We are in the fourth week of ENGAGE Namuwongo, the final week of the program. Next week, the kids will practice as we plan for the final tournament, scheduled for August 11th. My time in Uganda seems to have evaporated before my eyes, and as I look back at the project we’ve done, I have some hindsight bias that would have been useful a few weeks ago.

            The most evident mistake we made, in my opinion, was not putting forth more of an effort to hand the program over to the Ugandan peer educators earlier. We made feeble attempts, but when there were not ample volunteers, or if their ideas seemed as if they wouldn’t work, we took over and ran the show. Part of this can be attributed to how much easier it was to do things in our own, familiar way. Part of it was our protectiveness of our project; we put so much effort and thought into it that it took some time before we were willing to let it move into different hands.

            This mistake has become apparent in the last two weeks, when workshops finally began to be almost totally run and organized by the Ugandan youth. I was dubious at first; I thought the activities were not going to be engaging to the kids, but Moses, the peer educator running the workshop, demanded participation from everyone, and commanded their respect in a way that our American group does not. Furthermore, in an end of the week interview with Edris, a peer educator who had almost no involvement with the workshop Moses ran, Edris was practically bouncing up and down from excitement at his peer’s success.

            So, the moral of the story (as I tend to like to end conclusively): the best way to make change is to empower locals to make the change themselves. This is easier said than done, but the kids in our program respect their elder peer educators in a different way than they respect foreign outsiders. They know the peer educators have experienced something like they have, so they are much more apt to listen to them than they are to care what Americans say.

 

–Ann