A Chance for Transformative Change

I was lucky enough to join the Literate Earth Project (LEP) as CFO back in November 2015. I have known Jeff, Alex, and Danielle for 9 years now and couldn’t be more excited when they asked to me to take on a role within the organization. 

Why Africa?   Though I had never been to Uganda prior to joining LEP, in 2007 I had the opportunity to travel to Ghana as a high school student. Hearing the LEP team describe their first impressions of Uganda reminded me of my experiences in West Africa. Talk of classrooms lacking enough books, students sharing outdated textbooks, copying textbooks by hand…what they were describing was very familiar to me. It brought back that feeling of wanting to help, to make a difference for these kids. 

Why LEP? When I watch the news, I, like many, feel inundated with information on countless crises and tragedies that occur globally. There are innumerable causes and organizations to stand behind. With so many worthy causes, it can be a daunting undertaking deciding who to support? What is the best way to alleviate hardships? How can we effectively plant seeds of change?

LEP presents a chance for communities to not only change, but to transform. Literacy is at the root of social justice. By empowering students with access to books, they are uplifting their own voices. The students that LEP works with are liberating themselves through critical thinking. Through critical thinking we can have a deeper democracy with more voices being included at the table.  Without serious consideration, it becomes easy to address the symptoms of a problem instead of the underlying causes, and round the merry round we go. One must penetrate through, look beyond “band-aid” solutions, and truly understand a problem from all angles. 

When I think about overwhelmingly complex issues like poverty, pollution, healthcare, corruption…  I return to the same basic solution: education. Any problem we face - from a micro level like communities to a macro level like a country or the world - literacy and education are the forefront to solving major issues. 

LEP provides the tools for children to rise up and meet the challenges of the future. 

Why I got involved. I want to help plant positive seeds of change. I want to take an on-the-ground, grass roots approach that gives a leg up, not a hand out. Furthermore, I want to help empower Ugandan citizens, who I know are the ones who can solve the issues facing their country. 

The LEP approach. I knew the approach of LEP was for me by the way the team evolved over time. They had setbacks that many major NGOs and aid programs face, but the way they handled those setbacks truly set them apart. LEP became more engaged by collaborating with communities, being receptive to their feedback and concerns, and jointly deciding on the best way to advance these goals, rather than hastily providing a handout that is only effective in the short term.

What I learned from traveling to Uganda with LEP in March 2016. I did not expect to witness the levels of excitement these books could bring to a school full of children. The appreciation these children and teachers displayed was simply astounding. My favorite parts of the trip were when the kids grabbed me to sit down and read yet another book with them, and meeting a group of school district officials eager to partner with LEP. I learned that these kids are enthusiastic to learn, to open a book, and expand their minds. The teachers are jazzed to have the necessary tools within arm’s reach to combat illiteracy, and fix the broken school system. School district officials were passionate to link up to get their schools on the waiting list to partner with LEP. 

What I learned first-hand, is that there is a strong desire to learn. I believe this desire, mixed with access to books, will help plant the seeds for social, political, and economic change within Uganda.

The Let’s Get Literate 5k

Witnessing these levels of excitement during my trip to Uganda, I knew there was more that I could do back home, to get my friends and community involved with the project. I have been a runner for years now, and I knew putting on a 5k would be the best way to raise some money, and get my friends and community to act locally, but think globally. We'd like to raise at least $1,597.00 (the cost of one library). If you are a runner or want to get involved with all the great things the Literate Earth Project is doing, join our community 5k by registering at http://www.theliterateearthproject.org/lep5k/

Joe Gentsch