Sharon Yoder sat quietly in a classroom thousands of miles from her home and prepared to do the thing she loved most: teach. It had been a long journey to this classroom in Uganda, also known as the “pearl of Africa.” The nation, located in East Africa, is one of the world’s poorest countries, and higher education opportunities in the region have subsequently suffered. After a 10-hour flight to Europe, Yoder had boarded another 8-hour flight to the capital city of Kampala, Uganda. She was there as part of Teach and Tour Sojourners (TATs), a teacher exchange program for all educators that aims to provide “unprivileged rural and urban kids of the world, such as those in sub-Sahara Africa … the tutorage of the world’s best teachers from Europe, North America, and other parts of the world at no cost to them.”
“There have been about 128 teachers from around the world who have been brought to Stawa University in Uganda for this program,” said Yoder, who teaches courses like Building Brain Power, The Philosophy of Love, Critical Thinking, Speaking With Confidence, and Creative Writing. “The classes were taught in an old three-story hotel that had been rented by the TATs program. The first floor consisted of registration rooms and classrooms, the second floor had some computer labs and the third floor was primarily classroom space.”
As the students piled into her classroom Yoder noted how well dressed they all were. “These students come from all over the world, not just from Uganda,” says Yoder. “We had students from Rwanda, Japan, some couldn’t speak English very well.” As she started teaching the class on Critical Thinking she saw the students” eyes light up; some were jotting down notes while others raised their hands for questions.
“The thing I learned the most is just how hungry these students are to learn. Most of them were majoring in Education or Small Business. You could just tell they really wanted to be there.”
Driving around the country, Yoder was touched to see some children playing soccer with a couple of empty soda bottles. “The children just stole my heart,” said Yoder, who decided to buy them two soccer balls – one for the girls and one for the boys. “Most of them lived in mud huts, and they really don’t have much. When we bought them those soccer balls they were so excited.”
Yoder took in the sights and sounds of this new land. No matter how tough the Ugandan people had it, they were always full of smiles. “And they had the most beautiful white teeth!” recalls Yoder. “The women were very fashionable. They wore these beautiful dresses with such great patterns.”
On some of her free days Yoder had the chance to go on safari and see the Ugandan wildlife and expansive savanna.
“We went to see chimpanzees in the rainforest. It was a muddy trek, and I almost fell a few times, but thanks to my wonderful tour guides, we finally made it,” remembers Yoder. “The guides carried rifles as the chimpanzees can be quite dangerous. But it was so amazing to see them right in front of you like that.”
Yoder went to the see source of the Nile in Jinja, Uganda. She shopped in the local markets and saw all kinds of animals in their natural habitat including baboons, zebra, elephants, gazelles, and giraffe. Quickly she got used to the Ugandan way of life, eating Ugandan food, learning a few words and phrases, and understanding the hardships that many of them faced.
Back at Stawa University, administrators were falling in love with Sharon Yoder. “I talked to them about weekend courses, something that they had never thought of before,” said Yoder. “I showed them how Wilmington University was offering weekend courses known as ‘modular courses” and the administrators were so impressed that they have now started offering their own weekend courses.” The administration at Stawa University asked Yoder if she would be Chancellor of their university, and she agreed. “I stay in contact with them and send little nuggets of information when I can,” says Yoder. “From here on I will travel back there every year to check on their progress. I would recommend the TATs program to anyone I know. It was a great experience and Uganda is a wonderful country!” WU