On March 20th, we closed all our operations at all our centers due to the Coronavirus pandemic. We followed the Ugandan government guidelines that required all public spaces to close with immediate effect, as a baseline measure to controller the spread of the virus.
Last week, this lockdown was loosened and most businesses are now allowed to operate following clear guidelines from the Ministry of Health. Youth Rising has also been in the planning process to reopen following these guidelines.
Despite a wave of challenges that we have had the past 3 months, our resolve and our mission to contribute to positive youth outcomes have not been broken. We plan to continue our projects through Youth Rising Mukono, a physical center, and Africa Online School, a virtual learning center.
Reopening Youth Rising Mukono
We reopened Youth Rising Mukono on June 1st, 2020, with 2 staff members. We will officially resume (start working directly with our beneficiaries) on June 15th, 2020. We are known for running 5 programs that include PIVOT, a vocational training program for youth, the Literacy for Life program, Community Care Clinics, Youth Health Ambassadors Program, and Women Rising.
After consultations with our staff members and the Ministry of Health guidelines, we are opening the center to run only a modified Literacy for Life program for the next 6 months. We are focusing on Literacy for Life to help with a looming challenge of so many children that now have no access to education since schools and other learning centers are still closed. The program consists of two project activities that include YR Kids Reading Club and the Elevate Project.
YR Kids Reading Club
The Reading Club plans to engage and improve literacy and numeracy among 50 children (3-10 yrs) in Salaama,-Mpumu, and neighboring communities, during COVID19 related school closures. Starting June 15th and for the next 6 months, we are working with 50 children who will borrow books from YR community library and take them home with an assignment insert, prepared by our staff. While at home, they will read the books and work on their assignments with the help of their parents.
On returning the books, they will present their assignments which will be reviewed by our staff, to identify and praise good performance, while advising and helping on weak areas. They will then get to take home a new book, and this cycle will go on till December 2020.
We hope that engaging children in a reading process will enhance their literacy, improve their numeracy, and ultimately poke on their creativity and imagination.
2. Project Elevate
Project Elevate is a learning accelerator that will engage thirty 2020 primary seven students around Salaama,-Mpumu, and neighboring communities, in intensive learning and revision activities in order to prepare them to score better grades in their final primary leaving examinations.
We are choosing to focus on these children after engaging with several parents and children who have informed us they are not accessing the online and TV learning system that was set by the government of Uganda to compensate for COVID19 related school closures.
Our program is tapping into the many resources that have been developed on Africa Online School. We print these learning materials and give them to learners on a rotational basis. After attempting the questions, we will host debriefing conversations with volunteer teachers who will help learners to go through all the questions on their assignments one by one. We hope that this accelerated learning engagement will improve on grades of 30 children that we plan to engage in this activity.
All interactions with learners and staff have been designed with infection prevention plan. For example, we all learners have been placed in groups of 5 and have been assigned time and dates on when to come to Youth Rising. When they come to our offices, they will be provided with a sanitizer and a facemask, and their interactions will not last more than 2 hours at the center.
What is Africa Online School?
In an effort to continue serving youth in-line with our mission, we have had to reimagine what our platform might look like or at the very least what it might include in the future with minimal overhead expense. A piece of this effort includes Africa Online School, which will start by offering core education content that would typically be provided in schools to youth and children who can afford to pay school fees when schools are actually open.
This content will now be available for free to any person who has access to a laptop, tablet, or smartphone. And yes, while there may be other online education platforms available like LinkedIn Learning or Coursera, none of them provide content fully set in the Ugandan context or even in local languages. This content can also be linked and distributed through social media channels.
Beyond the core content, the platform will also provide WASH, SRHR, vocational, and other content and curricula — information we would typically provide on the ground through our programs.
Looking ahead, we envision that if and when we migrate back to on-ground programs, Africa Online School will continue to serve as a resource and tool to anyone who visits our centers or engages with Youth Rising through our digital literacy efforts and to those who are not within our localities that also need access to such information. We are excited about this not just because of its potential to reach many people, but also because we have received a lot of interest from students (100 subscribers at the time of writing) and teachers across the continent, who want to join our efforts to ensure that there is a digital learning platform, created for Africa by Africans like we like to say.
We are optimistic that once all this is over, we will be able to resume our monthly care clinics (monthly immunizations and health checkups in partnership with a local health center for all people and children in the community), the Digital Literacy Program (teaching children in the community how to use computers and digital technologies), and the vocational tailoring program. We believe that downsizing our program activities will enable us to focus most of the scanty finances directly to those that we serve.
We thank all our stakeholders, friends, donors, and family who have continued to believe in our mission and continued to support our work despite all the challenges, trials, and tribulations that have been caused by the COVID19 pandemic.
Co-Executive Director – Youth Rising International