The Power of International Collaboration: Iowa – Africa

This will take time to properly develop, but I wanted to
Uganda - America.png
keep a running log of what we are learning and doing.
We have connected with a village in

Uganda, Africa where we are examining success, education, and life between our location and theirs. It is becoming very powerful as we learn that not everything operates like it does in our little bubble in Bettendorf. This is so powerful and when connections are made, the kids really gain a sense of what the world has in store.

Project Goal

The question that we are working with for the unit on Africa is something like this

“What does success look like to you?”

Our goal here is to force students to look at what traits or values they believe personally captures the essence of success. We will then move them towards looking at people they know, local, country, and then global. We would then like for them to find a country or location in Africa that is successful based on their personal definition. The goal here is to connect their personal beliefs and ideas with a country they know very little about and to try to bring down the walls to some of their American mindsets.

As I worked with Eden we started to think deeper. Here is an email from Eden, where he has really upped the thinking to the project. This showcases the power of collaboration.
“That is a great question to start a unit with. There are so many levels to it.

Perhaps you could ask your students to do a video interview type project, they could interview their peers or teachers or members of society focusing on that question. Then wrap it up in a short video.
Then, you could ask what success means to people in an African country focusing on the children and/or adults.

I think the contrast in answers would shock your students and be a good education to them. Also, it is a realistic project that your students could do. They could develop skills in interviewing and video work.Flag-Pins-Uganda-USA.jpg

As part of the project, you could also turn the question around and ask “Who does success look like?” They could point out their hero and then research why they became successful.

Example of Success in Uganda:A boy who I taught to in Uganda in 2007 called Ronald met my friend Crystal who came to visit me. Crystal was impressed by this boy and decided to sponsor him. He didn’t disappoint, five years later he came second in the entire state in his exams recently.

The reason for his success: he got up at 4am everyday to start studying and didn’t finish until 10pm at night.

So that is how you get some of the best scores in the state, get up before dawn and start revising, stop studying when the electricity is switched off in the evening at your boarding school.

Ronald = Focus, determination and the understanding that he was given a chance in life which he took with both hands and didn’t look back. You could even turn the question around again and ask “What does failure look like to you?” For Ronald it would have been ‘missed opportunity’ if he hadn’t done his very best he would have missed a great opportunity to do well in life. He plans to become a teacher in the future.”
Eden shared with us a video of students talking about their school from 2008. This was a good video to give us and our students a sense of school in Africa where we would be communicating.


We started communication between teachers. We were working on the issues and how to make sure we could connect.

Over the summer the Atiira School was being built and updated when a lack of funds has kept it from being completed. Below are some images of the village and school.

Inline images 1
Inline images 1

The teacher’s accommodation that fell down.

How far we have built:

Inline images 2
Inline images 2



Inline images 3
Inline images 3


We prepared our materials, packed a camera with batteries and memory cards as well as some other goods and mailed off a package to Uganda.

Atiira Primary School is located in Soroti, central Uganda. It is seven hours north of Entebbe. Entebbe is where the largest airport in Uganda is located. It is a nice town and many rich people have their home there, including the President. It is half an hour from the capital, Kampala City.
We were trying to figure out the mailing system and this is something our students are still intrigued with. We learned that the post can be unreliable and the process can take a long time of sometimes months to reach certain areas. We had learned patience which is a good thing in our culture of instant and now. We wanted to make sure we provided money to send goods back to us. We learned that teachers make about $100 a month, so shipping costs of $5 – $10 are just not feasible for them. It was interesting packaging everything and hoping we hid money and the goods properly.


As we waited for our package to arrive, we viewed another video to teach some lessons about Uganda. Students received a complete view of what Uganda is like and began to understand the reasons why the meaning of ‘success’ is different. 

We watched Midian’s story. The video had a huge impact on students and really opened their eyes and lead to some great class discussions. Most have no idea what the life of a child in Uganda is like day-to-day.

Here is what I shared after viewing the video.

I am eternally grateful for what you are helping us do. We have one of our students who is considered one of the biggest bullies in the grade completely absorbed in this project. It has been an eye opener for her in ways that no other platform has been able to reach her.

I showed the video you linked of the beautiful Midian to the teachers doing this project. They were caught off guard a bit by what they saw. We have decided to show this in our 7th grade classes as well as the 8th grade group working on soccer equipment.

We were discussing a few things today and not sure if you have any answers or insights.

1. What are the possibilities of establishing a pen pal type structure to this project? I think if our students can connect to one person at the school they will be emotionally connected. I was thinking a picture and letter (very basic) might be something we could pull off if we supplied the materials and template of a letter. I don’t know enough yet about the school and the community to know if this would be too difficult or not.

2. We were also talking about transportation. How often do vehicles come to the village? We were on Google maps and just trying to make sense of the area. Do people in the village leave and travel elsewhere or remain permanently where they are located?

Thanks again for everything. I love it when the teachers are as excited and devoted to the project as the kids. That is when you know you have something special developing.

We later learned that the School location is here
All the children walk to school. Some walk for up to 45minutes to an hour to get to class. There is a main road near the school that vehicles pass along. This school is lucky in that fact, some schools are miles away from the nearest good road.

If a family is very rich they may have a car, rich family = motorcycle, middle class = bicycle, poor = no transport. People travel to the nearest town for supplies, using a friend’s motorcycle, cycling, or in the back of a truck.

On November 2nd the package finally arrived! We were so excited because we were starting to worry about it not making it to our friends.
As we continued to move forward with our project here locally we watched

Hans Rosling: Let my dataset change your mindset

On November 22nd, 2013 we received their video. It is AMAZING! And I cannot help but watch with a smile each and every single time.
The video was sent by a young man named Eddy, who is helping with video, editing, and communicating. He is working hard to ensure things are being done between schools. He has been fantastic in helping despite our minor setbacks due to the language barrier and technology needs. I am hoping to help him out as he is working hard to rise above and make something of himself.


Due to crazy weather, winter break, and other things to wrap up first semester the project stalled a bit

January 2014

We worked to capture photos and videos of our area and what success means to us. Students brought in thousands of images and videos. After sorting through it all, a computer crashing, then crashing again, and issues with audio we finally had our video ready in……

2.13.14: Our video in response to our friends in Africa


We received word today that the video is in the hands of our good friend Eddy. The issue we have now is once again waiting. It is hard for the students and our friends to see our students on a small phone screen. He is working to find a laptop that could be borrowed so the village can view our video properly. Once again this proves to be a powerful reminder that we are quite fortunate to have what we have. We often complain that our 11 laptop carts are just not enough to do proper learning. Perhaps we need another reality check.


We received a video from the children of Atiira Primary School produced by Eddy!

It was great to see the children’s reaction to our video from Bettendorf. We also saw glimpses of their life, for example, how they collect drinking water.

A fascinating video! Thank you Atiira for making and sending it!


As we wrap up the year we are hosting a school supply drive. As students clean out their lockers we are having boxes placed in the social studies classrooms. We are working with the headmaster to reward the students in Atiira for working hard in school. We are learning some very important lessons in human connection. We have learned that we just don’t give out freebies because what is there to be gained for them in the long run? We are currently developing the system now to deliver the supplies to the school and continue an international communication between two schools who are very different, but are striving for the same thing – excellence in character and academics for their students.

We have larger and bigger plans for the next that we don’t want to unveil yet, but this has been one incredible journey this year. We have learned more than expected and are so excited to work together as a school to provide supplies to others who can really benefit.

I will continue with the updates throughout the summer as things develop.

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