This post is part of a four-part series about traveling to East Africa this fall with She's the First, a nonprofit that sponsors girls' education worldwide. I traveled for six weeks with STF's Co-Founder and Director of International Operations Christen Brandt and documented the girls' lives at school and at home in still photos and video.
After a twelve-hour overnight bus ride crossing the border from Kenya to Uganda, then another hour car ride to the Bududa district from Mbale, Christen and I were pretty exhausted... until we got to go to visit She's the First Scholars at school!
The whole school welcomed us with a song-and-dance assembly! These primary students are super talented, and it was the best possible way to be introduced to the school.
Arlington Academy of Hope is She's the First's partner in Uganda. The primary school is dedicated to raising the quality of education in the region, thus transforming the area into a self-sustaining community. In Uganda, 65% of the population lives on less than $2 per day, according to UNESCO. Educating girls and enabling their participation in the workforce substantially raises a country's GDP.
Once the kids reach secondary school, the organization finds boarding programs for them around the country. She's the First sponsors the education of 45 girls with Arlington Academy of Hope! Most of the girls are still in primary school, but some have moved onto secondary school and are working toward their high school diplomas.
We arrived in the middle of rainy season and the region is covered in red clay - which makes climbing up a mountain path difficult! Most of the kids have rain boots, but some of them walk barefoot to keep their school shoes clean. It was about a 30 minute walk up the slippery mountainside to school from the guest house where we were staying, and further up to some of the girls' homes. One particular trek to visit Betty's family (below) took us about an hour-and-a-half past the school up the mountain. Huffing and puffing, we would occasionally ask the nonplussed Betty, "How much further?," and she'd say, "Not far!" She walks this path everyday to and from school, leaving very early in the morning to make it on time.
One of our major goals for the trip was to film segments for a promotional video for She's the First's Run the World campaign. Sixth-grade student Mercy, below, was one of the stars of our film and she's an AMAZING athlete. A behind-the-scenes blogpost is coming soon!
An important aspect of the Arlington Academy of Hope, as well as all of the partner programs of She's the First, is the role parents play. All of the partners require that parents be involved in their daughters' education. Sixth-grader Bess's dad and step-mom, below, are a great example of involved parents who want their daughter to succeed. Look at those amazing smiles!
I've now visited six of She's the First's partner organizations, but Arlington has the largest group of She's the First Scholars that I've met. It was so exciting to see 35 of them together (ten young women are in secondary school, and we visited them at different boarding schools around Uganda).
The students put on a goodbye assembly for us as well, which brought us all to tears. I miss these girls so much, and I hope I can go visit them again in the next few years and see them in secondary school!