While I been involved with U-TOUCH for five years it was not until this past summer that I finally had the opportunity to travel to Uganda. I spent three weeks traveling to each of the five U-TOUCH Digital Centers and meeting the dedicated staff with whom I had been conversing with via email and Skype. My mission for the trip was to provide mentoring and support to the staff on the ground in Uganda. From the warm greeting at the airport by Charles, our former Project Coordinator newly appointed as U-TOUCH Country Director, to the farewell party at the end of our visit, I was enchanted by the grace and warmth of the Ugandan people.
As I traveled to each of the centers to observe classes and speak with the beneficiaries the challenges related to the existing infrastructure became immediately apparent. With roads in poor condition and constant power outages things just take more time. On a positive note there are signs of growth everywhere you look; extensive road construction, a new hydroelectric plant and increased availability of the Internet. I was able to keep in touch with friends and family via Facebook using a basic smartphone and inexpensive data while bumping along on dirt roads in between villages.
Speaking with beneficiaries and hearing their stories first-hand was a highlight of the trip. We know that the U-TOUCH programs make a difference, that people are getting jobs, starting businesses and otherwise improving their livelihoods; but there is something special about seeing the light in a young woman’s eyes as she describes how she went from not believing she could touch a computer to becoming proficient and ultimately obtaining a job.
The ever-present children of Uganda tug at my heart. From children who appeared as young as 3 years old walking to get water, to the children in colorful uniforms playing in the schoolyards, to the children unable to afford school fees that congregate just outside the fenced schoolyard, these children are the future of Uganda. Without education the future for these children is bleak, indeed.
One way to help the children is through direct aid, such as sponsored student programs; another way is to skill the parents so that they can provide for their own families.
Time and time again U-TOUCH graduates shared that they were now able to afford the school fees for their children.
I have never been more thankful for the generous support of our donors than when I was in Uganda surrounded by the many people that have benefitted from U-TOUCH programs. Thank you for all you do!