7 years ago in late 2007, a young boy from a remote Nigerian village said to me in Hausa “I don’t like my life in this village. It is the same every day. I know things can be different, but I don’t know how to change them. Please help me.” Thus began the long story of the seven year development of the Butterfly Project in Uganda. This boy was 15 and clearly very adept, he had been going to a free Nigerian school, yet could not write his name and had rarely even held a pen. His latent potential was immense, yet there was no project or strategy to empower him.
Access to education in Africa and elsewhere is rising and huge progress has been made with a higher percentage of children reaching the end of their Primary education than ever before. However, this statistic does not record many of the hidden issues about education:
a) Curriculum is often based in the past, not the present changed world, and there is little practical application of knowledge learnt that is feasible in a school environment, where often there are 70+ children
b) Large class sizes make it very difficult to manage classrooms without the threat of caning or teachers that are very frightening for children. Children who like to speak their ideas are often ridiculed or threatened with punishment for “disrupting the class”. So children learn not to rock the boat, when at school, even though the country they live in is dramatically different from the one they are being taught about.
c) Free education does not exist anywhere, except for those who are sponsored and even in this situation, many sponsorship schemes mean that families still need to contribute to the costs. This means that children often attend school sporadically, as they lack needed materials or fees and are regularly thrown out from school, even when sponsored. This leads to learned truanting behaviour and unreliability as a learned character trait.
d) Quality of education is measured differently in Uganda where I have most experience, as it is based almost purely on exam results. Exams are used to lever fees out of parents and pupils are threatened with poor reports if they don’t pay fees or even having to repeat a year, when they are perfectly capable of moving up to the next year. Ethics and character are rarely if ever measured, as pointed out in the letter to children by a Lancashire head teacher in the UK – so the problem is worldwide, though very prominent in Uganda.
There are other issues, but I just wanted to demonstrate that traditional school education does not create changemakers and there are very many reasons for this. Thus, we need new strategies, especially in those countries where you look around as a social entrepreneur and see things that need addressing like:
i) Community cohesion
ii) Lack of entrepreneurship ability
iii) Failure of youth to realise their potential
iv) Lack of awareness of how to use computers and the internet to find solutions to problems
v) High crime from disenchanted older teenagers, who have failed to find a job
vi) Fear of becoming ill and not being treated.
All of the above point to lack of proper engagement with youth, yet we know that young people are anxious about their future. They do not want to be involved in the corruption they see around them. They dislike being bored. They fear being failures and living a life of poverty.
Some few children are able to see things differently. Mercy’s blog of a couple of year’s back showed how she felt that she needed to be strong and be ready to shape the society she and other youth wanted, which is so important in our age of rapid technological development. Mercy is one of 15 young people, who are Butterfly Project members, who have already started to change the world. Here’s some examples how:
Francis Ssuuna has devised a training programme called Vision 4 Change, which teaches youth about how to develop the vision to spot social projects and then how to go about implementing these projects. He believes that youth only should teach youth how to do this and this programme has now been spread to hundreds of young people in Uganda.
Eunice Namugerwa developed a poultry business while still at school and spoke about it to inspire other young people at TEDx Kampala. She also contributes to local community cohesion and children’s talent development with her music and dance project for children and youth.
Samuel Lubangakene believed that children needed more than just basic food in schools and devised a way to encourage Ugandan schools to vary diet. More recently, he has devised and implemented a project which uses videogames to expand the problem-solving ability of young people in the slums
Nancy Lakot sees girls living in the village as her personal challenge. She wants to empower them and show them a different option to the life that their mothers are leading. Most recently she has been training girls in computing, but she uses every mechanism she knows to encourage young girls to reach their potential – such as drama, debates and even song-writing.
Charles Obuk has been a pioneer in the development of reading ability amongst children in villages and has devised his own reading method. This year he has launched a reading library project and we are working with him to implement a range of reading libraries in rural Northern Uganda, based at schools. Reading is never more crucial than now, when youth will need to read english to benefit from the knowledge the internet brings.
Every member of the Butterfly Project is an influencer and has a significant circle of youth that they interact with and inspire. Each one works with a different community in Uganda and will take their inspiration to wherever they are needed. In many countries in the world, young people may have a voice, but they have little opportunity to create change because adults believe they already know the answers. In Uganda, youth are often better placed to provide solutions problems in their community than their parents, who have never had an education. Young people have the energy and, if they have the vision, I believe they can realise it far more readily than in a country like the UK and we have proved this with these early projects from our Pioneer Butterfly members.
This year we have discovered 15 new young Butterflies, that need training and we need support for them to become changemakers in their communities. Nine of these are from remote rural village areas and six are from very disadvantaged slum districts. We need £45 per month for each member to carry out their training and this includes:
a) Education costs
b) Boarding costs at the Chrysalis Centre in Kireka
c) All training costs and vision development activities
More information about how you can support us is at this link. You can either support with a one off donation or commit to a regular support each month. You don’t need to support the whole £45/month, any regular donation will go into the Butterfly 2015 Fund.
Often sponsorship goes only to those in the right place at the right time or it is suggested that education alone will be enough, when we know that education alone rarely inspires changemakers – it gives many of the tools, but does not train children to have a positive mindset that they can be the ones to be the change. The Butterfly Project fills in the gaps by training Ethics, International Citizenship, Problem-solving, Activism, ICT, Leadership, Project Management, Accountability and Transparency and many more areas conducive to creating visionary world citizens. This is what the young man in Nigeria wanted, so we do our best to provide it.