Post Civil Conflict: Rebuilding Education in Northern Uganda

Rebuilding Education in Northern Uganda

Invisible Children: Rebuilding Education in Northern Uganda

Today on GoAbroad we bring you a guest post by Catherine Hanna, of the Invisible Children’s Teacher Exchange Program. Catherine discusses how the Teacher Exchange Program (TEX) began as a professional development opportunity both for Ugandan and North American teachers, and is now helping to rebuild education in Northern Uganda. 

Over two decades of conflict in northern Uganda bore witness to more than 30,000 children abducted by rebel leader Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army. The region also faced the devastation of entire communities and their infrastructures, along with the resettlement of over 1.8 million people into internally displaced (IDP) camps.

The conflict destroyed vast numbers of educational facilities in both urban and rural areas across the region, prevented teachers from being trained and from working, and isolated children in IDP camps, greatly restricting their access to schools. Over time educational facilities became dormant, leaving a generation of children out of school, without an education.

As a response to this situation, Invisible Children Uganda (ICU) was established in 2005. Schools for Schools, one of ICU’s education initiatives, was born in 2006, shortly after the LRA moved out of northern Uganda. It was created to support vulnerable children and provide quality secondary education as they rise to become the region’s next leaders. This effort was expanded to also invest in teachers, also impacted by the conflict, as key instruments of education. In 2007 the Teacher Exchange Program (TEX) began as a unique professional development opportunity both for Ugandan and North American teachers.

Cross-cultural Teaching Partnerships

The Teacher Exchange was developed to bring North American and Ugandan teachers together to form authentic relationships and to partner-teach for 6 weeks in Ugandan classrooms. The program was strongly influenced by liberatory educator and thinker, Paulo Freire, who taught that education is dialogical. In Pedagogy of the Oppressed he wrote, “Knowledge immerges only through invention and reinvention, through the restless, impatient, continual hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world and with each other.” This philosophy places value on learning as an ongoing group activity. It requires participants to take on a mindset of mutuality and humility, recognizing the teacher and the learner in themselves, and in each of their educator colleagues.

Seeing the World Brand New Through Authentic Relationships

The Teacher Exchange Program was established with an awareness of the challenge of merging western culture and developing/post-colonial culture. Teachers take part in this exchange under a backdrop of complex historical, cultural and political dynamics. By forming authentic friendships that take shape both in the community and in the classroom, and through readings, ongoing conversations and interactive activities, TEX prepares participants to take part in a distinctive and diverse sharing of ideas about life and education practice.

Post Civil Conflict, Teacher Exchange

Ultimately, in addition to accessing new classroom tools and methods through their collaborations, the program incites participants to examine new ways of thinking and being in the world. One Ugandan teacher commented, “I see the world differently. The world to me now is bigger than just one tribe or one country. I have learned to look beyond my boundaries.”

Another American teachers said. “It is about sharing ideas and reflecting on our teaching practice together. The end result is something much greater than what could have been achieved apart.”

Travel

In this six week summer exchange, North American teachers travel as a group to northern Uganda and live together in community either in the city of Gulu or in nearby rural towns. During the week they are submerged in teaching and community life and on the weekends many select to take trips to visit other parts of Uganda, like the rhinoceros sanctuary or the safari in Murchison Park. Their travels end with a final weekend excursion to Jinja at the mouth of the river Nile.

For more information about Invisible Children’s Teacher Exchange or to apply for the summer of 2014, visit the Teacher Exchange website. The applications for the summer of 2014 will close in December of 2013.

Catherine Hanna is an applied theater practitioner, performance artist and educator with a Master’s in Educational Theater from New York University. She is the Facilitator of Invisible Children’s Teacher Exchange Program. She also develops and facilitates programming in various international and urban education, community and professional settings utilizing performance/creative-based methods to support community development. 

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