I’m going to Uganda this summer.  The trip has emerged quickly in the last month and a half, with the catalyst being a conversation with Karine, a woman who has been the impetus for more than a few big endeavors in my life. 

Karine: Do you want to come to Uganda to pilot the micro-credential you wrote last year?

Me: nah, not this year. 

Karine: why not?

Me: good point, why not?

So, we’re off to Uganda in two weeks.  Once I saw the power of the ‘why not’ question, I had a similar text conversation with my sister-in-law, Jo, and she’s going to round out our 2019 travel team.

Me: Jo, you should really come to Uganda with us this summer. 

Jo: nah, not this year.

Me: why not?

Jo: you’re right, I’m in!

Besides being a negotiator-extraordinaire, Karine is the founder of Niteo Africa, a group of Canadians and Ugandans supporting quality literacy education by nourishing the love of reading in children. 

Karine wears the most hats of anyone I know and it is all for a singular goal. Her email signature is for the sake of the children and she breaths that throughout her professional, philanthropic, and personal life. She is a champion of the extraordinary potential that lives within every child.

Karine founded Niteo after a few visits to Uganda where her teaching soul was inspired by the children who were trying to learn to read, but without books. Her heart echoed the refrain of active citizens across the world,  I can show up and do something about this.

Niteo’s work is high impact and low tech. They provide books where there are none and it makes a big difference. They are living proof of anthropologist Margaret Mead’s insight, “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” 

Over the past 10 years, Niteo has shipped 100 tonnes of gently used children’s books from Canada to Uganda. The books are distributed to Niteo’s expanding number of literacy centers – currently 11 – and hundreds of reading corners in schools, homes, and communities across Uganda.  Niteo does not operate any of its literacy centres alone. Instead, each is run with a partner, either a school, an NGO, or an individual. 

While I adore books and believe whole-heartedly in literacy as an essential component for building a sustainable and peaceful world, my hands-down favourite thing about Niteo is the people. They are what keeps me coming back, year after year, in support of the work.  They are the doers. The problem-seers and problem-solvers. Those ‘in the arena’, rather than on the sidelines.

The grandmas at Jinga – illiterate themselves, who saw a Niteo literacy center and decided to build their own in their neighbourhood because of the dreams they have for their grandchildren.

Okello Sam at Hope North – artist, musician, and founder of a boarding school for young survivors of Uganda’s brutal civil war.

Nageeba – a literacy warrior who travels to villages, schools, and conferences, making the case for high quality literacy programs, especially for girls. 

When I look at all these individuals, committed to doing what they can in their spheres of influence, I am honoured to be able to contribute my part to their work.

In 2017, the partners in Uganda called on Niteo to bring more than books, they asked for the addition of practical tools to build capacity.  So Leadership in Literacy was born. 

I created Leadership in Literacy last year for Niteo, following the feedback from Uganda. It’s a micro-credential with a little theory of ‘why reading for pleasure’ and a lot of practical teaching tools.

The goal is to support anyone who wants to create a rich literacy learning environment that fosters a love of reading. Reading for pleasure as a child is foundational for developing lifelong learners. If you can read, you can learn anything else you want to know. 

We will pilot Leadership in Literacy three times on our trip, with two current Niteo partners – Elohim Child Development Center and Hope North – and the Forest Whitaker Peace and Development Initiative (WPDI). This pilot phase will allow for the crucial feedback from the teachers and librarians. Our goal of the pilot is to listen and learn. 

 Also, if you are like me and want to support grassroots organizations doing amazing work, but don’t always know which ones to pick, Niteo is a stellar option. You can donate to Niteo‘s general fund, or put a note for Team 2019. Our team is contributing our own travel costs, but there are costs to facilitating the pilots.

It is still hard to wrap my brain around the reality that I am finally going to Uganda. It’s daunting, exhilirating, and humbling. No promises on where my writing will head, but thanks for reading along so far. While I cannot guarantee constant updates while we’re in Uganda, if you’d like to follow along, you can subscribe on my blog. 

Grace and peace, friends. 

Categories: Uganda 2019