Amani

The mission of Amani, which means “peace” in Swahili, is to improve educational opportunities for African children in schools in rural communities

Attentive students

“We were sweaty and exhausted and hiking back towards the village when we suddenly heard the sweet sounds of children singing in the distance. As we approached, we saw a group of more than one-hundred children sitting cross-legged on the ground beneath an enormous shade tree being led in song by a teacher.”

  • We first encountered the Bigodi Women’s Progressive Primary School (BWPPS) while on a guided flora and fauna tour of Magombe Swamp during our vacation to Uganda in February of 2012.  We were sweaty and exhausted and hiking back towards the village when we suddenly heard the sweet sounds of children singing in the distance. As we approached, we saw a group of more than one-hundred children sitting cross-legged on the ground beneath an enormous shade tree being led in song by a teacher. We were surprised to find a school located in such a remote setting near the swamp’s edge and were emotionally drawn in the moment we set eyes on it.

    We were instantly engaged by the teachers and students who were eager to share the story of their school with us. We quickly learned that the students were singing songs about environmental conservation because the teachers wanted them to understand that the future of their village, and of all mankind, is intertwined with the survival of the earth’s precious natural resources.

    The teachers told us that the songs teach the children that burning down the forest and hunting local animals is wrong, and that planting trees and conserving nature and animals has long term benefits and that the school’s students are also being taught that the best path to a bright future is through education, the acquisition of valuable life skills and self-sufficiency.

  • We learned about the origin of the school, that its first structure was built by hand by a small group of local craftswomen who wanted to make life better for the children in their village through education. The women raised the funds to start the school by making handicrafts which they sold to tourists, and then donating a portion of each sale back to the school.

    The first mud and brick classroom was built by the women with their own hands in 1992. The present school grounds contain two poorly constructed mud and stick structures, two dilapidated latrines and one permanent concrete building that was provided some years ago by an NGO that is no longer working in the area.  The beautiful piece of land for the school was donated by the Ugandan government, but the school is lacking funds for further development of the grounds.

    Two hundred and thirty local students in kindergarten through Primary 7 (commonly referred to as P7 in Uganda and equivalent to grade 7 in the US) attend the school. Working with a local healthcare program, the school offers an annual free HIV detection and treatment program for all students.

    There are no classrooms for kindergarten students, so those students must meet outside.  The year 2013 gave way for Bigodi’s first successful Primary 7 curriculum being offered! The school is currently unable to provide free lunches for its students.  Many students who do not bring their own lunch to school must simply go hungry.  Two of the teachers are volunteers in need of a salary and formal training.

    The more we learned, the more our interest and passion for the school, its staff and its students grew. We were so touched and inspired by the school that we changed our itinerary to spend the following day there as well.

    Although today the school is dilapidated and in dire need of infrastructure improvements and all school supplies, the women are proud of what they have achieved and told us that, on average, the performance of their students on national primary school grade advancement tests is much higher than that of students at the government school. The teachers would like to be able to serve more students and still have big dreams for the future growth and improvement of the education and services offered at the school.

    The school teaches the required Ugandan national curriculum in English, Math, Science and all academic fundamentals, and also provides crucial life skills and knowledge for improving its students future and quality of life, such as farming, basic hygiene and AIDS awareness. Moreover, education is provided to orphans and HIV positive children living within the community at no charge.

  • We felt fortunate to meet some of the inspiring and courageous women that made BWPPS possible. One of its founders, Stella Kajumba, like so many women in Uganda, had received only a 4th grade education, but dreamt of providing more for her own children and the children of Bigodi. Stella envisioned a school where local youth would be inspired from an early age to become educated and to accept their responsibility as stewards of their native environment.

    Determined to make her dream a reality, Stella went back to school and became a certified teacher, then organized the Bigodi’s Women Group and led them in the establishment of the school. Stella explained to us how the support of the entire community, particularly its men, has grown over time. The local men originally doubted that it could be done, but now they are very supportive of the school.

    Unfortunately, although Stella is now a teacher, she teaches at the far away government school because she cannot afford to work at BWPPS, where the teachers work for so little money that they consider themselves volunteers. Stella earns $125USD a month at the government school, while teachers at BWPPS earn only $25USD per month. Currently, the school’s only income comes from the continued donations of the craftswomen in the Bigodi Women’s Group and a small amount of school fees paid by local parents.

    We also met an 18 year old woman named Lillian Tumusiime who is employed at the school. Both of Lillian’s parents died of AIDS when she was younger and she was forced to quit school to care for her four siblings and their elderly grandparents. Lillian is now married and expecting a child of her own, while still raising her younger siblings, one of which is HIV positive and student at BWPPS. Upon leaving we vowed to do what we could to help Stella, Lillian and the students at BWPPS.

    The women within this community have already demonstrated their commitment to education through the years. There is no doubt that with continued investment in this community, new leaders will raise to the top

  • Although Bigodi Village is surrounded by natural beauty and wildlife that attracts international tourists to the area, it remains an impoverished community where local children lack access to quality education and are falling behind as Uganda is increasingly thrust into the new global economy and traditional ways of life become more difficult and impractical. The locally based Kibale Association for Rural and Environmental Development (KAFRED) has made great strides in educating villagers about the importance of environmental conservation and how much their future is dependent on the natural resources.

    The nearest government school is severely overcrowded, under-performing and located a long distance away. Bigodi children who attend the public school must walk in the early morning darkness for several hours along dangerous dirt roads to reach the school.  The school is in need of almost everything except enthusiastic children with a desire for knowledge.

    One of the first things we did to help this school was the purchase of new books and a locking cabinet to keep them secure. We recently funded the construction of new above ground water cisterns in partnership with ‘UNITE for the Environment,’ a program that is funded by the North Carolina Zoo, to supply fresh, clean water for the children’s needs throughout the day. The next phase of our project will be to build new permanent classrooms for the children and community. Bigodi Primary Progressive School currently has no permanent classroom for their nursery school children, so their class currently meets outside. Other students are currently being taught in a mud hut. We will work with the village leadership and community members to develop a sustainable plan for permanent classrooms. Our goal is to help the school meet its goal of offering a full primary education from nursery school to Primary 7 to the youth of this rural village

    As we look forward to the future, we will continue to work directly with school and community leaders to enhance classroom learning conditions for students and to engage the support and commitment of the surrounding community. Our Amani Program generates revenue through public fundraising efforts and private donations to provide for infrastructure improvements, books, school supplies, clean drinking water, sustainable lunch programs, teacher’s salaries and other needs with the goal of making high-quality education accessible to all children within the community. We aim to improve school performance and enhance life skills among the students we serve, and to encourage their pursuit of higher education and community leadership positions. Whenever possible, we will use our resources to create self-sufficient, long-term strategic partnerships and programs within the schools and communities we serve.

    Through our thoughtful and compassionate work we will strive to provide resources and guidance that will enable our partner schools to provide educational opportunities that meet or exceed the national standard. Our efforts will result in improved student achievement and advancement as well as increased community pride and support to ensure the ongoing growth of both the school and community.

 

Amani Program Coordinators

EvyeEvye Szanto M.D., is a retired neurologist who practiced for more than 20 years in Northern California. Evye was a nationally renowned expert on various neurological topics and frequently gave lectures to physicians, nurses, and the general population. She was frequently called upon to speak for technological and pharmaceutical innovators such as Medtronics, Glaxo and Biogen, among others. Evye was a founding member of HOPE 4 MS, a multiple sclerosis self-help group based in Redding, California. Evye is originally from New York and has a BS in Biology from Hofstra University. She met Victor Szanto in medical school at Hahnemann University. Evye worked at Tulane University in New Orleans and then at UCSF in San Francisco.  Evye and Victor’s shared love of the outdoors and desire to serve an underprivileged community took them to Red Bluff to open a private practice. Evye was the only neurologist serving the poor, rural communities in California’s Central Valley and often drove long distances to treat people in need, never refusing care to anyone, regardless of their insurance coverage or ability to pay. Since retirement in 2006, Evye has been very active with two charitable organizations based on the south shore of Lake Tahoe. Evye served as a volunteer cook and Board Member for Bread and Broth, a food program that serves the less fortunate in the South Lake Tahoe community.  She also serves as Treasurer for the South Lake Tahoe chapter of the American of University Women (AAUW), an organization that provides college scholarships to female graduates of Lake Tahoe Community College as well as Tech Trek Math and Science Camp scholarships to local 7th grade girls. Together, Evye and Victor own and run Daha Investments, a commercial and residential real estate development company with holdings in California, Nevada and Oregon.

DSC_9992Sharon Sterling, Sharon has a degree in Journalism and Public Relations from San Diego State University. Her early work involved jobs and internships at newspapers, radio and TV stations in a variety of sales, advertising and marketing positions. Sharon worked as an Account Manager for CBS Radio and Bonneville International in San Francisco for 10 years and retired to South Lake Tahoe in 2004.  Sharon is a member of the American Association of University Women and Soroptimist International of South Lake Tahoe and has served in a publicity and communications capacity for both organizations. Sharon has had a lifelong passion for community service, travel and learning about other cultures, and has traveled extensively throughout the US and around the world. Sharon is excited about working with Project Enlighten and Amani to improve educational opportunities for women and children in the areas they serve.

 

 

282209_239912209469283_1496307514_nJaime Tarne fell in love with wildland firefighting her first season in 1975 so much that she changed majors in college, graduating with a Bachelor of Science degree in Natural Resources from University Nevada Reno. Her career spanned 36 years in Fire Management for the U.S. Forest Service, specializing in operations, strategy and tactics development. She was given amazing opportunities to teach and travel extensively both on active fires, natural disasters and in development of programs internationally, which only served to fuel her passion for both. International travel has shown and taught her many things, but the most amazing is how Mark Twain’s quote holds true. “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” Her hope is to continue to teach where she can, travel and learn as she goes, helping others along her journey in some small way. Presently Jaime lives in the mountains of northern California, running a small pet care business and volunteering with local organizations, supporting international programs. Her depth of experience and expert knowledge compliments the Amani team.

The formation of our team

Sharon and Evye became friends through their activities in AAUW and decided to travel with their husbands to Uganda. The friendship that developed during that trip and the fortuitous, eye-opening experience of meeting the inspiring women founders of the Bigodi School touched and bonded us all. Jaime was invited to join Amani to provide balance and oversight of operations for Project Enlighten Board of Directors. Her experience and expertise working with programs in Africa will help keep our program in Uganda on track. Our team is deeply committed to improving the lives of students in villages throughout Uganda. We are confident that our plan to positively impact the children within our programs will be successful and that we will help to provide high-quality education and skills that will expose these students to economic and life opportunities that otherwise would not be available to them.