UGANDA

The Unlikely Educator

Education opened Godfrey Lugoloobi’s future. Now he’s changing the future of Uganda’s students.

Written by Joelle Mumley
Jul 25, 2019

As a young boy, Godfrey Lugoloobi walked six kilometers to and from school every day. As he walked, neighbors peppered him with words of discouragement. Families with more money than his were still not able to put their children through school, they told Godfrey. He should give up on education and find a simple job to get by. 

If it wasn’t for advocates in his life who contradicted this supposed inevitability, Godfrey might have ended up resigning himself to that fate.

Millions of children globally do not have access to education. Even for those who are in school, about two-thirds will reach graduation without achieving minimum reading proficiency levels. 

Edify, an international organization that partners with entrepreneurs who are providing Christ-centered education, identifies this as a global education crisis. As the pioneer of Edify’s work in his home country of Uganda, Godfrey works every day to confront this challenge. His passion for improving education grew out of his lived experience of education’s power to alter the trajectory of someone’s life, and even the trajectory of an entire community.

Born just two years after the end of the Ugandan Bush War, Godfrey’s early childhood was heavily influenced by the country’s post-war struggle. Poverty and hunger affected almost every aspect of community life, resulting in a sense of negativity and fatalism. Although he didn’t perform well in his early years of primary school (most likely due to malnutrition), one of his uncles saw his nephew’s potential and invited Godfrey to live with him. Godfrey no longer had to walk six kilometers to and from school; he received tutoring; and most importantly, he was inspired by his uncle’s example. 

“To have someone that I looked up to, someone that put on long pants to go to school, somebody that rode a bicycle to go to school… those sound like small things, but to a young man, in those days, it was such a big thing,” Godfrey says. This inspiration and investment was the turning point in his story. 

Yet his uncle’s example couldn’t knock down the many obstacles that existed when it came to continuing his education. After living with his uncle, Godfrey returned home to his extended family. His father had multiple wives and at least 20 children, 10 of which are Godfrey’s full brothers and sisters. His mother was his primary caretaker and worked difficult, often labor-intensive jobs—such as digging holes or charcoal burning—to fund his education. He saw first-hand the battle she fought to keep him in school. Even with her many sacrifices, however, there came a point where she could no longer afford tuition. 

Godfrey sat at home with the painful knowledge that, even though he was now one of the school’s highest performing students, he could not progress. But just when his dreams evaporated, Godfrey was given a second chance. A neighbor noticed that he wasn’t attending class and, unwilling to let this injustice occur, he connected Godfrey to a school that covered his tuition.

Once again someone had taken a chance on Godfrey, and he wasn’t about to waste it. Thanks to his hard work and good grades, he went on to earn a scholarship that paid for him to attend secondary school. 

What stands out most to him during these years is his spiritual transformation. His father came from a Catholic background while his mother, who had the most direct influence over his life, was from a Muslim family. Godfrey had no personal faith, but his Christian religious education teacher, sharing the words of Jesus and the opportunity for salvation, deeply impacted him. One day Godfrey went to her office and told her that he’d decided to follow Jesus. As he got involved with his school’s Christian fellowship and experienced a strong community, he grew spiritually and his faith became a central part of his identity. 

Following secondary school, Godfrey applied to Cornerstone Leadership Academy, which focuses on raising a generation of effective leaders who can transform their communities. They only accept the best and brightest, but tuition is free for those who are admitted. The curriculum empowered Godfrey to transform his life. He learned practical tools and strategies for success, including being proactive and not blaming your circumstances. Cornerstone took him beyond the theoretical principles of academic subjects and taught him how to live a life of purpose and meaning.  

It was also during this time that Godfrey returned home regularly to share his faith with his mother, his hero. Her sacrifices had not only resulted in his education; they had also had led him to the place where he met Jesus. His life had been revolutionized and he wanted the same for her. To his delight, she listened to the stories of Jesus that he shared and was impacted in the same way that he had been. Soon she joined him in the faith. This change in his mother’s spiritual grounding altered the dynamic of his entire family and shifted the futures of his younger siblings.

In 2009, after completing his schooling at Cornerstone, Godfrey moved to Rwanda to volunteer for the new Cornerstone Leadership Academy that had been launched in Kigali just a few years before. He also taught English and leadership and volunteered for several organizations including the Africa Youth Leadership Forum, the youth wing of the prayer breakfast movement. It was through this program that he first met Poulyn, the woman who would eventually become his wife. 

During his years in Rwanda he also attended university, earning a Bachelor of Science in Electronics and Telecommunications from the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology. After four years of hard work, he graduated with excellent grades and three job offers: from a telecom company, a construction company, and Edify. 

Godfrey wrestled with the decision of whether or not to take a job with Edify. He had previously volunteered with the organization and greatly respected Edify’s work, but had given his past few years to studying engineering and wanted to put his training to the best possible use. After taking the time to think and pray about it, however, Godfrey accepted Edify’s offer. Originally hired as a Christian Transformation Officer, Godfrey continued to grow and was eventually promoted to the position of Rwanda Country Director. 

Godfrey and Poulyn always knew they would like to move back home to Uganda, but the opportunity arrived much sooner than expected when Godfrey was asked to pioneer Edify’s work in Uganda as the country director. Along with their two young children, they returned in early 2019. 

In this role, he’s witnessed for himself the impact that capacity building and training can have on the education system of a country. Although it’s still early, Edify’s impact on Uganda’s schools is already visible. Godfrey is thankful for the chance to improve the very education system that taught him. 

“I’m very excited about the work I’m doing,” he says. “I can imagine if we do this for the next 20 years, we’ll have a different kind of generation in Uganda.”

In line with Edify’s model of intervention, Godfrey establishes strategic partnerships with sustainable organizations already working to support Christian educational institutions. He plays a coordination role, connecting them to each other and to schools, and building their organizational capacity to increase impact. As Godfrey describes it, “Our mission is to improve and expand sustainable Christ-centered education. We don’t start the schools, we don’t own the schools, but we come alongside existing schools with a broader aim of building godly, flourishing nations.” 

Each of these partners, with their specific focus and unique story, has worked in Uganda for many years to support teachers and students. Now, instead of working on their own, Edify brings all their resources together. 

Just like the training and financial partners, the schools that Edify works with are not simply passive beneficiaries; they are partners. As Godfrey emphasizes, “We are not a donor organization. We are really partners. It means they have a role to play and we have a role to play.” 

“We come alongside existing schools with a broader aim of building godly, flourishing nations.”

Godfrey takes the time to visit Edify’s partner schools, getting a feel for their needs and better understanding their contexts and goals. On a visit to Remnant Christian Junior School, located about one hour’s drive outside of Kampala in Kalagi, the staff showed Godfrey the plot of land where dorms will be built with the loan money they receive from Edify. The founder of the school also showed Godfrey a large assembly hall and offered to host Edify trainings there in order to reduce costs and travel time for attendees. This sense of partnership creates an environment that reinforces long-term sustainability, with schools investing in their own growth alongside the partners who are working to support them.

Godfrey’s primary responsibility is to bring the right people to the table. In a world full of competition, Edify gives organizations a platform for collaboration, where each is empowered to do what they do best, and each benefits from the work that others are doing. One partner focuses on financial management training, another thrives in the area of equipping leaders, while another is best at training teachers. As Godfrey puts it, “If what we’re doing is for the Kingdom, then we should cooperate rather than compete.” Each partner is cheering the other on, learning from each other, and moving forward together. 

Godfrey has spearheaded a surprising amount of progress in the few months that he’s lived in Kampala, but pioneering a new country program on his own comes with challenges. A feasibility study prior to his permanent move created the foundation for the partnerships he has established, and he’s supported by Edify’s leadership and a strong camaraderie between the Edify’s international country directors. Still, he misses the days when he had a team around him. At this early point, Godfrey plays every role; he meets with the partners, visits schools, coordinates trainings, problem solves, schedules venues, works with the government, follows up on challenges, casts vision, and everything in between. 

“If what we’re doing is for the Kingdom, then we should cooperate rather than compete.”

Despite the hard work, he seems to thrive as he interacts with his many partners. Ugandans have a reputation for being especially friendly and his personality reinforces this stereotype. He has a way of speaking with people that makes them feel at ease, quick with a joke and a smile, often followed by his deep laugh. No matter who he talks to, he gives the impression that they’re an old friend.

These personality traits make him an ideal fit for Edify’s role as a convener; but even before Godfrey started building bridges with Edify, his life was proof that just one person’s education can impact an entire community. 

As the middle sibling of his mother’s 11 children, Godfrey represents a dramatic shift in the trajectory of his family. All five of his older siblings dropped out of school and all five of his younger siblings have either completed their education or are well on their way. He supports his siblings financially, sometimes inviting them to live with him and his wife, just as his uncle did for him. But even more than that, Godfrey’s life offers an alternative story to the status quo, presenting a new vision of what’s possible to his family and community.

“This is how powerful education can be,” Godfrey says. “You can see a difference between the generation before me and the generation after me… The moment one kid becomes successful, that’s an inspiration. Not just for that family, but for all—the entire village.” 

 

Photos by Quinn Neely

 

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