unused to acting, though everyone enjoyed the antics greatly. Then, given that I had given all the children a shared gift of a large poster paint set, we all started painting, to the children’s delight. Jia brought a pop-up Christmas book about the “Night Before Christmas”, which she handed to Elijah to read to all the children. All the kids, especially the little ones, became enraptured with the simple story.

[Picture of the Farook and Bashir playing checkers on the board they created. The games that the young people came up with really fascinated Jia and me. Courtesy: Jiashan Wu]

I suppose the gifts that Jia and I were not necessarily the most utilitarian items. Joanita, on the other hand, came prepared with everything from toothbrushes to deodorant. I suppose we came with more of the “luxury/discretionary” items, such as an artist’s pad, Christmas stockings, paint, and flavored tea. But I suppose discretionary expenditures make holiday gifts special – rather than items of need, the kids get to enjoy simple toys they want.

The drawings the children came up with were all very good! The majority of the kids painted landscapes or copied images, but there was a definite love and enthusiasm of art. After painting, we played some really fun games with the children – card games (I learned lots of fun tricks from Bashir!), number games (Sula is very good at math and showed us some really interesting math tricks and number puzzles that he came up with himself), checkers (bottlecaps on a cardboard piece the kids made themselves), and tick-tac-toe (the Ugandan way with different rules).

[Dama shows off her painting of a tree. She’s definitely really talented! I found Dama extremely thoughtful - she had such an extraordinary elegance in everything that she did. Courtesy: Jiashan Wu]

While organizing the painting, I felt a bit like a real teacher. In light of my chosen field (financial economics), teaching probably is a career choice I’ve never before considered, but while showing the kids new games and activities, I found the experience really rewarding. I do, however, feel bad because we made a relatively large mess and although the kids and I were having fun, everyone tomorrow would have a ot of work to maintain the property! Madina (the eldest of Amina’s daughters) and the womenfolk constantly clean, cook, and wash, and the boys help out with all the chores.

By now, the sky had gotten dark. Little Farook, a little orphaned boy no more than ten years old, and Dama, recently graduated from secondary school, came at the end to paint, having only just finished their chores. I suppose I have a few observations to make about the social microcosm of the Peace School. The natural social order tends to go from oldest to youngest, direct children of the living Bbaale family to the children of the deceased Bbaale family, and then finally, the orphans. Little Farook is so small for a ten year old – he continually smiles and speaks very limited English. Unlike gregarious and outgoing Shanelle, Morris and Helen’s 3.5 year old daughter (who insists she is five), Little Farook is much shyer around strangers. I gave Farook my journal and he drew a really realistic picture of a helicopter in it, as his dream is to fly planes around the world.

[Picture of Little Farook doing some of the washing around the Peace School complex. One of these days, I’ll scan in some of the drawings that the children created in my journal! Courtesy: Jiashan Wu]

Listening to stories, I’m slowly picking up on different tidbits of the more complex nature and history of the Peace School. Joanita’s father, a very enterprising, hardworking, and kindhearted man, had built up a chain of businesses and accumulated land, but with is sudden and unexpected passing just a few years prior, the family lost a lot of assets as people took advantage of the situation and stole a lot of the property. Even now, the school is still sorting through all the details, which has certainly destabilized the sustainable revenue sources formerly available. As her father had been in fine health and the stroke completely unanticipated, there was very limited written record of all the property and assets.

[Picture of the school yard – the murals painted on the classroom walls are all so cheery. Courtesy: Jiashan Wu]

The financial need is just so great. Yesterday night, right before dinner, Amina (the aspiring human rights lawyer currently in her first year of college, one of the first graduates of the Peace School) came up to me as for financial assistance to pay her school fees. I wanted nothing more than to help her, but unlike fees for primary and secondary school, tuition comes out to be about one million shillings a semester (About $700 USD). Even I wanted to help, raising about $1,500 to get her through the year, that would not be enough for all four years of the law program. Having heard the story of how her father’s chickens suddenly died due to the purchase of poor feed, her sisters currently dropping out of school and pursuing self study as they have no funds to take the examinations to pass to the next year, and Amina teetering on the edge of not being able to continue school, I wished more than anything that I could help. But even though I am from the US, I suppose it’s hard for the local people to recognize that I’m still a student myself and that despite all the glamorous images of the US in movies and TV shows, not everyone is automatically wealthy with unlimited resources. Compared to some of the orphans and the children from the distant rural villages, Amina and her sisters are relatively better off, but the need is still really great.

I’m really happy that the Task Force started at the University of Richmond will help with the raising, transfer, and monitoring of funds. Iria is really organized and methodical, gung-ho in her conviction and not letting details slip through. And Joanita is the kind-hearted visionary who breathes life into the school. I suppose one trouble the school currently faces is that because Amina (grandmother) is so kind-hearted, a lot of people often take advantage of her goodwill and utilize and misappropriate the family’s resources, which leaves less available for the school, as the family finances the gap in school operating costs. But with the task force in place, an action plan to resolve these problems has been set into motion! No operation is ever perfect, but I’m deeply impressed with the immense love, dedication, and commitment of the entire family and Peace School community.

I suppose more than anything, this is a Christmas that I will long remember – a Christmas less about receiving gifts and indulging in conspicuous consumption and pre-fabricated entertainment, rather, a wholesome experience with family. I suppose the kids here appreciate and take pleasure in simple games and activities a lot more – one paint set can occupy a everyone for hours! As much as I am enjoying myself here, however, I do miss my own family at home. I can imagine Grace, mom, and dad waking up bright and early to peer under the Christmas tree for Santa’s yearly letter, our tradition, and a day of family activities and winter fun. Despite the summer weather, being here at the Peace School reminds me of what makes Christmas special – there’s truly a great joy in giving and sharing, an ineffable happiness from just spending time together.
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December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve today! I woke up early at 8:30 AM and ate some Ugandan brown bread with bananas and dry roasted peanuts. Rather than go to town, we spent a complete day at the Peace School, playing with the kids and taking more photos and videos.

One of the favorite games the children play is called “cigarette”. Basically, you go around a circle and chant, “cigarette, cigarette, how many cigarettes does your father smoke in one day?” Then, a number is named and a count-down to elimination, until the last remaining child chases all the others in a game of tag.

[Photo of the children playing “lost message from pocket”. Courtesy: Jiashan Wu]


[Photo of the children playing “cigarette”. Courtesy: Jiashan Wu]

Today was a rather cool day in temperature, so I enjoyed running around and playing with the children. Jia, ever the professional, recorded a lot of great footage of the school and the students.

[Photo of Jia and Irene playing on the porch]

Early afternoon, a man from Ugandan Solar came to discuss an upgrade of the current system. I’m happy to see how powerful and useful solar energy can be – a reliable source of energy to generate light in all the classrooms. The solar man showed us the different components – inverter to convert DC to AC for use, the control system to prevent discharging and overcharging, the batteries to store up to 14V (for future net metering), and of course, the solar panels, designed to last a minimum of 25 years. As a form of pre-paid energy, Solar requires a rather substantial up-front cost.

[Photo of the solar control box. Courtesy: Jiashan Wu]

Afterward, we had lunch around 3 PM and watched a video of the school, taken during the summer with the University of Richmond volunteers worked as volunteers. One serious conversation Joanita and I had was about AIDS. Evidently Irene is HIV positive, which I completely didn’t know about, especially since she appeared very energetic and lively. When she stopped taking her ARVs (her grandmother would give them to her, but she would hide them and refuse to eat them), she became very sick. Bother of her parents passed away from AIDS, and she was born with the condition. She’s such a sweet, kind girl – a little bit of a natural born performer. This morning, she made me a fan and a friendship bracelet.


[Picture of Irene braiding a friendship bracelet. She didn't have any tape to hold the string still, so she comissioned the help of little Farook]

I wouldn’t have been able to tell at all that she was sick. I guess a lot of experience here has been just that – all the kids smile a lot and play, but each face a lot of difficulties that they courageously surmount, hardships that many kids in other countries can’t even imagine! One astounding realization is that sickness and death play much more of a role in daily life than in ours – in many ways, this epiphany is truly humbling.

I guess jet lag finally caught up with me, so I took a much needed nap. Joanita, Jia, Iria, and I then took inventory of all the assets at the Upper Campus, as needed by the lawyer. We walked around the campus and discussed was to expand the school and best utilize the space.

Christmas Eve here is all about family and being together – spiritual celebration, no material exchange. We had a special meal of rice and chicken for dinner, and then afterward, I helped Joanita sort through all the clothing, supplies, and gifts that we bought for the children of the school and for the children of the village that we’ll soon be visiting in a couple of days!
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December 23, 2009

A rooster is a wonderful natural alarm clock, except that he awakes at 5 AM in the morning. Having slept for the majority of the plane ride, I awoke early to welcome a very bright morning. When I entered into the living room, many of the resident students at Peace School – the orphans who have no home to return to and the children of the Bbaale family – came to greet me.

We chatted informally for about an hour. With no adults around, I got a more honest and informal opinion about life in Kampala. In particular, Elijah, a very talkative young man, shared with me his concerns and doubts about the Ugandan Education System. High school students evidently work very hard, attending class for more than 12 hours a day and then studying an additional four hours, all of which involves a lot of memorization of theory and textbooks rather than practical experimentation. Elijah, who recently took the university entrance exams, felt that after so many years of high school, he still lacks a real skill. Farook, Josh, Sula, Isaac, and the other boys were very much Elijah’s silent and smiling friends. Later on, Amina, Dama, Irene, and Barbara joined in on the conversation. Irene and Barbara I immediately recognized as being two of the students we sponsor on Givology.

[Above is a portrait of Irene]

Irene is such an endearing child! As both her parents passed away from AIDS, she now resides with her grandmother, the heart of the Peace School. She was really shy and quiet at first, unlike Shareen and Natasha, the two girls who live with Helen and Morris, the secretary and director of the school. But shortly afterwards, Irene warmed up and happily showed me around the Peace School while singing, laughing, and dancing. What a lively trio!


[Picture of Irene, Shareen, Natasha, and Me]

Growing up, I always played a lot of invented games with my little sister, and this was a time for me to pull them out again, nearly twenty years later. The little children all seemed to enjoy these games immensely. As one would expect, they have to be very creative in coming up with their own sources of amusement as there isn’t very much around in terms of toys and prefabricated entertainment.

Barbara is very quiet and measured, but with a certain intensity. She told me that her favorite subject is math and that as a fourth grade student, she finds school rather easy for her. She’s so quiet, often times you would hardly notice her entering or exiting a room, but she’s always watching, very curious.


[Picture of Barbara]

We ate a breakfast of Ugandan tea, brown bread, bananas, and roasted peanuts before heading out to the city to settle some legal issues regarding the relocation of the Peace School’s Lower Campus. Before we left, Morris – the brother of Joanita and the Director of the School – gave us a tour of the school buildings and grounds. I’ll be posting a lot of pictures later, but it is truly amazing how much the school is able to pack in so many buildings and classrooms under very strict area limitations.


[Picture of Peace School Buildings]

The classrooms are rather small for 25-30 students, and the walls are filled with posters and learning aids hand-created by the teachers. The students don’t have very much – unlike their primary school counterparts in the United States with toys, computer games, professional decorations, and printed posters, everything in this school is created by hand. Along the walls of the schools, there are murals and painted diagrams of so many different things, from geographic maps of East Africa to a diagram of the digestive system.


[Picture of the Peace School murals]

The dorms are rather small to pack in 20 people, but the school doesn’t have much space to spare. Two children share each bed, stacked in neat bunks. Despite the limited space, everything is clean and orderly. I even saw some of the student letters written for Givology pasted proudly on the wall! Recently, the kids started a pen pal program with an elementary school class in Richmond – by trading letters, the students of the both the Peace School and their counterparts can form new friendships and better understand each other’s culture. From what I’ve seen, after a moment of initial hesitation, the children are not camera shy and love posing for pictures and seeing themselves appear on the small LCD screen of Jia’s video-camcorder.

[Youtube video of the Peace School]


[Picture of the girls posing – I handed Natasha, Shareen, and Irene my camera and allowed them to take some photos of their own. Their photos turned out really good!]

After doing the tour of the Upper Campus, we took the minibus to town to meet with the lawyer, exchange some money, and then do some shopping. The meeting with the lawyer went very well – the school will be formally incorporated as a non-profit in Uganda by the start of January, and I will be assisting with the inventory of the assets for the deed of re-assignment for the transfer of Lower School property to the Upper Campus. The process of approach for the name change to Circle of Peace School will require the school to undergo a new inspection by the Ministry of Education. Although nothing will have changed, the administrative hurdles require the initiation of the entire licensing process.

Afterward, we to exchange some money and buy a Christmas tree at a relatively fancy and modern shopping complex. Along the way, Amina and I chatted about politics in Uganda and the crisis of youth unemployment. Basically, Uganda is ruled by the National Resistant Movement, led by Yoweri Museveni. The part holds almost unitarily all the power – although Uganda returned to multi-party politics in July 2005, the competitor party (Forum for Democratic Change) has only very limited influence. Youth unemployment is a critical issue – even a university graduate often returns to sell sweets on the street, according to Amina. Even doctors and lawyers recently graduated from university struggle to find jobs because firms don’t hire until vacancies arise, and the elderly senior professionals tend to stay in their jobs for a very long time.

The shopping complex was very modern, juxtaposed by security guards carrying scary looking guns. We exchanged some money after some trouble (298,000 Ugandan shippings for 100 pounds), then spent quite a bit of time in the supermarket. Jia and I would have preferred to visit the actual outdoor market, but our hosts seemed to think that the hustle and bustle would be unsuitable for us, preferring to show us the best of their country instead.

Just when I was about to leave, I bumped into Carina and Vinayak, my classmates from Oxford last year who are doing their ODI fellowships in Uganda. What a coincidence – the chance of me bumping into them is so unlikely!

That evening, we went back to the house to set up the Christmas tree – I had lots of fun playing with the children. The women of the household work so hard – they spend an entire day in the kitchen, cooking, preparing food, and then the rest of the time cleaning the house, washing clothes, and maintaining the property, including the fields. Amina, who I’ve taken to calling grandmother, looks to be nearing eighty, but she works non-stop as head of the household. It was heartbreaking when Irene told me that she was worried that grandmother was working herself sick in preparing everything for us! Amina is deeply spiritual and is the heart of the school and home. She owns fields in a distant village and grows and harvests beans, yams, and corn to feed the children. She keeps herself occupied non-stop; I really wanted to help her, but she keeps on insisting that everything is fine.


I’ll take some time to discuss the sustainable forms of finance for the school:

1. Chicken Farm: The children assist in the collection of the eggs and taking care of the chickens to produce some revenue for the school. They even have an ugly old turkey.

2. Agricultural plot away from the school – the crops produced feed the ~200 students and the family, teachers, and staff

3. Alumni contributions as assistant teachers and mentors. During their holiday vacations, the alumni return to the Peace School and contribute their time and labor.

4. Small donations by parents who can afford it – According to Passy, the Director of the Lower School, there is about a 50/50 split between students that pay no fees whatsoever and students who contribute a small nominal amount to sustain the Peace School

5. Volunteering by the teachers – teachers are paid salaries, but many are associated with Joanita’s family and choose to forgo salary in return for food and housing.

The school is more than just an education enterprise, it is a community in it of itself. While hear, the house is always filled with visitors – alumni, current students, family members, neighborhood children, among many others. I’ve never felt the experience of living in such a large family before!

We set up the Christmas tree that night – a gift given by Iria to the family. Even though a Christmas tree is definitely a guilty splurge of sorts, there’s a certain unique celebratory joy that comes from these rare expenditures. I put the gifts that I brought under the Christmas tree, while Jia recorded the children singing and dancing!

The house is very cheery, but there are always some underlying wistful tones. Zamu who is separated from her mother (who resides in Richmond) and wants nothing more than to be reunited, Irene who misses and idolizes her deceased parents, and Amina and Elijah, bored with life in the village and frustrated with the lack of opportunity even after a successful academic trajectory.

Afterward, we all came together in the living room to listen to some music. I really like popular Ugandan music, all with strong beats, a distinctively cheery melody, and rich instrumentation. Dinner started at 10:30 PM, much later than I’m used to, but with fresh hot steamed plantain (motoke), groundnut sauce, spilled cabbage, spaghetti, and a bit of chicken (actually, I probably saw this children alive earlier today), I was more than content!
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December 22, 2009

I managed to avert near disaster by arriving at Heathrow three hours before my scheduled departure. Given the surge of holiday travel and resentment over the cancelled strike, the British Airways departure hall has descended into a maddening chaos. It took me more than two hours to drop off my baggage, perhaps the slowest “fast drop off” I’ve ever experienced. Flying tends not to agree with me so I’m hoping to sleep through the entire eight hour journey. Having feasted the night prior on a traditional British Christmas dinner at Rhodes House, my stomach still feels uncomfortably bloated, but I forced myself to swallow a sandwich as the malaria pills I’m taking – doxycycline – causes unpleasant stomach pains if not taken with food. One would expect that being a relatively frequent flyer would dull one’s distaste of flying. In my case, however, this has certainly proven true!

I found Joanita, Jia, and Iria relatively quickly – I’ve corresponded so much through Skype with Joanita that I immediately recognized her voice before anything else. Jia was loaded with so much professional camera equipment . Coupled with my own pocket camcorder, trusted digital camera, and large camcorder I picked up from the daughter of Joanita’s sister who resides in the suburbs outside of London, we’ll certainly have much flexibility in the tools we work with! Thankfully, I found the flight rather uneventful – uncomfortable, but bearable.

We arrived at Entebbe around 1 AM. What a surprise to discover that so many people came to greet us and take us back to the Peace School! Joanita’s brothers, sisters, and elderly mother came, along with a van filled with alumni of the Peace School and lots of little ones who currently reside on campus. The children are absolutely adorable – inquisitive, excitable, and so eager to make friends with all of us. I also met Amina, one of the first graduates of the Peace School who is now a first year undergraduate studying law. Joanita truly has such a large and loving family! I’ve never experienced before such a welcoming, grandiose reception!

We drove to Kampala, and I had a chance to catch up with Iria, Joanita’s colleague from the University of Richmond and member of the Peace School Task Force. Unlike at home where pervasive light pollution prevents the sky from completely darkening, here, a complete darkness blankets the town, leaving the stars ever so much brighter. Jia, as a true professional, kept on shooting video footage. If she continues in the same way that she has started, we’ll certainly have a very complete video and photo record for all of you!

We arrived at the Peace School about 20 minutes later, and a huge contingent came to greet us, many of them boarding students of the school or alumni who have returned for their summer break. I met Irene (Natsume Ivy) who we sponsored on Givology, along with four girls and four boys from the original class that started on Joanita’s porch nearly 15 years ago – the same porch that we crossed to enter her children home. The alumni clearly adore her, and view their time at the Peace School as one of their happiest and most significant memories.

Too often missing the first critical years of primary school can set a child back permanently as he or she finds herself perpetually behind. The foundations set by the Peace School – that education is the greatest gift and hard work eventually pays off – are evident in the aspirations of these children. When we all gathered in the living room, despite the late hour, Joanita asked each to the children to introduce himself or herself and to share his or her goals. Amina wants to be a lawyer, Aisha a neurosurgeon, Mariam a doctor, Zamu a journalist, Elijah an engineer…and the list continues. And somehow, these dreams aren’t just pie in the sky aspirations – each of these children has been studying hard and preparing as much as they can. As in the case of Amina, many of them are very much along their way, despite a humble background.

The Peace School doesn’t turn away students who can’t afford to pay tuition fees. In the case of orphans or children from families too poor to provide any monetary remuneration, the Peace School provides not just free tuition, but housing, clothing, food, and school supplies. In effect, these children become part of the Peace School family community, live on premises, and contribute to the work of the household and the school. No wonder so many children came to greet us!

The house we are staying at is delightful – located right at the school, the home is very colorful and cheery filled with pictures of the family and the children. Joanita grew up in this very house – I must imagine the joy of being able to come home once again after more than a decade abroad in the United States! The little ones (Irene, Shareen, Shanelle, Natasha) sang us a greeting song that was so adorable that would melt the heart of even the unkindest personality. By now, it was 4 AM in the morning – way past everyone’s bedtime as the household rises very early – yet everyone remained so cheerful and accommodating. The family had prepared a large meal for us in welcome. Although none of us felt like we could eat very much, polite decorum dictated that we had at least o same the rice, noodles, curried potatoes and cabbage, and chicken.

I took a shower (though probably didn’t get all the shampoo residue from my hair successfully out as showering from a basin/bucket is unfamiliar territory for me), figured out the intricacies of sleeping under a mosquito net (in appearance, it feels like sleeping under a very dainty canopy bed), and promptly fell asleep as the rooster started crowing. Ironically, our end of the day marked the Bbaale household’s start of the day!
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Yesterday morning, I returned from Uganda to an empty campus at Oxford. What a tremendous sense of dislocation to go from sunny heat to snow and children and family everywhere at the Peace School to the emptiness of Oxford during break. In the evening, I managed to catch Jia and my friends from the Peace School online through Skype – to imagine that just 12 hours prior, I was right there with them in the dining room, and now, I’m thousands of miles and a continent away!

I have so much to write and share about my experiences at the Peace School. Jia and I captured hours and thousands of videos and photos, and I kept a detailed journal of all that has transpired. Starting on January 15th, I will be posting my journal entries, day by day to both my personal blog and my Givology blog. Before then, I’ll forbid myself from writing anything too specific. I’ll try and post my entries verbatim with minimal editing to capture the exact sentiment I felt at the time.

A thick snow has blanketed Oxford and London – Europe in general has gone through a deep freeze. I spent a quiet day unpacking my suitcase and sorting through all my memories and emotions over the last two and a half weeks. Coming back feels surreal – my time in Uganda wasn’t tremendously long, but somehow, it felt like a lifetime. In such a short period of time, I’ve made so many meaningful friendships, discovered so much about education and development, and feel inspired to do even more. Traveling to Uganda and living with Joanita’s family made me appreciate so much more in my life, and only reinforces my desire to mobilize Givology to do as much as possible. I felt very much part of the Peace School community, and looking back, I’ve accumulated so many stories of the people I have met that I will forever treasure.

I remember one conversation where one of the boys remarked that “Uganda is 1,000 years away from development.” Certainly, many problems remain, but I am optimistic for the future, especially given the ambitions of the young people, technology transfer shrinking the world, and evidence showing the community working together to share and give back, even if they do not have very much themselves.

Before leaving, I painted “Give to Learn, Learn to Give” on one of the classrooms that the Peace School built for the transfer of the Lower Campus to the Upper Campus. Some of the hired laborers laughed at the message, saying “To give you must first have.” But, as I explained to them, giving isn’t just about riches and money. Rather, giving is a mentality of sharing and offering your time, skills, and passion for helping others with no expectation of receiving remuneration in turn. We all have something give, even something as simple as kindness or emotional/spiritual support to a fellow individual in need can mean a lot.

The Peace School embodies this notion of “Give to Learn, Learn to Give”. They give so many vulnerable children the opportunity to learn and study for reduced or free tuition, with the hope that when these children grow up, they will do something beneficial for the community. Speaking with the alumni of the Peace School about their dreams and aspirations, it appears that over the last 15 years, the Peace School has certainly empowered many young people to aim high!

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