Turning small things into big lessons in Life

How do you succeed in your career? How do you make in life? What are the most important things in life? These questions tend to linger in the minds of many young people – especially those at university or those that have just started on their journey of paid work – whether it is personal business or employment.

Let me go back a bit. I remember when I was young, my dad was an average government employee with a small office in the engineering department. Those days people didn’t have phones, so communication was manual and mostly face to face or letters. On Sundays, he would carry us on his “Roadmaster” bicycle to church and after church, we would pass by at their office to drink water from the borehole. We didn’t have bottled mineral water then. The 70’s and 80’s people know these. Life was good and basic. Good because most things were free.

When we had a visitor at home or an emergency, mum would send us to dad’s office to pass the message (of course during holidays). It was either me and my elder sister, but mostly me because girls usually have a lot of work back home. Like any other little boy, I would run to the office, using only shortcuts.

When I arrive at the office, my attention would be to observe clearly what people do in the office. My thinking at the time was that people just sit and wait to be paid at the end of the month. Most times I would find them (my dad & his colleague) just writing on paper. At that time, I thought paper work was not work! I would then pass on the message and if it was a money issue, I would be given money and I rush back home.

When I grew up (about 12 years), I asked papa (as we always called him) what people do in offices. When you asked him questions, his answer would always surprise you, that’s if he answers it. Most times he would just keep quiet. That day, he just said, “Angoda, study hard at school and get your office. You will then know what people do in offices.” When I was young, he used to call me by my surname (most people now hide their surnames).

That statement many years ago instilled in me a desire to hold an office. A desire to do decent work that comes with certain prestige & pride. Being one that never gives up with my ambitions & dreams, I surely worked hard at school – despite the challenges of teenage life and pressures of adulthood.

My first office was at university. In my hostel, I acquired a good reading table and two plastic chairs. Instead of going to the campus library every day to read, sometimes I would just stay in my room (it was a grass thatched house left behind by return internally displaced persons) and study. Later on, I had power connected to the house and would rarely go to read to campus – I would just go to check out newspapers and socialise with friends. But I did all my work in my “office.”

Later in 2nd year, I even started a business started from my “office”. To me then, I had to get my office, no matter the situation. After all, I had grown up admiring offices.

When I started working at Lira Town College, the first thing I did was to set up my office. It should be noted in most schools, teachers just work from the general staff room and very few have fixed sitting places. From home to staff room, then to class, back to staff and go home. It’s predictable.

Since I’m an ICT teacher, I work a lot with my computer, so I need a power source and a good table to do work.

Setting up my office eased my work. It is easy to access you. You can host visitors and visitors can also wait for you. You get some privacy to work on your projects and also accords you some respect.

So, back to the questions. How do you succeed in your career? How do you make in life? What are the most important things in life?

There is no one answer to how one can succeed. And there’s also no single answer on how to make it in life. What about the most important things in life? I will not give any answer to these questions. You can answer it in your head.

We have different situations, scenarios, experiences, dreams and desires. Every day we go through a lot. But it is only through consistent self-improvement that we can be better versions of ourselves. Education plays a large part on making you a better person, so do your parents and friends.

In sum therefore, it is good to turn small things in your life into lessons you can learn from. But remember, I am not successful yet! End.

Communication & Social Media for Civic Engagement

In today’s digital world, you cannot underestimate the power of timely & effective communication. Great things can only be accomplished with good communication. War, marriage, school and even church all need effective communication. Communication is the act of transferring information from one place, person or group to another[1]. In other words the message has to reach on time and be understood easily. Away from the fixed telephones, fax and mail boxes of the yesteryears, communication today is mostly mobile- using digital devices such as computers, smart phones and internet.

The rise of the power of the internet dramatically changed the way people communicate today. Messages, emails can be sent with bulky documents and will be received instantly. Video calls are now popular with young generation and text messaging apps (as they are usually called) like WhatsApp Messenger, Viber are very popular across the world.

However, it is the social media phenomenon that has spread like a wild bush fire. From the U.S, its birth place to Japan, from South Africa to Morocco and everywhere else it is hugely popular.

According to Wikipedia, social media are interactive computer-mediated technologies that facilitate the creation and sharing of information, ideas, career interests and other forms of expression via virtual communities and networks. The most common social media platforms include facebook.com, twitter.com, Snapchat and Instagram. In Africa, Facebook has been outstanding because unlike twitter, it does not restrict the number of words you can use in a post.

My experience with social media has been awesome. My first access to Facebook was in 2010 while at Gulu University. At that time, I had just received my first laptop and like other young undergraduate students, social media was the place to be.

I used Facebook to connect with friends and also read other news posts from other users – especially news updates. At that time, I would spend the whole afternoon on social media, so much so that it even affected my performance in second year.

After university, I still found social media awesome and was the first place to go to when I was bored.

After a while, I realised that I was losing a lot of time to social media, instead of doing something useful. So I started to kind of restrict my usage in 2013.

When I ventured into STEM and tech activities, social media became my first media where I would communicate programmes and any good news from our activities. My followers increased and so did my influence.

So, whenever we had any programmes at school, I would just post it on social media and we would get a lot of feedback from the “virtual friends”. The popularity of social media however resulted in less newspaper sales and less people listening to radio programmes. It has also let to phone  and internet addiction amongst youths, which ends up in depression.

In my community outreach programmes, I use social media a lot. In 2014, I started the Career Assistance Programme (CAP), an initiative that aims at providing vital career assistance to high school students across Lango sub region. Without social media, the programme would have failed, because it is difficult to call or mobilize students scattered all over Uganda. So I just post something, and because they are all on social media, they will eventually access it. I get feedback, they contact me, I contact them and everything just works fine. It is truly cost effective & efficient for young people – between 16 to 30 years.

At first, many people thought social media was for just young lazy people. But that has changed, because everyone now is social media. Presidents, ministers, fathers, mums, reverends, pastors, teachers, students, professors and even rebels.

Today, many organizations & governments are using social media to reach out to the public, in addition to traditional media such as newspapers, radio and television. It is not unusual to find someone today with 100,000 Facebook virtual friends, or to have a page that has 1,000,000 likes. Cristiano Ronald has got 122.1 million friends, Shakira has 104.6 million, Vin Diesel 101.6 million likes and Leo Messi – 89 million likes.

Despite this positive trend in communication using social media, some countries in sub Saharan Africa still go ahead to put restrictions such as taxing social media users or outright blocking of users. Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Sudan are notorious for this.

According to CIPESA[2], in June 2018, a month before the introduction of the OTT (Over-The-Top) service tax, the internet penetration rate in Uganda stood at 47.4% (18.5 million internet users) but three months later, it had fallen to 35% (13.5million users).

Many governments appreciate the important use of social media for civic engagement of citizens to participate in government programmes. However, those in power also fear the use of social media for political mobilization because its impacts go beyond physical boarders. Remember the Arab spring? Arab spring are a series of anti-government protests, uprisings, and armed rebellions that spread across North Africa and the Middle East in late 2010. It began in response to oppressive regimes and a low standard of living, beginning with protests in Tunisia[3]. In this regard, social media was a tool used for cause regime change Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.

It is important to note here that social media has been the driving force behind the swift spread of revolutions throughout the world, as new protests appear in response to success stories shared from those taking place in other countries. We can therefore say that social media enabled revolutions in Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Syria, Bahrain and recently Sudan.

Depending on how you use it, using social media for communication can either be life changing or life destroying. But what is undeniable though is that social media is an effective tool for civic engagement and mobilization.

[1]https://www.skillsyouneed.com/ips/what-is-communication.html

 

[2] https://cipesa.org/2019/01/%EF%BB%BFsocial-media-tax-cuts-ugandan-internet-users-by-five-million-penetration-down-from-47-to-35/

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arab_Spring

 

Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders-Leadership in Civic Engagement Institute-University of Delaware

Institute Overview

Our Leadership in Civic Engagement Institute at UD provides a broad survey of civic engagement as it relates to the United States and sub-Saharan Africa. More specifically, the Institute explores how citizens, as individuals and members of organizations, and their interactions with government, business, the media, technology and the like have shaped and continue to shape U.S. politics and society – and how these experiences compare and contrast with those of the Mandela Washington Fellows. Each week, Fellows will participate in academic sessions, practical sessions, leadership skills training, site visits, community service, peer collaboration and cultural activities.

PROGRAM AGENDA

PROGRAM SPONSOR: The US Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA)

PROGRAM ADMINISTRATOR: Institutional Research and Exchanges Board (IREX)

HOST INSTITUTION: University of Delaware Institute of Global Studies

INSTITUTE STAFF

Nike Olabisi, Academic Director Assistant Professor, Biological Sciences

Colin Miller, Administrative Director Director of Global Arts, College of Arts and Sciences and IGS,

Download: CE_UD_19_Agenda_Final_IREX Reviewed (1)

My journey to the U.S started 10 years ago

On June 19, 2019, I arrived to the United States to participate in the 2019 Mandela Washington Fellowship. From Uganda, 24 fellows were selected by the U.S Embassy to this prestigious program. Like many Ugandans, it has always been in my dreams to reach the U.S, the biggest economy & superpower (although there are other powers).

The University Scholarship – 2009

So, how did I reach here? The story is long, but from my personal standpoint, my desire to reach the U.S started at university – about 10 years ago. After my senior six, I wanted to get into university, however the money situation at home wasn’t good. My dad was now retired and my elder sister had just completed & also depleted financial resources available. The future was bleak. That was in 2009. When the results came back, I was among the best in my school and district. I was excited, but the excitement faded into despair as I remembered the issues back home. From everybody’s viewpoint, there was no way I could manage to raise tuition, moreover for 3 years.

After a lot of thought and determination, I told mum that I was going to apply to Gulu University, and I would report to start my undergraduate degree even though the tuition issues were going well.

In May 2009, I applied and I was admitted to study Bachelor of Information & Communication Technology. I was admitted and travelled for the first time to Gulu to pick up my admission, unfortunately, the admission letters weren’t ready and after 3 days decided to return back to Dokolo. But at least I had seen my name on the admission lists on the notice board.

Upon return, I continued preparing to go to university as if everything was fine. I told mum that I would rather go to university, start studying and be chased because of tuition and come back home rather than sit home and give up totally. After a few weeks, I went back to university with a few thousand shillings ready to start studies.

Usually, the first week for first year students at university is the orientation week. It was during one of the orientation days that I saw a scholarship advert on one of the student’s notice boards. The advert was calling for fresh students to apply for Gulu University-Tulane University ICT Project scholarships. I normally carry a pen and paper in my pockets so I wrote down the details quickly and went back to my hostel – which was a grass thatched house left behind by returning internally displaced persons (IDPs) affected by 20 years of war in northern Uganda. I started preparing my application. The requirements were simple. One had to be coming from one the districts from northern Uganda and must have gained admission to either BSc Computer Science or Bachelor of Information & Communication Technology. The next day I went back to double check details on the advert, I found it was nowhere. It had been plucked out.

I applied for the scholarship, got shortlisted and I was finally awarded the scholarship. The scholarship was a result of partnership between Gulu University and Tulane University from the U.S.

That is how I started getting attached to U.S. I also note here that our secondary school education teaches us a lot about the U.S in many subjects – geography, history, literature and even religious students. So, you start fantasizing about the U.S very early in life.

When I got the scholarship, I became very interested in the U.S. So much so that I started following everything about the country – technology, education, politics and even Hollywood. Because it was the American money paying for my education, my attitudes changed about the country and started dreaming about visiting the U.S. After all, it was not only me. Everybody in the world believes the U.S is the greatest country and land of opportunity – and of course the American dream. The movies portray it as land of plenty, power, happiness and success!

My desire became stronger with each passing day. After all, the U.S citizens had contributed substantially to my education. At least I needed to show I am grateful, somehow anyhow.

Technovation Challenge

In 2012 when I started work at Lira Town College, I got involved in STEM activities (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) and projects including robotics, science fairs and many schools would compete in the competitions, which were held mostly in Kampala. I engaged myself in these projects fully, because they allowed to go out to meet my peers, tech experts and enabled students love my subject. So, together with students the first competition we took part in was the Science & Technology Innovations Challenge (STIC) in 2012. We didn’t do well that first year. However, in 2013, we did very well and we won our first major award in tech in Uganda – we were 2nd runners up. Because of the good work we did to win that award, one of the judges at the event, Dr. Dorothy Okello got my contacts and later emailed me about this all-girls-only competition called the Technovation Challenge. That’s how I got to learn about Technovation Challenge. Immediately, we embarked on it and were one of the only 2 schools that participated in the 2013 and 2014 years. After, many schools really came of board and became very competitive. However, due to my pioneering efforts with the programme, I was able to be appointed us the regional ambassador for northern Uganda. The position came to the opportunity to travel to the U.S to attend the grand finals. So, in 2013 I was invited to travel, and all funding was available but I couldn’t because my students were doing national exams around the same and I also didn’t have a passport at the time.

In 2015 again, I got the same opportunity but still I could not travel because of no passport. Opportunity missed twice. But that was not it.

Also, my work and passion for e-learning resulted into an invitation to Rwanda in 2014 for an e-learning conference. I still didn’t make it. The following year, the same guys invited me again to Ethiopia for the e-learning conference again, still like the previous years, I remained in my country. Same problem, no passport.

My break came when I was nominated for the 2017 Teachers Making a Difference competition (organised by New Vision & partners) and I emerged among the best 5 teachers that year. At the awards ceremony on October 05, 2017 (World Teachers Day), we were rewarded with Uganda shillings 1.5 million, a plaque and a certificate and a trip to Dublin, Ireland. So, I used part of the money to process a passport, so I can go for the trip. And the Embassy of Ireland & New Vision supported us a lot all through the process.

With the passport, I was able to travel abroad for the first time in January 2018. Now, that opportunity has opened doors for other opportunities. In life, just like Steve Jobs said, sometimes the dots all connect together.

It has been a very long journey. I am grateful to Makerere University, my lecturers at university, my colleague at work, my students, my friends, my parents and my difficult my life for pushing me my life’s direction. Life is full of experiences.