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Guest post by current Digital Marketing student, Kathy Nguyen on her upcoming expedition to Uganda

For those that know me know that I’m on a relentless pursuit for deeper connection and personal growth. When paired with my altruistic nature, I tend to dive quickly into opportunities where positive impact can be made. Through the process of turning inwards, I recently recognized my purpose, what brings me joy, and ignites passion inside of me. My purpose lies within my love for humanity. It is this that propels me forward and guides me towards stepping into my power. Coincidentally, this purpose leads me to Uganda.

This opportunity came into fruition when RED Academy brought in guest speaker Aaron Friedland during one of our weekly Town Halls. Aaron is the founder and executive director of The Walking School Bus , a non-profit organization that empowers access to education. As the Business Insider described,

“The Walking School Bus supports access to education by providing a holistic approach to educational attainment. Their work includes providing safe transportation, nutrition, and innovative literacy programs for students in developing countries.” 

The foundation sets an infrastructure that provides access to education and nutrition. Here’s an overview from their website.

Tech For Good Overview

The Problem

During Aaron’s recent Ted Talk, he brought light to a concerning issue – 

Literacy rates in higher income countries are on the decline while in many lower income countries, they’re not speeding up fast enough.“ 

We have found ourselves in a society flooded with irrelevant information in the form of social media, television and screens. We are constantly bombarded with notifications from our phones, emails and the pressure to keep up. I believe that even though recent advancements in technology can be said to be one of the best things to have happened to the human race, it also comes with a price. We have been reduced to passive consumers of information while we spend less and less time learning actively. To make matters worse, social media platforms – such as Facebook and Instagram are updating algorithms to favour pages that produce high quality videos. So accounts that posts more high performing videos have higher chances of exposure and ranking; thus, increasing our distractions and pulling the society further from reading.  We are left in a paradox where more technology and better access to information translates into reduced knowledge and increased illiteracy. Since the dawn of time, the relationship between information and literacy has now run into a negative. Like Aaron stated in his talk, 

 “1⁄4 of students in North America in grade 4 are not reading at grade level and over 68 million students in Europe are on track to functional illiteracy. We’re losing this reading habit which not only impacts literacy rates, it has a massive economic consequence.” 

I believe that as passionate citizens, we have a responsibility to our society and our children’s generation to correct this trend and bring back humanity from the steep dive into illiteracy –  steering the wheels back in favor of progress. 

The Solution

I know we all have some desire to make the world a better place. But there is a ringing at the back of our heads asking, how? Well, that’s where the Simbi platform comes in. Simbi is the world’s largest audio-visual book library. It empowers readers from all over the world acting as an intersection between technology and literacy. It aims to solve global illiteracy, an issue that Aaron has been working closely on with National Geographic, United Nations and UBC. 

Through Aaron’s and other passionate scientists’ research, studies show three important realizations: 

1- Reading while listening is the most effective way to learn to read
2- Reading out loud enables the “Production Effect”
3- Reading for good motivates readers to read more books, more often

The technology from Simbi incorporates all three concepts, allowing individuals to either read aloud to help others learn or listen to peers and practice reading.  This way, a reader from a more technology advanced region – say Canada – can log on and pick up a book from Simbi to read. In doing so, they’re simultaneously aiding in combating illiteracy in under-developed countries such as Uganda, by lending their voice to help the less-favored learn. So, pick up a book from Simbi and join the fight against illiteracy while liberating yourself – by using technology for good! 

The Expedition

Upon graduating RED Academy’s Digital Marketing diploma, I will be heading on an expedition with The Walking School Bus, where we will be installing a solar-powered classroom at Twajiji Primary School called The Bright Box (pictured below); The Bright Box gives young students access to Simbi and its programs. As per the itinerary, “The Walking School Bus’ researchers will be training the students and teachers to interface with their new classroom and the technology now available to them. Before our departure we will initiate The Walking School Bus’ largest literacy study to date with students at Twajiji Primary school!”

Tech For Good Uganda Bright Box  

There will also be the installation of two water catchment systems attached to The Bright Box. Have a  look at what The Walking School Bus has to say about these systems: 

“Our water catchment is the lifeblood of our nutrition program. It ensures that the entire program can be implemented without negatively impacting the community. For example, it ensures that communities can grow additional crops aimed at boosting nutritional diversity without sacrificing limited water. In addition to mitigating risk, they provide valuable water which is used by students at our affiliated schools. Most importantly, they are cheap to install (under $1000 USD) and provide incredible results.

We’ve seen communities adopt the technology and install additional units themselves once we have left, it’s beautiful to see.” 

Tech For Good Uganda

In addition to implementing Bright Box and Simbi at Twajiji Primary School, The Walking School Bus will also be executing a pilot Bike-Share Program to improve access to education.  Here’s what they found: 

“Everyday, over half a million students in Uganda alone walk over 5 kilometres to attain an education. These students walk through some of the most unforgiving terrains in pursuit of higher education. What is most alarming is that once these students have journeyed to school, they are often too hungry or tired to thrive in the environment they have fought so hard to access. We aim to support these scholars who recognize the importance of higher education.” 

The implementations of all of these programs embody The Walking School Bus’ holistic approach to educational access with the goal of getting students get to school, ensuring they are fed and improve their curriculum, and I am deeply honored and humbled to be able to be a part of such a meaningful cause. My hope is that the generations we impact will understand this love and its capabilities, and I believe that what we undergo as children can shape us into the people we become. Through collectively creating a world filled with compassion, love and empowerment, we cultivate an enriching meaningful culture for mankind. There will be no limits to how deeply our future generations can impact society. This is how we can change the world… Our children are the answer. 

As I peel away layers and embrace the vulnerabilities that come with being human, I am able to share my voice. Because what’s a loud voice if it cannot be heard? I do this not for any glory, but as an attempt to spread goodness to the world. As an immigrant, I wouldn’t be living the life I do today had it not been for a stranger’s compassion. The kind of compassion so divine, it led my family out of Indonesia into Canada. I feel forever indebted to these beautiful souls that today still remain strangers. So, here’s to all the incredibly altruistic energy that show us how to pay it forward. 

If this struck a chord with you, please help me amplify the impact by donating to the cause. The proceeds will go towards installing the solar-powered classroom, BrightBox Macro that will support 6,000 students. Every dollar makes an impact so no amount is too little! 

Lastly, make sure to follow along on the journey by following The Walking School Bus’ social media platforms as I will be recording live everyday starting July 18. I will also be writing two more blog posts,  a follow up during and after the expedition so stay tuned! 

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Written by Kathy Nguyen

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