For Gann alumna Naomi Plasky ’07, the urge to embark on something completely different after college couldn’t be ignored.
Five months after graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in April 2011, she found herself in Uganda as part of the Uganda Rural Fund
(URF), a nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering orphans, underprivileged youth and women to fight poverty in rural communities in the country.
Plasky went to Uganda to teach Math and English at Hope Academy to what would be equivalent to 8thgrade in the United States. Her students were between the ages of 17-22 because school is not free, meaning students must pay for tests, textbooks and uniforms. Since most kids cannot afford these materials, they cannot attend school every year.
While designing a curriculum for students of different ages and learning capacities was challenging for Plasky, keeping control of the classroom presented the biggest hurdle. “Some [students] started to take advantage of me; they would act out in class and would even leave,” Plasky said, adding that some students had the tendency to cheat on assignments and lacked overall motivation.
What’s more, the effort of some of her female students was impacted by the Ugandan culture. Some believed that they attend school for a couple years and then get pregnant, which is a “frustrating” viewpoint, she said.
Plasky did her best to keep her students engaged and focused on lessons. She would often give homework with candy as a reward, though not all students would actually do it. She also was not hesitant to give a zero for a grade if a student was caught cheating or simply ignored an assignment, saying that she constantly reinforced that extra help was available as well.
The majority of her students did study and take classes seriously. Some students even had to walk hours to school in the pouring rain and pass on lunch so they could buy paraffin to light their house at night to study. They made these sacrifices just to get an education with the hopes of having a career, providing for their families and leaving the village someday.
While in Uganda, Plasky stayed with the family that operated the school and land. The school was in close proximity to her house and was considered the “nicest in the village,” she said. It even had a shower, albeit cold water only, one of the only houses with that luxury. That was important because she quickly learned what being truly dirty meant, saying that she was “amazed by the amount of dirt that would come off my body.”
Between the hardships and triumphs of teaching, Uganda left a permanent mark on Plasky that will never fade. That feeling was assured when some of her students who had nearly nothing managed to give her gifts – eggs, jewelry and more – to show their appreciation when she left the village after eight months. Despite being unable to show her students how much they changed her life, she said, Plasky is on a mission to make a difference in the lives of her students.
Advised by Lynn S. Auerbach, the Founder and Co-Director of the Connect Africa Foundation, Plasky is actively searching for sponsors and donations to send four of her former students to higher education. It was originally five students, but Plasky has committed to sponsoring one of the students on her own. She and Auerbach created the “Kyetume Fund” to help support these students, and all of the proceeds earmarked for the fund will go directly toward educational goals. Donations can be made through the Connection Africa Foundation
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