Ali Wolters learned the value of an education when she studied and taught in Uganda. Now she wants to use her education to help others who strive for the opportunity to attend school.
University of San Diego
For the past 21 years, a civil war has been the only thing the people in northern Uganda have known. Children have been born in Internally Displaced Persons’ (IDP) camps and know home to be nothing more than gunshots, food distribution, abduction, and death. Education has been patchy because of stagnant economic growth. Students often cannot afford expensive school fees and, because of the insecure climate, they often avoid school altogether. The current peace talks, which have been taking place in Juba since July 2006 between the Government of Uganda (GoU) and the rebel group known as the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), have brought the people in the north a period of relative peace. This peace has helped to boost development in the north and improve the opportunity for the young people to return back to school. However, the fight for the people in the north is not yet over, and worst of all, it seems to be children who are suffering the most.
I studied abroad in Uganda last fall for four months with 25 other American students. In the last six weeks of the program, each student moved to another part of the country and worked with an organization of his/her choice. I chose to live and teach at Hope North Vocational and Secondary School. I was able to connect with the students in a number of ways, through teaching, playing soccer and volleyball, singing, dancing, praying, and much more. The closer I became to many of the students, the more chances I had to sit and listen to their individual stories. They told me about loosing family members to war and disease, their escape from the LRA, the heinous conditions of the IDP camps – their home – and the challenges that they continue to face at school.
I did not need to go to Uganda to know that in other places of the world education was not a guaranteed right like it is in the United States. I knew that in many places young boys were given the opportunity to go to school over the girls, who would be forced to stay home and help with household chores. I knew poverty, war, and disease all contributed to students’ inability to attend school. But living in Uganda for four months magnified that for me and it became reality. Seeing one young man and two young women working as house-help for my home-stay family rather than going to school. Sitting in a taxi while a 20-year old guy is selling grilled corn on the side of the road rather than attending school because of expensive school fees and constant conflict in the north. Trying to speak with an eight-year old girl living HIV+ but cannot because she is not able to speak English due to the fact that she is too weak to attend school. These are just a few lives that have been affected by poverty, war and disease. These are human beings who have been denied the basic right to an education, an education that could possibly break the cycle of poverty, which is the only reality they have ever known.
I saw the true value of education in Uganda. I saw the opportunities I have now, and the opportunities I have taken for granted for so many years. I have seen the desires of only a few of our world’s children I have seen their desire to learn, to sit in a classroom, to be educated. Studying abroad in Uganda and teaching at Hope North Vocational and Secondary School re-ignited my desire to learn and now that I am back in the United States I have taken that desire with me. My education is now not only for me but for all those who are waiting to attend school. I hope that through my education I will someday be able to give back to all of those children who are sitting idle in their homes unable to attend school. And as Nelson Mandela once said, “education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” and I hope to use my education to do just that.
Studying abroad isn’t always about learning a new language and seeing artifacts or artwork. You also can use your time abroad to help those in need and learn about the struggles people elsewhere in the world face everyday. Good luck to Ali in all of her pursuits.