Battle Mountain grad trains Uganda’s future leaders
May 10, 2011
EDWARDS, Colorado – It is early September 2009. My daughter Maggie and I sit at the edge of the security screening area in Terminal A at the Denver airport.
“I just want to hold you, Mama.”
Tears are collecting in the corners of Maggie’s large brown eyes. She loses herself in my hug, and pats my back, the way she used to when she was 3. The pat-pat-pat on my back is achingly familiar. But now she is 23, and headed to Africa.
“Mom, you’ll come and see me, I know you will.”
I nod through my tears, and pull away so I can look at her. I start to hum and Maggie fills in the words from a favorite song from the movie “South Pacific”:
“Happy talk, keep talking happy talk,
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Talk about things you’d like to do.
You got to have a dream, if you don’t have a dream,
How you gonna make a dream come true?”
I chime in at the end, and we collapse into another long hug, laughing and holding each other tight.
‘Be the change’
Her plan is to be gone two years. She graduated almost a year and a half earlier from Pomona College with a degree in religious studies – and a dream: To work for a nonprofit or nongovernmental organization (NGO).
“Be the change you wish to see in the world” has been Maggie’s mantra as long as I can remember. When Maggie was a sophomore at Battle Mountain High School, she and a friend brought a presentation to the Vail Valley called “Journey to a Hate-Free Millennium.” It focused on three separate events fueled by hate: the vicious murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student in Wyoming; the brutal dragging death of James Byrd, an African American in Texas; and the Columbine shootings. The purpose was to get the school and community talking about hate, and to try and figure out its antidote.
After graduating from Pomona, Maggie spent a year cobbling together an eclectic assortment of jobs. Each week, she spent several days as a companion to an autistic young man in Denver, she commuted from Denver to Edwards to work as a scribe for a local doctor, Dr. Feeney, and she worked for Urban Peak, a nonprofit in Denver that provides services for homeless and runaway youth. She also picked up a shift or two at a yoga studio. That was her “mental health” job!
Maggie’s manic schedule led me to remark that she had packed more jobs into one year than most of us do in a decade. In between, she interviewed for positions with NGOs and nonprofits, but alas, she didn’t have the experience or resume to get more than her foot in the door. Until she met Eric Glustrom.
Taking a leap
A mutual friend who attended Amherst College with Eric introduced them. Eric just happens to be from Boulder, where Educate!’s U.S. office is based. During high school, Eric spent several weeks in Africa making a documentary about a population of refugees that lived in Uganda. On his first day in the Kyangwali Refugee Camp, Eric met Benson Olivier, a young refugee who was his age. Benson and Eric became fast friends, as Eric enlisted him to help with his project. Eric wanted more than anything to help Benson and the people of Kyangwali. He asked Benson what he could do. Benson responded by asking for an education so he could work to solve the problems in his community and homeland. Educate! was born.
Educate!’s mission is to create the next generation of leaders in Africa. Although it sounds like a lofty goal, Educate! has a well-thought-out business plan. Educate! has created a model of exponential empowerment – investing long-term in a few so they can positively impact many others. The program provides high school students with a leadership and social entrepreneurship course, long-term mentoring, and practical experience.
Maggie was intrigued. The main obstacle was that Educate! could not pay her. It would be up to Maggie to get herself to Uganda, and support herself while there. Maggie saved every penny she could, cashed in her graduation money, sold her car, and bought a plane ticket to Uganda. She spent the first six months writing a book, a manual to be used by mentors, and a resource for alumni of Educate!. Soon she was getting a small stipend, and two months ago she moved into the position of Educate!’s program director. “What does the program director do?” I asked the last time we Skyped. I learned that Maggie is responsible for hiring and training mentors, (local Ugandans) designing curriculum, managing budgets, and a myriad of other things.
I met Eric Glustrom in 2009 shortly before Maggie left for Uganda. Over brunch at Lucile’s, a Boulder restaurant famous for its cajun food, I asked Eric, “Why Uganda? Why not here in the U.S. where there is such a need?” I knew I would be asked this question over and over again in the weeks ahead. Over steaming cups of cajun coffee and beignets, Eric explained that the amount of money required, not to mention the red tape involved, made it prohibitive to launch a program in the U.S. But, he assured me, they were creating a model, and if the model was successful, they could take it anywhere.
Last fall, the government of Uganda asked Educate! to incorporate its social entrepreneurship training into the national education system. It will empower 45,000 high school students per year to start enterprises to solve the problems facing their communities. It is the first national social entrepreneurship curriculum in the world. A year and a half after our brunch and Eric’s bold statement, Educate! is taking this model across Uganda.
In early June, I will return to DIA, alone this time. Twenty-four hours and three flights later I will land at the Entebbe airport in Eastern Africa. I will be met by a long-overdue hug from my daughter. Maggie has launched her dream. She is passionately engaged in creating positive change, surrounded by a group of people energized by a shared vision. I am looking forward to seeing Educate! in action firsthand. And we’ll probably find another silly song to sing – who knows where it will take us?
Caroline Sheahan is an Edwards resident.