In my time in Masaka, Uganda, I’ve had the opportunity to address two pressing issues the country faces: food security and education. Although Uganda is a vibrant and rapidly developing country, many of its political policies and social norms stunt its growth. One such issue is the general lack of support for and payment of educators. Despite the country’s renewed focus on education, Ugandan teachers are regarded as second class citizens. These educators are paid poorly, their salaries are sometimes withheld during budget crises, and yet continue to be dedicated to delivering quality education to their students. Teachers are the true backbone of Uganda.
For this reason, I have chosen to primarily work with a local teachers’ group to help improve the circumstances of the teachers themselves, their schools and their pupils. By training them to employ some relevant new skills, I hope they are enabled to improve their financial statuses and the wellbeing of their students. Through financial literacy training they will learn to better manage their income, and with agro-ecological training they will gain an alternative means to supplement their income. My hope is that, in time, these teachers will even be able to pass their new skills on to their students and schools.
Many Ugandan students lack access to proper nutrition and are left hungry throughout the school day. Some schools attempt to field this burden but, in addition to the burden of orphaned children, children from child-headed homes, and children affected in some way by HIV/AIDS, feeding students can be difficult to manage. Thankfully, St. Jude and SCOPE have been working to mitigate the issue by working with communities to transform schools into functional landscapes. Schools in Uganda are often located on enough land for small-scale agricultural ventures that can have tangible impacts on the student nutrition. Through St. Jude and SCOPE, educators -including the teachers I work with- are being equipped with the knowledge to extend this agricultural work to their schools.
I have the privilege to work with a wonderful teachers’ group in my community called Together We Can. Their name truly embodies their spirit—they are clearly devoted to improving their students lives as well as their own. In our very first meeting, we were able to make significant strides. With my and my supervisor Josephine Kizza’s guidance, the group agreed to form a group savings account. A membership fee of 10,000 UGX was established as well as weekly dues in the amount of 2,500 to 10,000 UGX. In the future, members will be able to apply for loans to be taken out of the group account. The purpose of these loans will be to start individual or joint agricultural ventures supplementing their salaries.
We felt it was important, before funds are distributed, that all members fully understand debt and how to manage their finances to optimize their ventures. Therefore, in our very next meeting, before dues were even collected, I taught my first round of financial literacy training. I opened with a discussion of their individual goals, then demonstrated how budgeting could help them reach those goals. I then taught them how to account for both fixed and variable expenses as well as accommodate savings. After we establish the basics of budgeting, I moved on to the basics of interest. Together they calculated both the simple and compound interest of loans and savings deposits at various points in time.
Although I had prepared, making lesson plans and activity sheets, I was still nervous. When I was finally in front of the class, seeing the lightbulbs come on and their excitement grow as they learned, I was thrilled! Unfortunately, in my own excitement about teaching money management, time management flew out the window while teaching. We ran out of time before delving into banking services, but I couldn’t be too disappointed, because we all left with high spirits and renewed confidence. My supervisor sat in and was pleased, asking that I teach the same lesson to our staff and to a local women’s group I’ve visited with. I came, I taught, I conquered! I’m off to a great start!