The first time I went to the Luigi Giussani High School and received an official tour it was clear to me that the mission of AVSI and all of our friends here is alive there. The school acknowledges the humanity of each student in everything from the structure of the building to teacher relationships. Schools around the world could learn from their philosophy, but particularly in Uganda, where they are an anomaly. Every teacher I have spoken to (and there are many because my research involves teacher interviews) emphasized that the other schools consider punishment to be the only road to learning. Instead, when a student enters LGHS they walk into a bright mango-colored entrance hall — the size and color intentionally signs that all are welcome. From there they meet teachers with whom they can have a “free and open” relationship, as opposed to one of fear.
After my tour, I had breakfast with three students and one teacher who shared their experiences of being at the school. Like the women of Meeting Point International, they were signs to me of a seemingly impossible rebirth. Gladys even said, “I was born at the age of 14 (when I started at LGHS) because that is when I started living”. Each one pointed to Christ as the reason for the change in their life, but first they pointed to their relationships with their teachers. “That first day a teacher gave me a smile that made my knees go weak. No teacher had ever smiled at me or asked me what my name was,” said Gladys. She goes on to share that these teachers want to educate their hearts before their minds. Anita (who is much younger) had a sense of this, as well. She told us, “If I am educated it’s not only about books, but also, I discover my talents. I discover who I am”.
And again Vincent affirmed this sentiment; “They educate us about who we are and what is the meaning of life”. First, the school addresses the humanity of the students — their heart, their identity. From this education of the heart, flows a greater willingness to learn. The school does not punish like the other schools and yet their students learn and behave, for another reason. Betty is an English teacher who explained that her relationship with her students is in some ways like a parent or a friend. She said, “There are times when your students are showing you they need something else and humanly you have to see that”. As I prepare to teach in September, I am learning so much from these Ugandan friends and what it truly means to educate.
A recent grad from Boston College, I will be spending the next two months in Uganda seeing my studies of education, psychology and human development in action. I am lucky enough to be volunteering with and learning from the community of educators at the Luigi Giussani Institute of Higher Education (LGIHE). My days will consist of everything from classroom observation to educational research to exploring the culture of Uganda (and Kenya for a brief visit!). I would love for you to follow along for what I am sure will be a crazy beautiful summer!