What is Soft Power Education?
Soft Power Education (SPE) is a British registered charity and Ugandan NGO. Since 1999 we have been working with communities in Uganda with a mission of:
“Improving quality of life through education”.
Our vision is for:
“An empowered and self-sustaining society that takes responsibility for its own development”.
We focus on three key related areas:
Why is Soft Power Education needed in Uganda?
SPE focuses its work within rural areas of Uganda. The majority of the rural population across the country is deemed by the UN, World Bank and various other commentators to be living in chronic poverty, solely dependent on farming for food and income. This level of poverty stems from a number of inter-related factors including; lack of education, serious health issues, environmental destruction, large households and remote locations. Uganda’s turbulent history has exacerbated the problems contributing to the poverty experienced by a significant proportion of the population. Many families in rural communities are caught in a perpetual cycle of poverty from one generation to the next.
In our early years, our work was largely focused on infrastructure in the primary education sector. However, in recent years, we have begun to tackle many more of the factors that contribute to poverty.
The Government of Uganda currently relies heavily on input from external sources, particularly NGOs, to meet the basic needs of its population. Although the government is very supportive of the work that we do, at SPE we work with a view to reducing dependency by equipping people with the skills and resources that they need to break the cycle of poverty for themselves.
How do we do it?
Our success to date is based on partnerships with local schools, communities and other organisations.
Every project that we are involved with has come about as a result of opportunities identified with our partners for bringing about change, or specific requests for assistance from the local community. SPE helps to deliver sustainable solutions through the expertise of its staff, the ability to raise funds and through inspiring travellers and tourists to get involved with our work.
History of Soft Power Education
Hannah Small worked as an overland driver in both Africa and Asia. Her passengers would frequently express their desire to contribute to the communities they encountered on their travels but time was precious and the opportunities few and far between. Hannah saw that this desire could be harnessed into a more serious force for change and quit her job. Uganda was the natural starting point as she had run many trips there and had felt a natural affinity with the Ugandan people.
The moving force of history was, in the past, “hard power”- in the form of military might, political authority and wealth. What we have seen in recent years, however, is a decrease in the relative importance of this factor, and in its stead a remarkable increase in the importance of “soft power”- factors such as knowledge and information, culture, ideas and systems.
Daisaku Ikeda at Harvard University, Boston, USA on September 26, 1991
In 1999, SPE was launched and Hannah moved to Bujagali near Jinja. Tapping into the dedication and generosity of tourists and independent travellers to Uganda, SPE’s first project was the construction of Buwenda Pre-School for orphans and other vulnerable children. The land was a gift from the community and after twelve months of hard work, assisted by local builders, a pre-school appeared on the landscape. To the delight of 120 children the pre-school was officially opened in March 2003.
The community of Kyabirwa looked on with interest and gifted more land to SPE requesting that a similar school be built for their children. Kyabirwa Children’s Centre opened in the spring of 2004 for 120 orphans. Both pre-schools were staffed with qualified teachers who were, and continue to be, determined to encourage these little ones to learn English, play games, write, sing and dance.
Since then, SPE has gone from strength to strength. What seemed like an ambitious five year plan to renovate and refurbish the 20 government-funded primary schools in the area was achieved two years ahead of schedule. We continue to work on this programme in a wider area and have to date worked at over 50 schools across six sub-counties throughout the Jinja district.
In February 2007, SPE opened the doors of the Amagezi Education Centre and launched the P6 Pupils’ Project. For 10 years, this project welcomed several thousand children each year into a unique learning environment where lessons in agriculture, ICT, science, art and craft, drama and library took a hands-on approach with plenty of active participation. The centre also worked closely with the local community offering courses in tailoring, ICT, carpentry, crafts and much more.
2007 also saw the commencement of a new programme area in the Buliisa district in Uganda’s western region. Working with communities bordering Murchison Falls Conservation Area, Uganda’s largest protected area, we continue to support primary school infrastructure but also work in close partnership with local communities and schools to encourage conservation education and improve access to sustainable livelihood options.
2009 saw the birth of our Special Educational Needs (SEN) programme which now works with over 140 families throughout the Jinja district. The SEN team is made up of a physiotherapist, occupational therapist and specialist teacher who work across four clinical settings using an adapted SEN curriculum with children with a range of special needs, free of charge. We run a residential unit for 24 children, a social communication disorder group, education services, outreach therapy clinics and partner with other organisations to share skills and expertise.
In February 2018, and following on from the highly successful P6 Pupils’ Project, we launched our new education programme – Learning and Education for All, “LEAP”. LEAP aims to tackle some of the issues identified as barriers to learning at government primary schools across the Jinja district. We aim to increase the learning potential of pupils to give them the tools to succeed and become valuable contributors to Ugandan society. The programme centres around three core areas – “bellies, bodies and brains”.
It is only through the ongoing support of donors and volunteers that we have been able to achieve so much in a short space of time. Our funding comes from trusts and foundations, individual donors, overland groups, independent travellers to Uganda and volunteers from all over the world who donate towards our programmes.
In 2019, we will be celebrating 20 years of working in Uganda. Over the years, there have been too many amazing folk to name who have given their time and money and above all passion to help grow the charity. Without all of these wonderful connections, nothing would have been achieved.
WHERE WE WORK
Where We Work
Soft Power Education HQ is in Jinja, Uganda, a land and lake-locked country in East Africa lying on the equator and neighbouring Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo.
Jinja is one of the 112 districts within Uganda, situated in the Busoga region. Jinja town is set alongside the shores of the magnificent Lake Victoria, home to the source of the River Nile where the White Nile begins its journey through to the Mediterranean Sea. It is just two hours east of the capital city Kampala and approximately three hours from the main international airport at Entebbe. Jinja is lucky enough to enjoy a healthy tourism industry, largely due to the draw of the Grade 5 white water rapids along the River Nile.
The majority of our volunteer activities are based at Bujagali in the Jinja district, approximately 15 minutes away from Jinja town itself.
SPE’s second programme area is in the north west of the country, operating out of the regional office in Masindi and carrying out operations in Buliisa district, directly bordering Murchison Falls Conservational Area and Lake Albert. This beautiful and rugged district is characterised by a wide array of people from many of Uganda’s tribes carrying out subsistence farming on sandy soils, to a stunning backdrop of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Blue Mountains.
- Total area: 241,038 km sq
- Climate: Tropical (dry seasons are Dec-Feb and Jun-Aug)
- Terrain: Mostly plateau with a rim of mountains
- Lowest point: Lake Albert, 621m
- Highest point: Mount Stanley, 5,110m
- Natural resources: copper, cobalt, hydropower, limestone, salt, arable land
- Total population: 41.5 million
- Average age: 15.2 years (2nd youngest population in the world)
- Population growth rate: 3.3%
- Total fertility rate: 5.6
- Infant mortality rate: 53 per 1,000
- Life expectancy: 60 years
- Below the poverty line: 19.7%
- Gross national income per capita: US$1,820
- Total adult literacy rate: 70%
- Pre-school participation: 11%
- Gross enrolment ratio, primary school: 109.9% (>100% due to repetition or late entry)
- Complete primary school: 24.8%
- HIV adult prevalence rate: 1.5 per 1,000 uninfected persons
- People living with AIDS: 1.4 million
(Figures taken from State of the World’s Children, 2016)
Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), otherwise known as the Global Goals, are a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. The 17 SDGs aim to continue the work of the 12 Millennium Development Goals, of which Uganda reached 33% of targets by 2015. Progress was made on access to HIV treatment, reduction in incidences of malaria and other major diseases, and some targets on global partnerships for development.
While this was commendable, it was evident that progress on Universal Primary Education, gender equality, maternal health and the spread of HIV/AIDS, all of which are key tenets required for human development, was still slow.
So, what is SPE doing?
SPE was founded with the aim of contributing to the attainment of Millennium Development Goal 2, to achieve universal primary education. We are now working towards the attainment of SDG4, ensuring inclusive learning and quality education for all and promoting lifelong learning.
“Education is the most powerful weapon that you can use to change the world.”
In our world, knowledge is power, and education empowers. It is an indispensable part of the development equation. It has intrinsic value – extending far beyond the economic – to empower people to determine their own destiny. That is why the opportunity to be educated is central to achieving human development.
There is also another critical dimension of education – its role in promoting peace, tolerance, understanding and friendship. Education has the power to build positive attitudes and behaviour which bring people together. The converse is true – a curriculum imbued with bias, prejudice, and misrepresentation of the ‘other’ will exacerbate tensions and reinforce divisions.
Uganda introduced tuition-fee primary education in 1997, with enrolment into primary school rising from 3 million children to 7.6 million children in the first 10 years of its inception. In 2006, 85% of children between 6 and 12 were in school. Despite the remarkable improvement in enrolment rate, the quality of school environments worsened as a result. Literacy and numeracy levels failed to increase over time, drop-out levels remain high and classroom conditions poor (in terms of overcrowding and teaching quality).
SPE’s School Infrastructure Programme transformed government primary schools into safe, creative and inspiring learning environments, with the aims of reducing absenteeism and drop out rates and raising performance levels. Since 1999 the organisation has expanded into a variety of other programmes in the areas of alternative education and livelihoods, all of which have education at their core and focus on equipping people with the knowledge and skills to improve their own quality of life. These programmes also contribute to SDGs 2 (zero hunger), 5 (gender equality), 13 (climate action) and 15 (life on land).