After winning the RIC4ACE phase one grant from the ResilientAfrica Network (RAN), the VEBEC team opened up an office in Yumbe town in Northern Uganda and connected it to solar power to provide security lights at night. Soon, the team observed that close to 50 school children in the nearby households gathered each night to study at the office veranda using the security lights. This was an indicator of a problem and which prompted the team to further interact with these students. ”We found that these school children did not have adequate and convenient reading spaces in their homes (typical houses are grass thatched single rooms accommodating many family members), had no proper lighting (most households in Yumbe do not have proper lighting), many have no chance to study at home due to household chores (especially girls),and most have unsupportive families” noted Imran. A further survey with the students in the broader area confirmed these plights and showed that in addition to these challenges at home, students in this part of the world lack access to requisite study materials and other amenities that boost academic performance e.g. text books, uniforms, geometrical sets, mid-day meals, group discussion platforms, and mentorship programs. These issues have made it easy for school children to drop out of school and engage in early marriages and other criminal activities such as drug abuse, theft, robbery, and other vices that are very common in Yumbe district.
In response to this problem, we (VEBEC team) started a drive to create a conducive learning environment for the school children which we call the Learning Center [LC]. This space comprises of a solar powered library and shares office space with the organization’s livelihood improvement project, the Village Egg Bank in Egg Currency. This was intended to give school children extra hours of study in an organized space with the necessary study materials. A fundraiser was launched on the organization’s website (http://www.nestedsavings.org/learningcenter) and other forms of campaigns were organized to mobilize the learning materials. We raised close to $8000 from the campaign and we received book donations from 2 other organizations. The Yumbe district leadership also transferred the custodianship of books from its non-functioning public library to us. We have since then received over $10,000 in small website donations to support this project.
By February 2016, VEBEC relocated to a bigger office space that has an extra room dedicated for the Learning Center and the resource was also launched then. In addition to providing a conducive reading environment, the Learning Center is used as a discussion platform by young people over the weekends; as a mentorship platform to talk to the young people; and also as a platform to host community dialogues.
Since its launch about a year ago, the Nested Savings Learning Center has provided access to over 5000 students, civil servants and community members to good reading materials and has had a direct positive impact on the performance of some of our frequent student users who sat for their Uganda National Examinations Board (UNEB) certificate examinations last year (2016).
We have more projects directed towards further benefiting the communities which are currently running under the learning Center such as the Local Youth News Letter, Career talks in schools and soon we will introduce reading, writing and debating competitions.
Several photos are shared on the website, please visit www.nestedsavings.org> photos > learning center.