We met Sebastian in 2009, when he was 11 years old. He had lost both parents in the LRA War and was living with his grandmother and seven cousins. We enrolled Sebastian at Negri Secondary School where he was named a “bright and excellent” student, eager to learn. With his cousin Julius, Sebastian built a reading hut, where he practiced to become a proficient reader and scholar. On day, Sebastian figured out how to wire the family’s kitchen hut with a light bulb so that his grandma could cook after dark. Then, while still 11 years old and never having seen a computer or television, Sebastian built a working radio from a collection of junk parts!
Sebastian loved coming to the U-TOUCH Digital Center to study using the Internet. After ranking #1 in his class for four years and one of five top students in his entire district on a national exam Sebastian was invited to attend the London Colleges of St. Lawrence where he has scored top in S-5, equivalent to US 11th Grade. He is studying the sciences and hopes to become a doctor to help his community and country with the extreme health issues with which they wrestle.
Sebastian is currently applying to US schools for his undergraduate education.
He met with the US Embassy who is helping him with the process. And U-TOUCH has provided him a laptop for his schoolwork as well as for studying for the SAT’s.
It’s not easy to succeed in the high-flying world of Wall Street hedge funds. Trager Watson did that and one better. With $3,000 and lot of guts he started his own fund and in 6 years built his company to more than $500 million before learning a lot of lessons about managing that kind of torrid growth. You could say this guy from Arkansas has acquired a lot of wisdom outside the “Natural State.”
After Wall Street, Trager spent some time traveling in Asia and around the US, formulating his personal code for the next chapter of his life: Live life with a purpose outside yourself.
So when he ran in Deb Plotkin at a charity conference he could recognize the real deal. She enthusiastically shared U-TOUCH and the personal stories of beneficiaries—“as if they were her own children.” And, she completely astounded him with how much she has managed to accomplish with so little.
Since that day, Trager has looked under the hood and kicked the tires. He’s traveled to and around Uganda, visiting U-TOUCH Centers and comparing what he heard to what he saw. His take? It’s real. While plenty of charity organizations pump money at problems, U-TOUCH is offering something with a much better return. U-TOUCH is changing lives. He saw that the more the Ugandans learn, the more they grasp. And he is not the only one to recognize that, with it’s English speaking workforce and political stability, Uganda is a great candidate for the growing technology outsourcing industry.
Given his path, you can believe Trager when he says: Life is not simple. But it’s not as difficult as we make it. What matters is integrity and hard work; and a purpose outside yourself. He sees all of that in U-TOUCH.
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!
I went to Uganda, as I do each summer, to bathe my soul in the love and inspiration of the people who have suffered great hardship, yet hold onto hope in the future they are building. Every year I travel with optimism about the progress I will see and I have always been pleased! But this year was different. I went as a skeptic, determined to take stock of our progress with a critical eye, to look hard for evidence of stalling momentum or shortfalls in our plans.
Well, I was pleasantly surprised at the overwhelmingly positive outcomes of U-TOUCH training in Uganda. All five Digital Centers in Mbale, Pader, Kitgum and Kabale and the Technology Innovation Hub (TIH) in Gulu have shown deep impacts in families and communities. As a result of your support, unemployed young women and men–with their U-TOUCH certification and computer skills–are becoming entrepreneurs; becoming employed; receiving promotions or returning to school. As a donor, be proud of the work you have been able to accomplish for the women who can now support their families to meet their basic needs and human rights. Best of all the increase in family income is putting children back in school, they have improved nutrition and medical care and many are learning computer skills, just like their parent or older sibling!
It was a terrific joy to be with all the U-TOUCH trainers, country-wide, for our week-long annual staff meeting. Once again, the U-TOUCH family was at work, growing and planning for the new year. This summer, the buzz at the TIH was about the first of U-TOUCH’s self-sustainability programs– the Graphic Design and Print Center. The graphic artists were busy creating eye-catching documents and visuals for headmaster’s of schools, politicans, wedding parties and for businessmen and women of the community. We are excited about its potential to help build a sustainable U-TOUCH future. The Women’s Empowerment room was aglow as local trainer, Beatrice, along with Zahra, a US intern, led 20 young women through the 3-week program. After becoming empowered women, strong with self-esteem and confidence, and understanding their rights, the women learned entrepreneurship skills to stand up tall and take on their future and that of their families and communities.
Your generous contributions are hard at work transforming lives through technology and training. U-TOUCH centers are opening wide the window of opportunity for those who only knew as far as they could walk. Our beneficiaries now have a window to the world through the Internet. They are breathing deeply the air of opportunity, learning computer skills, life skills, job skills and entrepreneurship skills. They continue to venture down their new path, with new skills in hand, to find their dreams.
Thank you! We are most grateful for your generosity, making a difference in the lives U-TOUCH!
With deepest gratitude,
Twenty women between the ages of 20 and 30 participated in the U-TOUCH intensive three-week Women’s Empowerment (WE) program, developing leadership, business and technology skills for the Digital Age.
The program was developed to address issues related to women’s rights in the home and in the community, employment and women in business. In a safe and confidential environment young women learned how different the Ugandan culture is with respect to women’s expectations and rights when compared with other countries in the world. By the end of WE training, men were invited to join them and participate in some highly interactive and exciting discussions of the roles and rights of women.
Having access to technology has advanced women’s understanding of their hidden potential and the WE program has empowered them to become ambassadors of women’s rights and the WE program to girls in school and in their villages. WE graduates understand that they need to educate both women and men if they are to achieve equality for women.
Women are the backbone of Africa. They bear the children, care for their families, work the garden, and spend hours walking for water. Too often these responsibilities keep them from the education and opportunities that would improve the lives of their whole families. Empowering women changes communities and economies.
On a dirt road in the business district of Gulu in northern Uganda, a large, 5000 sq. ft. building has been renovated into a bright, busy, center of opportunity. The U-TOUCH Technology Innovation Hub (TIH) is the first of its kind to serve local enterprises with graphic design, print and copy services. As a provider of digital services for local businesses, the Hub’s income will support U-TOUCH with a sustainable business model for future training and service hubs.
In a separate training classroom in the Hub, community members study ICT (Information and Communication Technology), graphic design, business services, and women’s empowerment, with more classes planned in photographic and video production, and entrepreneurship.
The building itself was given to U-TOUCH by the Gulu District Local Government and grant funds secured by U-TOUCH allowed renovation of the property to accommodate the business center.
The Hub is providing a place where business ideas are being developed and launched. For this reason, the Gulu District Local Government is excited to partner with U-TOUCH, which has already made significant progress in helping the region, –decimated by the 20 year LRA War–in its economic recovery.
In 2010, U-TOUCH established it’s first Digital Learning Centers and offered free computer literacy and skills training. The TIH is the realization of a dream to provide U-TOUCH program graduates with the next step – advanced skills training and employment opportunities.
U-TOUCH welcomes Vanessa Roy and Grace Harter to the U-TOUCH team for Summer 2014!
Vanessa Roy was born in Missoula, Montana where she earned her BA in Social Work from the University of Montana in 2009. After graduation, she workedas a case manager at a YWCA domestic violence shelter and served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ukraine. In 2013 Vanessa began studying for her Masters in Economics and International Development at Johns Hopkins SAIS. This summer she will be interning at U-TOUCH working on curriculum development.
Grace Harter was born in Washington, DC and received a BA in International Studies from Washington College. Soon after graduation, she joined the Peace Corps and served in Ukraine. Currently, she is studying for her Masters in Economics and International Development at Johns Hopkins University. She is excited to work on monitoring and evaluation at U-TOUCH this summer.
Deborah Plotkin speaking at TEDx San Diego in February 2014
Deb Plotkin: Born and raised in New York City, with the tragic loss of her father early in life, Deborah learned to be strong at an early age, turning hardship into resilience and opportunity. Through her work, she established her path and passion for giving a voice to those in need and a way to fulfill their dreams. Deborah initially became an advocate to give that voice to children with autism. After she and her husband spent years facing challenges trekking mountains in the US, the Himalayas in Nepal, Ecuador and Tanzania, Deborah’s drive and determination to help others only grew. The lessons on the way to the summit were adding up. After facing unexpected storms and avalanches, yet conquering the peaks, it was time to give back. Deborah was instrumental in the fundraising efforts and building of three schools in the Himalayas. Her determination, purpose and meaning in life grew exponentially. Learning about atrocities in northern Uganda, Deborah developed a student sponsorship program for orphans in the region.