As part of my trip this year to Uganda I had the opportunity to take part in one of their board meetings and on the following day, hold a workshop with a few of the students. Below are some of my impressions and thoughts on those two days with the UECD family.
In a very Ugandan fashion, I was received very warmly and welcoming by all board members to the meeting and the home of Ronald, who hosted the meeting. After a short introduction of all attendees (Gloria, Ronald, Patricia, Ada, Fiona) we proceeded to hold the meeting.
The main point of discussion was the implementation of the new strategic direction which we had chosen. This stategy entails choosing only one university, in which all future students are to attend. The hoped results would be; strengthened bonds among students (during studies and afterward) clearer processes and measurable costs for board members and sponsors (Swiss side) and an overall strengthened Alumni, having the best chances of entering the job market and standing on their own feet. Above all, this change is seen as a way to guarantee the survival of UECD for many more years.
As expected this was not a decision that would be very welcomed by the Ugandan board, as it would entail a very drastic change to the status quo and even to a degree, a somewhat draconic one. All board members were very vocal about what this would mean for a lot of the prospective students.
As it happened in the past, many students were accepted by the UECD and following that still had some leniency in the choice of courses and universities they would want to attend. If admission was not granted to the preferred University, there was always the chance to apply for another one. As most students come from various regions in Uganda they Furthermore, mostly opted to study in their region of origin.
This new strategic direction would eliminate the above mentioned and of course force some students to move to one part of Uganda, which could be far away from their homes. In theory, if the students are not admitted to the chosen University, they would be rejected from being sponsored by the UECD, which was the main concern for all board members. As an organization that is not something we wouldn’t want, and we would do our best to find a solution if that ever were to happen.
Despite some heated discussions we nevertheless managed to reach common grounds and a consensus on why this new strategy would be beneficial for the continuation of UECD. Gloria was a great support during this meeting and helped bridge a lot of the concerns and contributed with good ideas.
The fact that the one University that all board members would have immediately chosen, Makerere, was at the point shut down due to long protest and intervention from the president himself, didn’t contribute to the whole dialogue.
Nevertheless, it seemed that Makerere would be the University of Choice as it is the one that offers the widest range of courses and can guarantee a high standard of competitiveness for the graduating students.
The later part of the meeting covered bit lighter content. We discussed the upcoming anniversary and the respective safari. The overall mood was very joyful, and all were very eager to discuss the meetup with all visiting sponsors and Swiss board members.
I had a good impression of the attending board member in Uganda, and I could feel that all were very engaged in keeping UECD going on. I especially have to applaud Gloria who seems to be the very glue that keeps everything together. She had a very strong and positive presence and was instrumental in finding consensus and encouraged a constructive dialogue.
It was overall great to see that most of the past students were still actively participating in the meetings and wanted to shape the organization for the positive.
(attendies: Adah, Patricia Florence, Elisabeth, Fiona Catherine, Jimmy Jacqueline, Suzan, Gloria, and Ronald)
I held a workshop on the following day after the board meeting to get to know all students personally and also discuss with them an issue that we realized was a big problem for many of the graduating students, this being, finding a job after University. In a country where social status and so-called "Vitamin B” are far too often the deciding factors in hiring decisions, many of our students have faced difficulties finding employment.
Work integration has been a pressing matter that we as an organization decided to include in our core objectives. With the assistance of the students post-graduation, we are hoping to give them the best possible chances to utilize their degrees and guarantee the continuation of UECD.
This particular workshop was intended to go over some basic matters, such as interview preparation, presentation styles and most of all, working on self-esteem and self-confidence. Due to my current work as a recruitment consultant, I felt that it would be appropriate to discuss those topics as they fall within my competencies. The desired outcome would be that graduating students can perform better during their interviews and be overall more confident with them-selves.
The design of the workshop followed a semi-structured format. We started out with an introduction from all students, including their past, where they are currently standing and more importantly, where they are heading in the future.
It was a great opportunity for me to listen to the life stories of all the attending students and see how they have progressed over the years.
Before we went further into the topics of the workshop, we also discussed the new strategy as Roland brought it up. Again here it was a difficult topic to convey, but most students understood that this was a necessary step to be taken by us, to guarantee the continuation of UECD in the future.
Self-esteem and confidence were something that I especially emphasized on as I believe all students should be proud of what they have achieved so far but unfortunately far too often, didn't want to show it. With lots of storytelling and role playing, we touched upon this and hopefully strengthened the self -esteem of some of the students.
Especially notable were the contributions of Fiona who told a great story of how she found her current job with being very self-confident. When walking into the interview with endless people waiting outside to be interviewed too, she replied to the question on why she should be hired by "because you won't find anybody better, period." That paired with a cheeky smile and obviously, a good track-record, made the manager call her later in the day and offer her the job. That confidence is something I believe all students have inside themselves and which they should show more often and be proud of it.
Gloria was also greatly contributing to the workshop with anecdotes of her own and encouraging students to ask the board members for guidance when needed. I was especially grateful to Patricia who offered her help to all students to proofread their CV's and also go over questions once they would arise at any stages. In a very Ugandan fashion, we also finished this day with some loose threads, laughter, new impressions and of course a delicious meal!
Below is a small personal review on some of the students with whom I had the chance for a one on one talk and who attended the workshop.
A bit of a quiet and more introverted person Adah does have some bubbly sides to her if you are patient enough to break through her shell. She is hard working and will do great in her future if she continues the path she is on. She just recently found a job at a sports-betting office, where she is responsible for the IT infrastructure and maintenance of the networks. The one thing that maybe could help her bloom, even more, is if she would work on her self-esteem and be more proud and out-going. That being said an introverted approach to life has equal merit and should not be underestimated.
Patricia just recently became a mom and is currently in taking care of her son. She has a very motherly nature and is very active on the board. She currently isn't working. Her last position was as a PA at a law firm, but she wasn't happy with the job. She is now looking for a role that is more suitable to her degree. She helped me greatly when I went to visit companies, looking for partnerships and she will also hopefully continue doing that after I left. She is very strong willed and will surely find her way in balancing motherhood, UECD, and her career ambitions.
Somewhat one of the lost children of UECD Florence disappeared for a while with no certainty to what had happened. She came late to the workshop, but it seems she managed to get her life on track. Graduating in B&A she has taken up her own business. She runs in her home village a day care center with over 70 kids while being newlywed and commuting a lot. She was very quiet but showed to be energetic when she was talking about her projects and future.
Elisabeth is a very lively person with an outgoing personality. After her graduation, she has been trying herself as a baker for festive events. She mentioned that she would like to do something in the fields of her study, which is tourism. I felt though that she was not sure what she would want to do, be it baking, tourism or something else. It would be great if perhaps during the anniversary trip in February some would sit down with her and help her in her search and maybe give her some guidance.
Fiona has made herself very well. She currently works for the national roads authority and holds a very interesting position. She gets to travel a lot throughout the country. She is very smart and independent, and it seems she has reached quite far from the time she graduated. She could be more involved and is often absent from the board meetings, but perhaps that will change in the future.
Cathrine is a very friendly and charismatic person. You can feel that she has lived a tuff life but never gave up on her hopes and dreams. Being the oldest student we ever had, she is very much eager to learn and prove herself. She has a background in catering, and she is still actively baking and cooking on various events. I have no doubt that she will graduate well and continue to do something that she would enjoy, that being, socially engaged and helping the people.
Jimmy is a shy but nevertheless cheeky young man. He is smart and passionate about engineering and has just recently found a job as an electrical engineer for a plastic manufacturer. He is on the right track and has a very attractive degree on the market. He just needs to be a bit more patient and instead of chasing the fast money, look at the bigger picture and focus on getting more work experience.
Our second fresh starter for this year is a very lively and ambitious girl. Jacqueline gave off the impression to be very hard working and was already talking about running her own business once she graduates. I especially liked her entrepreneurial spirit, and that is something that should be encouraged.
Suzan did a great ob finishing her studies while being pregnant and delivering a heathy son and that without letting anybody know about it. She is hard working and has a very positive spirit. She mentioned that she was now on the lookout for a job as a teacher and considering the market and demand for such, I don't think it will be too hard for her. She will do fine if she keeps up her positive attitude.
To conclude I can only say that, alhough I only met them for a short time, it was a true pleasure to meet all students and see how far they have gotten in life.
For all sponsors who are attending the safai in January, I can only recommend, to find out what dreams, missions, and visions these bright young people have and listen to their stories and inspire them with your own. Overal laugh a lot, dance a lot and enoy the time with them to the fullest