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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It’s nearly 1:00 AM as I’m finishing up my packing for my trip to Uganda. My British Airways flight to Entebbe leaves at 10:45 AM, but with the weather as poor as it is, I’m not taking my chances and plan to take the 6:20 AM bus to Heathrow Airport. With Oxford deserted as students have returned home for Christmas, a sentiment of eerie serenity blankets the town.

Representing Givology, I’m visiting the Peace Primary School in Kampala, Uganda, along with Joanita, the founder of the school, and Jia, my fellow Givology teammate. The story behind the Peace School is truly tremendous, and having corresponded with Joanita on a weekly basis since the start of our partnership nearly a year ago, I deeply admire her passion and commitment to making quality education to all children, regardless of their financial background. Jiefei, our research coordinator, interviewed Joanita earlier this year – click here to read Jiefei’s reflections. The Peace School provides free education to children who otherwise would not be able to afford tuition fees, many of them AIDS orphans. The commitment of the school to providing the highest quality instruction has resulted in so many success stories of alumni successfully entering law school, engineering school, nursing school, education school, design school, pilot school, among many other fields!

Jiefei’s post is very much worth reading
because it provides a really eloquent summary of the school’s vision and achievement to date. One particular quote from Joanita really resonated with me: “Poverty is intense in Uganda… Growing up, my parents provided me with education, not things or presents. Instead of holidays and birthdays, they emphasized education. They told me, ‘No one can take your education away from you. You will use it to help other people.’ Education was the only gift I could give these kids.”

My own mother used to tell me a very similar message: although money and assets can be stolen and youth and beauty fades with time, knowledge will forever be yours and never lose its value. I’m really passionate about education because more than anything, it is a gift that transforms lives. As a graduate student at Oxford University, I know that through the books I’m reading and the lectures that I’m attending, my world expands ever so much. As immigrants from Taiwan to the United States, my parents fostered in me a conviction that education is empowerment – to think is to truly live.

Jia and I will be staying with Joanita’s family, and will be working alongside the school staff, supporters, alumni, and other volunteers in moving the school. As you can read on the Peace School project profile, the Lower Campus was evicted from its current location this December, so Givology worked to secure funding to move the entire primary school to the Upper Campus. With the funding that we’ve obtained, we’ll be building new classrooms for the students! We were really fortunate to receive a 1,500 pound grant from the Rhodes Scholar Southern African Forum and have plugged in the difference with proceeds from microfundraisers held in Philadelphia, but we’re still below our target. Nevertheless, we won’t give up!

Joanita sent Jia and I an approximate program of activities, and I’m really excited about this trip. We’ll be taking lots of video and photographs to share with the entire Givology community, as well as deliver the letters that have been so thoughtfully written by all of you (special thanks to Nicole for getting her fellow high school students of Newton High School to write personalized letters)! As the Founding CEO of Givology, I spend so much of my time thinking about the students and schools that we support, so the opportunity to visit in person means so much to me.

Not going home for Christmas will invariably be difficult for me. I miss my own family tremendously, and this will be the second consecutive Christmas away from home. Yet, I will spend Christmas in Uganda at a wonderful school whose mission and impact have inspired so many!

Jia and I will be keeping a regular blog while we’re away, but the posts might come somewhat irregularly given intermittent e-mail access. I went to London on Saturday to pick up a camcorder and a suitcase loaded with supplies and toys for the children. Once I’m in Uganda, I’ll have a better sense of what the students need and how the Givology community can mobilize in support. Through Communitech at Penn, Madhav – our project manager – managed to secure three computer donations. Unfortunately, we’re stuck as to how to transport them in the most cost effective manner to Uganda, as both Jia and I have already exceeded the maximum baggage allowance. We’re always pinching pennies at Givology to lower every transaction cost (our trip is funded out-of-pocket…I wouldn’t have it any other way), so we’re trying different ways to minimize the costs of sending supplies and technology resources. Any suggestions or ideas would be very welcome!

I’d love to hear from all of you – questions you’d like me to ask the children and the teachers, any updates that you’d like to see, and of course, stories that you’d like to share during this holiday season. Our community has grown so much over the last year – all thanks to you, our Givologists!
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I remember once a few years ago, I was speaking to a classmate of mine who referred to the civil war in Sri Lanka and how that affected her family there. When I first heard I felt slightly taken aback… “civil war? Sri Lanka? Why haven’t I heard of this before?” Once I heard I immediately did a quick Google search and tried my hardest to comprehend the history of such a war. I keenly remember how I felt after realizing my ignorance about the Sri Lankan civil war. I felt… well I felt embarrassed. How did this escape my notice?

Well, this disappointment in myself happened to me again when I first heard about the Ugandan Civil War. Once again I thought “civil war? Uganda? Why haven’t I heard of this before?” I once again quickly remedied my ignorance through the internet.

I won’t go into why I think we don’t hear much about civil wars in Sri Lanka and Uganda, but I will delve into what I proceeded to learn about Africa’s longest running conflict.

The two sides fighting are the Ugandan government versus the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).

The LRA is a rebel group that believes in a amalgamation of Christianity, mysticism, witchcraft and Acholi tradition. One of their main goals is to have Ugandan law dictated by the Ten Commandments and Acholi tradition. This is an assumption though, scholars consider the LRA to be one of the least understood terrorist organizations in the world. When hearing LRA leaders speak there are obvious hypocrisies between what they say and do. They have raided boarding schools and villages repeatedly in order to abduct children. In total by 2005 over 20,000 children had been abducted. The boys were used as child soldiers and the girls as sex slaves for the older soldiers in the LRA.

Due to the turmoil many people in Northern Uganda have been forced to live in refugee camps. Living in these conditions means these people cannot farm their own food thus creating a food shortage in Uganda.

Strangely enough the group fighting for the Ten Commandments is the same group which in December 2008 raided and massacred many people attending Christmas services.

I can see why the LRA is one of the least understood terrorist groups.

I cannot fully wrap my head around what is going on in Uganda, but I encourage everyone to read more about it. What I can now understand, though, is the full significance of the Ugandan Peace Primary School.

I will quote a young girl named Mulungi Zaina who attends the school, “I am a Catholic and I go to St. Luke’s Catholic Church on Sundays. In our school we have Catholics, Protestants, Born Agains, and Muslims. We all get along very well.”

The Ugandan Peace Primary School is not only an inspiration because it welcomes children generally marginalized by society: the poor and orphans. It is also an inspiration because amidst one of the worst and most ignored conflicts going on in our world, they bring their country a little closer to peace.

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While looking over some notes about the effects of education and economics, I came across two unfamiliar terms: ability bias, and signaling.

I googled these terms immediately and found an article discussing both.

The article which I found bothered me, but before I discuss that I will discuss what each term means.

Ability bias is the claim that people who go onto higher education do not earn more money than their counterparts because of their higher education. Instead people who choose to go onto higher education have higher IQs. Thus if hypothetically these people with higher IQs did not go onto college, they would still make more money than their counterparts. Essentially the point is that a person earns more money because they have a higher IQ, not because of the education they received in college or beyond.

In labor economics many people talk about signaling as a way to distinguish yourself from the rest of the applicants for a job. A degree, serves as a signal that a person essentially jumped through various hoops in order to prove their IQ. In other words a degree is a signal to employers that distinguishes you from other applicants because the degree proves your innate abilities.

In this article (found here: I found that the author essentially made those points.

I find these arguments troubling to say the least.

I think both of these arguments are detrimental to Givology’s goal of spreading access to education in developing areas.

Here’s why,
The argument for the ability bias, to me is very dangerous. I see it as a correlation between how much someone earns to how intelligent someone is. I think that not only extremely simplifies why people are in poverty but it also leaves those not in poverty with a sense of comfort. It can lead people to think they reached their stages of comfort because they had the higher IQ, something innate. This thinking leaves many with the excuse to not help the disadvantaged, as though they are in their situations because they lack the necessary IQ. In reality educating those who are impoverished yields extremely high returns especially when people continue onto secondary education.

Now, no doubt I believe there is validity to ability bias at times. I feel that when we control for many factors such as level of wealth and the level of parent’s educational attainment, a case may be made that those who continue to higher realms of education do so because they have higher IQs.

Now my problem with signaling, as many economists claim a degree does, is that it in many ways de-emphasizes the importance of education. Education is not simply jumping through hoops in order to attain a degree and say “Pay more attention to me now.” Education is one of the greatest tools we have that can level the playing field across the world. It gives children across the globe the ability to leave their villages and compete on a global scale with the necessary skills. Education increases cognitive skills. It provides a sense of community, a challenging yet nurturing atmosphere. It helps us encourage not only core subjects such as math and reading comprehension, but also valuable life skills such as critical thinking.

Education matters. Arguments emphasizing innate ability and IQ simplify the world around us. Simplifying the world could lead to marginalizing the next Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, or Henry David Thoreau. These very people saw the complexity surrounding us, and they tried to better understand it.
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I’m sure we all see some type of charity campaign almost every week, and at one point we are so well aware of the issues that we simply lack the attention span to give it a second thought.

In fact, I myself was not the most active advocate around. I often passed by the brochures, the messages and the advertisements senselessly and considered them yet another brainchild of some help-seeking organizations. What I so often forgot, however, was that they’re not pleading for my help, but really reminding me that it is my duty as a member of society to give.

I must confess, I sometimes take so many things in life for granted and overlook the fact that the same resources that I habitually waste are the very supply vital to the continuation of food, water and basic necessities of life in places like Uganda.

In Uganda, there is a place called Peace Primary School, where kids can be kids away from the worries of daily life. Peace Primary School, which started in 1994 as a nursery school, educates about 200 children, mostly orphans and the destitute, up to 7th grade education. For us, this may not sound like much, but for the children, it is their dream come true.

The school, however, faces great trouble as the cost for electricity, which provides power to light classrooms, dormitories, office and school yard, is whopping 10 times greater than what average US householder would pay for the same energy source. And to make matters worse, just when AHEAD Energy, an organization devoted to providing energy systems and development projects in growing nations, was about to initiate a solar energy project, the plan faltered with the electric utility’s cutting off of the school’s power source and a $500 bill that came along.

Now Givology has partnered up with the AHEAD Energy for its Peace Primary School Project, hoping to connect the donors to the people in Uganda praying for the little energy source they can get.

There is, however, something I found unique about this project from other Givology plans: it’s eco-friendly! This project is good for the people and for the environment. For those active environmentalists, perhaps this is a chance to catch two birds with one stone.

How is it an eco-success? All the energy projects proposed by AHEAD utilizes solar power, organic waste and rain water to supply energy to the school, alleviating the much stressed environmental issues our society is facing. AHEAD plans to build a rainwater harvesting system which can collect rain to be used for toilet flushing, cleaning, laundry and bathing, continue the solar energy project to provide lighting at night for extended curriculum, implement a new solar thermal water heating program to warm up the water for cleaning, bathing and laundry, and—this is my favorite—build a biodigester which converts organic waste material (manure) into methane gas for cooking.

Uganda Peace School Sustainable Energy Project was unique to me for one more reason: it allowed me to realize once again that perhaps there need no reasons for my donation, that perhaps my continuous attempt to find a reason to donate was wrong in itself, because it’s not only AHEAD Energy that should be sending hands of assistance but everyone, including myself, as well.

Let’s make a promise on one thing: when we hear the phrase “make a change,” let’s not simply laugh it away, but let’s truly take those words into our hearts and make it our responsibility for a lifetime.
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Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations on December 10, 1948:

(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.

(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.

Almost every country in the world recognizes education as one of the basic entitlements due to all people. Around the world today, however, more than 101 children of primary school age are out of school.

The graph below, taken from UNICEF’s statistics homepage, shows that number of primary age school children who were not enrolled in school in 2007.

Although there has been tremendous progress over the past few decades, largely in part due to the Millennium Development Goals campaign, persistent regional gaps still remain. For example, 46 million and 35 million primary school age children are not enrolled in school in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, respectively.

More importantly, the quality of schooling has emerged as a central concern. Even if children are enrolled in school, there is no guarantee that the quality of schooling is sufficient. A recent World Bank study found that 25% of government primary school teachers are absent from work, and only 50% are actually engaged in the act of teaching while at work. When teachers are often underpaid or undertrained, education itself can become useless and only a drain on family finances. Hence, improving the quality of schools will become one of the most essential challenges, especially as enrollment rates have improved dramatically.


Our mission at Givology is to provide students access to quality education throughout the world. As we’re kicking off our campaign for the Peace Primary School in Uganda, we’re cognizant of the challenges of delivering cost-effective, impactful schooling to some of the neediest and most underserved communities. One of the reasons why we’re so enthusiastic about the Peace Primary School is because the school has achieved some of the best results in the entire region, despite its focus on nurturing some of the most underprivileged students.

Many of the Peace School’s students are orphans whose parents have died of AIDS. Without the school, these children would have no one to care for them. The School provides for all their needs: housing, food, clothing, medical care, emotional support. Both Christian and Muslim children attend the School, which is open to people of all faiths. This is truly remarkable in a country that has been torn by ethnic and religious conflict. When we think back to the horrors over the last few decades committed by the Lord’s Resistance Army, we can truly appreciate the remarkable mission and commitment of the Peace Primary School.

The way the school works is also particularly enterprising. Families of school children contribute what little they can to their children’s education. To make up the gap in funding, the school earns operating funds by raising poultry, and children assist in gathering and selling eggs. At certain times of the year, chickens are also butchered and sold to fund school programs and initiatives. What an exemplary way to raise money and sustainably invest it in the school!

As we go about in our daily lives, it’s always worthwhile to pause and think about the impact of our actions. Everyone can make a difference – be it volunteering, spreading awareness, or even just talking to friends and families about important global issues.

Even a couple dollars to support the Peace Primary School can make a tremendous difference in the livelihoods of students, families, and communities. I really urge you to support our campaign – please do join our Peace Primary School Giving Teamto receive some of our latest updates from the school and to participate in our campaign.

Student Assembly at the Peace Primary School

Eating Lunch at the Peace Primary School

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2009-07-22 17:10:07 | Tags: team uganda-peace-primary-scho
In many ways, a picture is worth a thousand words. Below are some of the most recent pictures from the Peace Primary School. Thank you all for your support!

Getting ready for lunch:

Lower School Classroom:

MJ Reading a Story to the Class:

P3 Class:

P4 Class:

P7 Class:

School Yard:

Students Give the Thumbs Up:

Waiting in the Lunch Line:

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Lets pretend, shall we?

The school near your house is charging an astronomical fee; with your parents out of the picture you simply can’t afford it. You’re disappointed but that’s OK you found this really great boarding school that won’t charge you, they just ask that you work hard.

It’s your first day and things are going great, the other students are in the same position as you, and everyone’s ready to buckle down and work hard.

Now the fun begins, your first class, geography. First you realize there’s no electricity that day because the power company jacked up the prices and the school can’t afford to pay for electricity. You’re a little disappointed because you can’t see your teacher’s powerpoint showing maps of countries around the world, but it’s no big deal. These things happen, and the geography book you share with your two other desk-mates works too.

Then you realize that without electricity there will also be no light to do homework. This means you can’t study at night… this is a slight problem with your Algebra test in a few days, but with a few hours before the sun sets some time can still be devoted to factoring polynomials.

Finally it’s nighttime and you really enjoyed your first day making friends and having some structured classes at last. You’re sure that tomorrow will go more smoothly and are getting ready for your shower before you go to bed. As you enter the shower area and reach for the water to pour over your body, you are shocked. It’s freezing!

No electricity AND no hot water? What else could go wrong?

Take this day and repeat it over and over again. It would probably make you want to go home.

In Uganda’s Peace Primary School that is not an option. These problems are every day ordeals and the students overlook these difficulties in their attempts to continue their education. Their commitment and hard work never ceases to astound me. This astonishment comes from the girl who likes to prelude her studying with a Starbucks grande iced skim vanilla latte – light on the ice please.

The children aren’t asking for iced lattes, they’re asking for clean water, consistently available electricity, a water heater, and a form of fuel to cook meals with.

By teaming up with AHEAD Energy, Givology would like to help provide sustainable forms of energy to this school.

Through our Givology campaign, what if we each gave up that one thing we need to get us through the week, take that money we save and donate it towards the Givology project for the Peace Primary School?

I know, I know, it’s practically blasphemy to ask people to make sacrifices. But let’s really consider what this means before we cling to our cosmopolitans, lattes, and green tea fro-yo.

Whether it’s keeping yourself from buying a few less drinks at the bar, going with a smaller dose of your usual caffeine rush, walking by that delectable bakery on your way home from work, or ignoring the crazy sales going on at H&M... it's not really blasphemous to ask for this, right?

Donating your small sacrifice not only helps the kids at the Peace Primary School, but it fosters the message of Givology, we don’t want to wait for you to strike it rich and donate a million dollars (that doesn’t mean we would mind if you did!). We’re asking for as many people to contribute whatever they can.

Because we're always learning to give.
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