Tag Archives: Uganda

If I was an educator…but then again, no.

22 Sep

Social definitions have never suited me well. I can’t make sense of them. I trust that my transition from academia back to the professional world will be wrought with similar discontent as I come to terms with the fact that while I am passionate about education, while I feel in my bones that education is the reason I gravitate towards the decisions that I have made, while my soul screams that the quest for truth is meaningless without a shared space where we can compare and contrast our truths and in the end hopefully arise from the pits of confusion with some unifying ideal towards which we can strive, while I accept as fact that schools provide not only knowledge for children, but hope for a future, while the sound of rickety wooden desks and bare feet scraping across crumbling cement and dirt floors never fails to remind me of who I am as a human being…I can’t say that I am an educator.

I have tried my hand at teaching. Mostly public health, of which I knew extremely little prior to extensive training in HIV/AIDS prevention education. No, I went to college to make movies and television. I wanted to live with a script in my back pocket. I wanted to craft film trailers. I wanted to scout shooting locations. I wanted to start in the mail room and work my way up to head of production on…well, I’ve forgotten to be honest. In my senior year at UCLA I grew jaded with Mass Communication Studies and tried my hand at UCLA’s global studies program, which led me to a course on African Ecology and Development. Not sure how it awakened what it did, but the fascination stuck, and I shipped off to Tanzania upon graduating. I was teaching HIV education for primary schools and local factory workers, English tutoring after school, ad hoc education and food programs for children living on the streets of Arusha. I lived by sunlight during the week, some battery powered lamps from time to time. Slept in a hut built of mud and sticks. Trapped when it rained, unstoppable when the sun was shining. I returned some months later to what came to be a life that now seemed strangely alien to me. Couldn’t quite make it work, so I sought to return to a life that made more sense.

I was soon in Uganda, teaching HIV Sensitization, distributing condoms, networking with local officials, acquiring donations, helping to quench fires as they arose. Me learning from them, them learning from me. I wanted to contribute more. Luckily, I had just applied for a graduate program in International Education. I wrote my statement of purpose on a boy named Anaeli with whom I worked on the streets of Arusha. Such a smartass, such a clown. And he didn’t want money. He didn’t want a handout (though he enjoyed the food we brought too). He wanted to go to school. I had never seen this in the US…13 year old boys asking if someone could help them just so they could go to school. I understood…while most around me growing up always hated that they had to spend their time in such a structured institution, I reveled in the opportunity to challenge myself and acquire as much knowledge as I could fit into my brain. I would have asked for some help too. So I wanted to go back to school to learn how I could help kids stop having to plead for a chance to get an education. Guided by the admittedly trite mantra to “be the change you wish to see in the world,” I dreamed of helping to create a world where education was an equal opportunity for all children. I got in, and here I am.

But an educator? Hardly. I have decided to leave the act of educating to more qualified people. I take my interest in finding solutions to problems in educating kids like Anaeli, and soon plunged into a world of educating children in the worst situations on earth. The field of education in emergencies and the role of education as a means for mitigating conflict in the region of the world where I felt so at home is relentlessly fascinating to me, and it calls to me. From my coursework on education in conflict, to work with William Easterly’s Development Research Institute, UNICEF’s Child Protection Section, and the Inter-Agency Network for Education in Emergencies, my life has been consumed by it. And there is no end in sight.

Previous research interests have included education for demobilized child soldiers, particularly in northern Uganda, community-based schools in Central Africa, and teacher training for South Sudan as a tool of nation-building for our world’s newest nation. These days: resistance to refugee repatriation in sub-Saharan Africa, and the corresponding brain drain on home economies when educational opportunities for refugees surpass those in their countries of origin. Will be keeping an eye on humanitarian concerns in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in East & Central Africa and the Horn, the growing LGBT rights movement in East Africa, child soldier recruitment, and education in emergencies topics as they arise.

I ache to return. In my final semester in the M.A. program, I will once again have to confront social definitions as I define who it is and what I am to become. I have learned a lot, but I do not have the answers. I have no delusions of traveling to the most remote regions of Central and East Africa and understanding the context at hand well enough to make the right choices. I am not an educator, I am a student. I recognize that my education will never stop. I wish to move through life collecting teachers wherever I can find them, and use what they teach me to help them lift themselves from turmoil. Wrought with wanderlust and committed to whatever change I can be a part of, I am eager to see where life takes me next.

Stirrin’ up trouble in Kisongo Village