August 27, 2010

Engaging the Youth of Uganda. ~ Angelica Towne

Did you hear the wake up call?

As the army guards retreat from their posts at every corner and the constant blare of sirens for AU Summit delegate motorcades finally fades, I am left to ponder my last two years living in Kampala and what will happen next in Uganda. The July 11 Kampala bombings detonated around the corner from my new house. The blast rattled my windows but did not wake me. I see this reaction as a metaphor for the world and Uganda’s response to such acts of random violence—rattled but not awakened to action.

The Ugandan newspapers have been flooded with grotesque pictures of lifeless victims, government declarations of swift vengeance, and opinion articles calling for everything from African Union dissolution and withdrawal from Somalia to militaristic manhunts for Al Shabab leaders. As a teacher and non-profit manager, I am not qualified nor willing to propose the appropriate reaction; however, as an (albeit temporary) member of the Ugandan community, I believe it is an important time to emphasize the appropriate action we should all be taking to ensure development, safety, and most importantly peace.

Our first priority is to promote engagement—get involved in countries such as Uganda and Somalia and stay involved. I have lost count of the number of well-meaning pleas for my staff and I to return to the safety of the U.S. Of course, as a New Yorker who watched the windows of my high school crack under the force of the Twin Towers’ falling, I have a different appreciation of the “safety” of home. If we can do nothing else, organizations can remain strong and continue to support the development of Uganda.

Government officials from Uganda and the U.S. recognize the importance of safeguarding against hotbeds of extremism in Africa and the rest of the world. But have you heard any of those government officials outline a clear prevention strategy? Similar to Somalia, in Uganda nearly 50% of the population is under the age of 18. How are we engaging the youth of African nations in alternatives to violence and extremism?

We need to promote Ugandan youth engagement, especially Muslim youth, in creating a new culture of non-violent social change, socially-responsible leadership, and grassroots solutions. We need a bridge generation in the Muslim-Christian divide.

Also, there are critical challenges facing the youth: poverty, environmental degradation, disease, and violence. In the media, the emphasis is always on increasing access to education in Africa; however, African youth—like youth the world over—need the right knowledge, experience, and mentorship. They need a quality education.

My organization, Educate!, is implementing a new model of education in Africa that unlocks the potential of the next generation to solve the greatest problems facing their communities. The curriculum is focused on the skills and experience students need to find solutions to poverty, environmental degradation, disease, and violence. Educate! teachers are mentors who build powerful relationships that give youth confidence to lead nonviolent social change. And our classroom is the community itself where students start businesses, community based organizations, and social enterprises. Youth engagement is both necessary and powerful.

I have observed firsthand the tremendous passion among young Ugandans to be the leaders who solve problems today. I work with a diverse range of students. Some attend the most underprivileged, rural schools in the country; others go to wealthy boarding schools in the capital; there are Christian and Muslim schools, boys’ schools and girls’ schools. After only one year of our programs, students have created 12 businesses and 48 community initiatives. Youth interventions, no matter where they are, lead to real results. I firmly believe there will not be sustainable solutions without a new generation of African leaders prepared to create and lead those solutions.

The impact of the Kampala terrorist bombings did not wake me up in the middle of the night, but they have did give me a wake-up call to remind me of the urgency of my work and the work of so many other organizations in Uganda.

Angelica Towne grew up in Harlem and inner cities along the east coast. She was a Posse Scholar and received intensive leadership training to Middlebury College.

She is the Program Director for Educate! in Uganda where she has developed a trendsetting model of social entrepreneurship education that has transformed the lives and communities of 830 students, is being used by nearly 20 organizations in eight countries across four continents, and was translated to French and Swahili. The Ministry of Education of Uganda recently asked Angelica to write the social entrepreneurship unit of the national entrepreneurship curriculum—the first of its kind in the world.

Read 3 Comments and Reply

Read 3 comments and reply

Top Contributors Latest

Elephant Journal  |  Contribution: 1,510,285