Blog: January 2013
"I sometimes want to quit my job and start an NGO," confided the head of the Department of Development Studies at Uganda Christian University. "I just want to hire all my students because I know that many of our graduates will never find work in their area of training and gifting."
That's the message I kept hearing from students and faculty today.
With close to 80% unemployment in the country and little capital for entrepreneurial startups, talented graduates are stuck. Many move home to their villages after graduation, never maximizing the full impact of their training. Some take lower-level jobs in sectors in which they have no interest or passion. Many never have the opportunity to actualize their vision and dreams.
I leave Uganda more convinced than ever that the vision of UrbanPromise International--to provide a year-long training fellowship for college graduates in developing countries, teaching the skills necessary for creating youth-serving NGOs--is a vision that is unique and desperately needed in countries like Uganda.
Meeting with the heads of the Department of Child Development, Public Administration, and Social Sciences affirmed the significance of a fellowship experience in the United States.
"We have this incredibly talented pool of students," shared Fredrick Mukhwana, program coordinator for Child Development, "but it sits dormant after graduation. It dies. I can't tell you how important it is for our students to go away for training and experience. And to have them come back with capital to start projects is incredible."
So today I listened to students share dreams about starting schools, starting youth programs, working with wayward teens, and becoming legal advocates for children's rights. Their energy was contagious. Their visions infectious. All they need is opportunity. A chance to take the next step.
Leaders change neighborhoods. Leaders change organizations. Leaders change countries. Having the opportunity to play a small role in shaping the next generation of leaders in Uganda is humbling and inspiring. --Bruce Main
paying a home visit to a young student
My favorite quote from theologian Emil Brunner goes something like this: "What oxygen is to the lungs, so is hope to life." He's basically saying...no hope, no life. Hope is what allows us to transcend the difficulties of the moment, believing that something better is around the corner, and it's worth taking that next step. Hope is what motivates a kid to walk 6 miles so she can sit in a classroom with 89 other children, believing that an education will give her a better life. Hope is what calls a mother to spend her entire day gathering and roasting a few little nuts and selling them to pay for her son's school fees. Never underestimate the power of hope.
So how do people "get hope"? If I want oxygen, I open my mouth and inhale. But hope? Where does it come from? How do I find it? Can I manufacture it? Pray for it? Catch it? Learn it? To be honest, I'm not exactly sure how this whole hope thing works. But I do know that when kids lose hope their worldview begins to shift from one of promise and potential, to one of despair and destruction. Hopeful kids don't join gangs. Hopeful kids don't sell drugs. Hopeful kids respect their bodies. Hopeful kids don't drop out of school. Hope, it seems to me, is the deal breaker between a life of productivity and meaning and a life that dies on the vine, never blossoming to bear the fruit it was intended to bear.
If I were to describe our Ugandan leaders, I would use the world hopeful. Their lives have been anything but easy. Parents have died, food was scarce, school fees always a struggle, but they never lost hope. They embody what the writer of Romans talks of when he says, "We rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance. perseverance character, and character hope...." Hope forged on the anvil of suffering allows our leaders to look at the children and circumstances in which they live and say, "With God we can paint a new picture. With God you can live fruitful lives of meaning. I know because I've made the journey."
And so I watch Sarah, Matsiko, and Liz--young, relevant, hip, faith-filled, forward-looking--greet and love on these children in the name of Jesus. I watch them walk into tin shacks with no running water and no electricity and give hugs to little boys and girls. In their blue jeans and sneakers, I watch our young leaders dodge mud puddles and garbage heaps so they can brag about the academic progress of their children to parents and encourage them to come to the after school program next week.
It's no accident that the eyes of the children light up with possibility--possibility because they see hope...hope in blue jeans. --Bruce Main
I am in awe of what our Ugandan leaders have done in a few short months after returning to Uganda from spending a year-long fellowship with UrbanPromise International.
The UPI vision has always been to support young leaders who have a dream to start an NGO in their own countries. It's not easy. Funding needs to be secured, volunteers recruited, trust built in the community, dynamic programs designed, children recruited, political leaders patronized, partnerships built, board members discovered, vision articulated...the list of tasks is endless. The work is never-ending. Perhaps that's why so few people start their own non-profit.
But that's exactly what Ernest Matsiko and Sarah Atai are doing in the Mukono district--about an hour outside of Kampala. They are doing the hard work of laying a foundation for a youth ministry that will bless hundreds of children over the next few years and will transform a community riddled with poverty, AIDS, and despair.
Yesterday I met with their board of directors--an impressive and amazing group of professionals committed to holding our leaders accountable, supporting their vision, and helping them secure funding and resources. To find such a group of people is no easy task. It speaks to the leadership abilities of Matsiko and Sarah. But to hear the board members speak of their respect for Matsiko and Sarah was assuring and invigorating. "These are remarkable young people," shared the board chair. "They are humble, transparent, and eager to learn."
Mukono is off to a great start. Please keep them in your prayers.
People sometimes give me a perplexed look and ask, "Why is UrbanPromise in Uganda?" Great question. I'll share the back story because it demonstrates the way God moves in truly mysterious ways.
About 5 years ago I was heading to the UK to do some recruiting for our intern program. Over the years, UrbanPromise has hosted hundreds of collegians from Scotland, England, and Ireland. These students return home and share their experiences with friends, family, classmates, and pastors. Occasionally I'm invited over to reconnect with our alumni and recruit their friends.
This particular day I was checking my bags at Philadelphia International on British Airways. The clerk behind the counter happened to be a congregant at a local Presbyterian church I visit occasionally. She recognized me and we struck up a conversation. Helping a customer next to her was a co-worker named Zenique who happened to be taking classes at Eastern University on a part-time basis.
Much to the chagrin of her customer, Zenique began to ask questions about UrbanPromise--what we do? our mission? where do we work? She shared that she would need a placement for a practicum for one of her classes at Eastern . UrbanPromise sounded like the place to do it. We exchanged emails, and I was off.
Zenique did some volunteering at UrbanPromise in Camden and then told me that she was going to study abroad--at Uganda Christian University in Kampala. Before she left, I shared a little of the vision of UrbanPromise International and our interest in finding young leaders from different countries who have a vision to start youth-serving organizations in impoverished communities. Zenique assured me that she would keep her eyes open for good candidates.
Six months later a young man named Charity applied to be an UrbanPromise fellow. A recent graduate from Uganda Christian, Charity embodied those characteristics we look for in fellows--visionary, committed, passionate Christian leaders who are looking to make a difference in the world.
Charity came to the United States and began to recruit his fellow colleagues from Uganda Christian. Over the past few years 5 fellows from Uganda have come to study with UrbanPromise. Two have returned to Uganda to create an UrbanPromise-type program. Already they are up and running. Already children's lives are being transformed.
So how did UrbanPromise end up in Uganda? It started with a check-in clerk at British Airways. That one encounter has birthed a movement that is just beginning--a movement that, over time, will grow into programs and ministries that will impact a new generation of youth in Uganda.
I've learned over the years that there is no ordinary encounter with another human being. If the spirit and presence of God is welcomed into our interactions with friends and strangers, those connections can become catalysts of change and hope. Human relationships are the ingredients God uses to birth movements of God in the world. And you never know where that might lead you.....maybe even Uganda.