wanted to help families in her rural Ugandan village keep their children in
school, so she mobilized students,
parents and community leaders into a group that formed a new primary school. The
school is functioning, fewer kids drop out, and the school has initiated some income-generating projects
to support the poorest students. She also sparked formation of a women's development
group that focuses on sanitation and hygiene. Rose Asiimwe is a sophomore at the African Rural University (ARU), an unusual institution that encourages students to bring their academically acquired technological and
entrepreneurial skills back home.
ARU is a
women-only institution with a vision of its graduates as change agents who can
help people of Uganda and beyond make their own communities better places to
live and thrive. The ARU website
explains the school's core beliefs. Among them: "Lasting
change comes only when people shift from reacting or adapting to events and
circumstances and become creators of events and circumstances." Another core
belief is that when people share a common vision they can transcend barriers
caused by tribal, religious, political and gender differences.
consultant and CEO of her own
consulting group, has written a story of the university’s founding and achievements. ARU is part of a continuum of educational
institutions from primary school through
Uganda Rural Development and
Training Programme (URDT), founded
in 1987, in Kagadi, had taught children and adults of both sexes, as well as entrepreneurs and farmers, and had
started a girls' school. All the students
had academic grades, but primary
and secondary students in the Girls School were also graded on their
ability to get their families to improve living conditions while their daughters were away studying. The URDT Girls School graduated its
first high school class in 2007, and those young women were already community
leaders. Read an article by Robert Fritz on URDT
emphasis on processes and system dynamics emphasis
Mwalimu Musheshe, named an Ashoka
Fellow in 2001, founded ARU with URDT. Ashoka
considered his concept of the school a system changing idea. The country's first all-women's
university would create a core of
visionary women leaders and role models, aid gender parity in education, and
reduce infant mortality.
ARU began in
September 2006 with 29 researcher students in a five year pilot program with
three years of study and two years of field work in a dozen communities where they performed as "rural transformation
specialists." Students visited hundreds of households in their communities, creating a baseline survey on such
matters as income, health, sanitation
and nutrition. That information helped identify projects people wanted,
and students used their training and access to expertise to help people carry
them out. ARU and its feeder schools emphasized creative processes, community
learning, entrepreneurship, sustainable development and creating social capital.
ARU rural transformation courses draw on science and humanities, Seybold
writes, and inspiration from "traditional
wisdom specialists," old men and women who know and share traditional knowledge.
ARU's goal was to foster systems
thinking in every part of the curriculum.
As Seybold writes, it wasn’t the students' job to fix the system, but to
understand it thoroughly enough so that
they could help community members identify and collaborate on their
shared vision. Some resulting
projects have included new roads, schools, savings societies, market places and farmers' co-ops.
Students also worked on how to
measure impact of their work—what information to collect, how to establish data
bases, and how to get feedback from community members, who were asked to play a
key role in evaluating projects.
The teamwork of
school and community were in play when ARU needed its own library as a
condition for certification as a university. There were national standards for space and academic content,
Seybold says, but planners wanted a deep understanding of who the library
should serve and how. A group of
students, staff, faculty, librarians and media personnel explored ARU's
expectation that the new facility would be a magnet for scholars, government
officials, the local community and a broader region of 10 million subsistence farmers with low literacy. They
planed data bases that would be used by all, and a rich collection of
agricultural samples on seeds,
plants, soil and access to
successful agricultural practices. Read
Seybold's article here.