Joyce Meng's Blog

Preparing for Uganda

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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