Road Trip Soroti!

19 07 2019

We met the students and staff from Soroti Municipal High School (Beacon of Hope) back in 2017 while competing at a STEM event in Kampala. We were impressed at the fact this team was really motivated and so were their teachers! They even had competed in FTC for one season! So they were a school we had kept on our radar and knew would benefit and make terrific use of what we had to offer. This year we had prepared to meet with the students and help them further develop the STEM program that they had started several years ago as they had already proven their commitment & sustainability.

Soroti is Northeast of Jinja and is in the far Eastern region of Uganda. It is about 4 hours journey by car and the road is mostly tarmac that has been redone in recent years, a HUGE bonus in Ugandan travel! The teacher in charge of the robotics/computer club at their school is named Moses. He was a pleasure to work with as he prepared accommodation for us in advance and communicated with us throughout the weeks leading up to our arrival.

The Soroti Municipal/Beacon of Hope SS started back in the 2000s as a school that rehabilitated child soldiers, refugee kids and students orphaned as a result of war (read up on the LRA and Joseph Kony in Uganda). The school continues today under the NGO “Pilgrim Africa” take in many underprivileged kids, many from the North where there is still some unrest and after effects of the conflict era happening. We learned a lot from the staff and students at the school and exchanging and comparing life both past and present in our respective countries were conversations enjoyed by all.

Thanks to some help of donated equipment from robotics teams in the USA and Canada as well as private donors, we were able to deliver a 2-day workshop program and provide 3 VEX EDR kits to this school as well as some batteries for their Lego NXT Robots that they were lacking. The team had divided their club into junior (30) and senior (25) teams and it was great to see that the model of the older students teaching the younger ones, as we have been encouraging with our students in Nazigo and Jinja was already in place. These kids, thanks to their prior experience were familiar with many of the robot parts already and much of the terminology. With a crash course in this new system, some lessons in RobotC, RobotMesh Blocky (a graphical block based language) and intro to Python (all new for them) we had a moving robot by day 2! It was a lot of fun getting to know the students and the vibe there was positive it was by far one of the best learning environments we have experienced in Uganda. The investment and involvement of the teacher was HUGE to the success of this program. He is with them afterschool almost every day of the week and all day on Saturdays, taking his rest day on Sunday. He has been committed to this school since 2009 and LOVES learning and participating in robotics. A dedicated and interested teacher, not intimidated by new learning experiences and with a willingness to learn alongside students (and not be the all knowing expert) is a refreshing and RARE experience here! This team is so promising and their learning has been so fast we wanted to make sure they had some competitive opportunities to strive for so we registered them as an official VEX Robotics Competition Team! They are now officially team 12443M the Cybernights Uganda! This registration allows them to take part in numerous online competitions with the VEX robotics program without having to travel overseas. It is going to be a lot of fun to see what they create and enter in these various events this year! They are even hoping to find a way through their NGO sponsorship to travel to a competition overseas. They have accomplished this before as an FTC team in 2017, and we want to help them as much as we can to succeed in having this experience again. We’d love to help host these kids and see them at a Canadian competition!

We are thrilled to have made this positive connection and look forward to an ongoing partnership and mentorship of this school this year both via our outreach crew in Uganda and by connecting Canadian kids back home. The enthusiasm and absolute joy these kids had in working in their technology lab and how truly interested they were in learning from us made it hard to leave after just 2 days and they were really pushing us to stay for more time. We genuinely would have loved to, but with so much work back in Bugembe and Jinja to finish up we just couldn’t!


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