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On Assignment Uganda: X-SUBA’s Education Programs

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This is my third in a multi-part series about my Photographers Without Borders assignment to Uganda. Read: Part One | Part Two

X-SUBA Sport4Development Uganda started as a sports program, but it quickly expanded into providing educational opportunities for children who didn’t have them. Sports are incredibly important in providing an educational platform for children, but it can’t really address illiteracy.

And in Walukuba, where the average daily wage is less than $1 per day but primary school costs $15 per semester, you find a large number of children not getting a proper education.

This, of course, has trickledown effects that further keeps the community in poverty, struggling with things like malnutrition and alcoholism.

Walukuba does have one garbage collection center where plastic bottles are separated for recycling. The job doesn’t pay enough for the workers to send their children to school, so the children often fall into the same work and at very young ages.

X-SUBA has a few different programs that address basic educational needs in Walukuba. There are so many amazing stories about what disadvantaged kids have accomplished when given the opportunity to learn.

In fact, while writing this, I watched a new film on Netflix called The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind, based on a true story. A 13-year-old boy in Malawi sneaks into school and finds a book about wind energy. He builds a windmill and saves his village from famine, eventually going on to graduate from Dartmouth and bringing science programs to youths in Malawi.

I see the same hope in many of these kids involved with X-SUBA.

Learning Center

X-SUBA Sport4Development volunteer instructors use donated items like these flashcards to teach English to students whose parents can’t afford to send them to school. The students are often at the top of their class once they can find a means to enter school thanks to these efforts.
english lesson
A young student showing off her progress with the alphabet at X-SUBA’s Learning Center. English is taught once a week to students whose parents can’t afford to send them to school. Math and Critical Thinking are taught on two other days of the week. The children are only allowed to stay at the Learning Center for one year so as to not overwhelm the volunteers. They use this time to teach the parents about budgeting and look for sponsors to send the kids to primary school.
X-SUBA’s Learning Center has a small library where children can look at textbooks and other educational materials – all donated. Here, a primary school student studies a geography textbook. He is attending school thanks to X-SUBA’s sponsorship program. His two younger brothers are currently Learning Center students and hoping to get sponsored as well.
X-SUBA Learning Center students participating in an exercise during a Critical Thinking lesson. Each student was tasked with drawing items found in their local neighborhood market. Critical Thinking isn’t taught much in schools, as the curriculum is mostly based around rote learning and test preparation.

X-SUBA’s Learning Center has been around for a few years now. Three days a week they provide morning learning sessions for kids in the community. Mondays are Critical Thinking, Wednesdays are Math, and Thursdays are English.

Because of X-SUBA’s small learning space and volunteer-only teachers, they need to keep classes small, to around fifteen children. They also only let each child stay for one year; this is not to be a substitute for a proper primary school education but rather a buffer for parents to learn about tuition budgeting or for the children to find sponsors.

I was impressed with the number of incredibly bright kids in this program – kids who deserve to be in school but can’t for financial reasons.

A number of parents I spoke to said that their children love the Learning Center. They come home and tell their parents about what they learned that day, give them drawings they did in class, and share their workbooks.

One such situation is Emma and his younger brother Bartho. Emma and his brother live with their single mother and three other siblings in a small one-room house. Emma’s mother used to farm, but when new factories were constructed literally across the street and upwind, her small farm stopped producing. She now breaks rocks at a nearby quarry to earn money. All she wants to do is provide an education for her children; she puts all the money she can towards school and scrapes by for rent and food. One child is in school thanks to an X-SUBA sponsorship, but the other child in school struggles to attend due to the financial situation. Emma and Bartho are at the Learning Center. They’re getting the volunteer education that they can while their mother hopes for either a sponsorship for them, or to save enough money to send them herself.

english class
Children at X-SUBA’s Learning Center work on their alphabet during English class. English is taught once a week to students whose parents can’t afford to send them to school. Math and Critical Thinking are taught on two other days of the week. The children are only allowed to stay at the Learning Center for one year so as to not overwhelm the volunteers. They use this time to teach the parents about budgeting and look for sponsors to send the kids to primary school.
Mamma Emma was relocated to this small one-room home with her five kids, a step up from her prior living situation. She used to sell vegetables from her small garden until a factory went up across the street, and now her farm doesn’t produce. She now breaks rocks at a nearby quarry and wants nothing more than to be able to send her kids to school. Two of them are in X-SUBA’s Learning Center hoping to get a sponsorship, one of them is currently sponsored, and she’s struggling to pay tuition for the fourth. She loves it when her kids come home and share what they learned, and is grateful for the opportunity X-SUBA can provide in the interim.
shady tree
Emma and Bartho are two of X-SUBA’s Learning Center students. They have two older siblings in primary school – one sponsored by X-SUBA, and one struggling to attend because of finances. Their family of six lives in this small one-room home.

Sponsorship Program

Fifteen dollars a semester doesn’t seem like a lot to the rest of us, so what if we wanted to help out with their education? That’s why X-SUBA started a sponsorship program for deserving kids.

They don’t just accept anyone to this program, and they don’t “pay and forget” either. There is a rigorous screening process, the children must meet with the program coordinator every few weeks, have their parents check their homework, and actually attend classes.

Children who have participated in the Learning Center often do very well once they find sponsors for school. Almost all of them are in the top third of their classes.

I had the pleasure of meeting one such young man, Moses, who was a product of X-SUBA’s Learning Center. He found a sponsorship to attend primary school and is now ranked #1 of 62 in his class.

sponsored students
Children in X-SUBA’s Sponsorship Program meet with the program manager a few times a week to discuss their progress and current issues. Moses (center) is a product of X-SUBA’s Learning Center and is now number one in his primary school class thanks to the sponsorship program.
broom making
Sulama’s mother makes hand brooms for a living and her father burns garbage. These jobs don’t provide enough income to send Sulama to school, so she’s been helping her mother make brooms in front of their home. But a sponsorship program through X-SUBA changed that. They were able to find enough money to send her to primary school – $15USD per semester – and now she’s one of the top primary school students. She is starting secondary school this year and hopes to go to university.
meeting secondary school
Steven, who oversees X-SUBA’s Sponsorship Program, meets with the two secondary school students that X-SUBA was able to place in school thanks to generous donors.

There’s also Sulama, a bright young girl whose father burns trash piles for a living and whose mother makes hand brooms. Sulama helped her mother make these brooms until she received a primary school sponsorship through X-SUBA. She did so well that the sponsorship was continued into secondary school (high school) and she’ll start soon. While waiting she’s participating in X-SUBA’s Homework Club, where she leads tutoring sessions with other students.

X-SUBA also has two adolescents already in secondary school, which is twice as expensive as primary school. They will be graduating soon and head off to university.

ICT – Information Computer Technology

X-SUBA’s newest addition is their Information Computer Technology (ICT) Center. These seven computers were recently donated by a foreign donor. Uganda is advancing into the computer age, and those without these skills will soon be unemployable, as some in the older generation are finding out now.

And due to their commitment to the community, X-SUBA also opens their computer center to everyone else. They offer classes and times where entrepreneurs can create Facebook pages or design marketing graphics. These tools did not exist in Walukuba previously.

The ICT Center has a problem staying open though, and it’s not necessarily due to staffing. During my two weeks in Walukuba, X-SUBA’s offices only had electrical power for the first few days. This happens every so often, and when it does, there is a battery-powered laptop available for limited use.

Electricity isn’t very reliable in Walukuba. X-SUBA just recently opened an Information Computer Technology (ICT) Center with seven desktop computers. There is no backup power, however, so Solomon brings in a battery-powered laptop for those days. The kids learn about the capabilities of computers and how to operate them.

You Can Help

I’m back from Uganda now and going through the thousands of photos I took during the trip, and captioning them all with the notes that I took.

The fundraiser has covered my costs, but X-SUBA is still struggling financially. You can help out by visiting my fundraising page, which is still open, to benefit X-SUBA.


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Saturday 30th of March 2019

I really look forward to following this. Not simply to follow how X-SUBA continues to help and hope, but also following how your photography, writing, and connections contribute to X-SUBA's (and Photography without Borders') goals. Each time I've returned from Africa or other areas where similar challenges of poverty and absent infrastructure are ever-present, I'm very motivated to do "something". But I always feel I fall desperately short. I have donated funds and left much of my field gear in the hands of new friends (local guys/gals like your volunteers) who live in these communities or doing similar work. I'll be interested to hear your thoughts on the process and possibilities, especially surrounding using your photography as a primary tool.

I've included one of my photos from CAR in 2011, strikingly similar to a few of yours. It's one that has stuck with me from that very moment; a moment that opened my eyes to my personal role in trying to communicate with photographs, though lately I've been stuck in the safety of landscapes. I need to do more...

I only captured this because I was showing this group of kids their just-taken group photo on the back of my camera, holding my camera low so everyone could see. The preview changed back to live view, and this image composed itself right there... I'm so glad I had the "instinct"(?) to hit the shutter!

Thanks so much for sharing your assignment, such good work. You back in Tahoe yet?

John Peltier

Saturday 30th of March 2019

The power of photography, my friend! I've been back in Tahoe for a week and have started the hard part of the project - whittling 6,000 photos down to around 150, and writing captions & stories for all of them. The deadline seems far away but I know it'll be here quick! Thanks for sending the photo, it's good to see they all have shoes!

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