As the journey nears its end…

•August 2, 2011 • 3 Comments

This will likely be my last post from Uganda.  I don’t think I could find adequate words to express my love of this country, the people I’ve interacted with, and Leadership Education.  All three have improved my life, expanded my understanding, and touched my heart.  I hope I can return with my family.

I am in love with the work that I have been able to do here.  One of my reasons for coming to Uganda was hopefully to clarify my purpose in life.  I have felt called to teach.  In my last post, I explained how teaching is part of my greater purpose to promote and defend liberty.  Leadership Education does this.  It will create a free and prosperous country, but it does so by creating leaders who understand liberty, virtue, and duty to God, family, and country.  It was an amazing experience to share this with around 20 teachers, who in turn taught me more than I brought to the table.

I had an opportunity to go on a safari, but as I weighed the decision to do so, I thought that I would rather spend my time and money celebrating with those I have grown to love.  When I made that decision, I was afraid that I might regret it – a safari is an awesome experience!  I never did doubt that I made the right decision, and when I saw my students meeting teachers from other schools I felt a spiritual confirmation that I made the right choice.

The inspiring men and women that I taught began their study of Leadership Education with the desire to be the best teachers possible.  As they learned about Leadership Education and its application, their eyes quickly opened to the wider implications: better education, prosperity in business, and virtuous politicians prepared to lead, not merely assume power.  They shared with me many astute observations.  They shared their dreams and the inspiration they felt during our studies to pursue their dreams.  Most of those dreams were tied directly to improving the conditions of their villages and Uganda as a whole.

I return to the United States a better husband, father, teacher, and statesman.  It is because of my interaction with these powerful Ugandan teachers that I have become a better man.  I am grateful for the opportunity to celebrate these men and women.  Please click on the pictures to the right to see some photos of our party.

I also wish to express my appreciation for Meghan Muyanja, the Executive Director and creator of Leadership Education Uganda.  Her initiative in creating this program made this opportunity possible for me, but more importantly, it has already begun to change Uganda as various teachers have completed all 4 levels and continue to study and teach others.  Meghan’s leadership and mentorship have helped me develop my skills and confidence as a mentor.  She has been a positive influence in my search for my personal purpose and missions.

I will also recognize Erin and Dan.  Erin Reynolds was also a powerful mentor and example.  Her example includes (but is not limited to) impressive scholarship, great writing, excellent teaching, and friendship.  Dan kept me sane, safe, and productive during the first two weeks.  He runs the Resource Center for us and helps facilitate classes.  LEU would flounder without his hard work.  He is my brother and my friend.

Finally, I wish to recognize those important people back home.  Ammanda and Courtney, thank you so much for taking care of my wife and supporting her all the time, and especially in my absence.  My parents and my in-laws deserve equal gratitude.  They are awesome parents and have been supportive beyond what was expected or necessary.  Thank you!

Most of all, I thank my beautiful, incredible wife and my fantastic kids!  I couldn’t have done this without their support and blessing.  I know this hasn’t been easy on them.  The separation from them has been very difficult for me as well.  All of the video chats and notes from the kids have made it tolerable.  I’ve also enjoyed watching Ashlee develop as a teacher and mentor through her different endeavors.  I love that we are both progressing in our purposes and I hope to one day work side by side outside of the home as well as at home.

Thank you all who have read my blog, sent emails, made comments, called to check on my wife, helped around the house, etc.  I keep thinking of the saying that “it takes a village.”  So thanks again to all those who make up my family’s “village”.  I’ll see you soon!

With love from Uganda,

Jonathan Lubowa Mecham

Celebrate Good Times!

•July 27, 2011 • 6 Comments

Yesterday was one of my most rewarding days in Uganda so far.  My class at Cranes Preparatory School finished Level 1 last Thursday, but they requested another day in order to celebrate our experience together and the principles they have learned.  We decided that Tuesday was a good day since we were already used to that schedule.  My assignment was dessert and soda, and the others were going to cook some food.

Sula was in charge of the food preparation.  He had help from the librarian and some of the other staff.  We ate seasoned rice, Irish potatoes, beet greens, cooked cabbage salad, and beef.  It was very tasty.  Dessert was different kinds of cookies.

The best part was the program that Christopher prepared.  He wrote on the board:

We join the rest of the world to celebrate William Kamkwamba’s achievement.

Special speech on the following themes in reference to the book

*Power of friendship

*Power of personal inspiration

*Power of Classics

*Power of good parents

He invited anyone interested to choose a topic and speak for no longer than 5 minutes.

Wahab, the director at Cranes, went first and spoke about Classics.  He talked about how even an advanced degree like a PhD does not mean that your education mirrors what is in your heart.  Pursuing your education through classics allows you to identify your core values and tailor your education to the preparation to fulfill your life’s purpose.

Meghan, the director of LEU, spoke next and shared part of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind in which William Kamkwamba faced ridicule and opposition, yet he pressed forward to achieve his goal.

Sula, the deputy headmaster, spoke next about the power of good parents.  He shared his personal experience of taking the Level 2 classes three years ago.  They read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  Sula said, “As I read the book, I realized I was a dictator in my own home.  If I wanted meat, I told my wife that I would eat meat and I would eat my small plate of food without considering my children.  Now I tell my children, ‘Look, I have some small coins.  What would you like to eat?’  I allow them to choose, and we prepare it and eat it together.”

I felt bad at this point, because the late start was making me late for my next class.  I told them I had to leave, but first I wanted to award them their certificates.  Wahab and Sula both have a certificate from their previous completion of the course, so I awarded certificates to (in order of appearance) Christopher, Arojjo, Paul, and Abdu.

Christopher then said, “We are sorry to see you go, Brother Jonathan.  And we regret that you will not be part of our wonderful conversation which shall continue in your absence.”  It is amazing to me that they understand and love the principles of Leadership Education that they will continue to pursue it even if I am not there.  Leadership Education will continue to grow in Uganda after I leave.  That makes me very happy!

Big Dreams: Purpose and Mission

•July 24, 2011 • 8 Comments

I read today in the book The Dream Giver by Bruce Wilkinson, and a passage struck me because of its relation to one of the classes I teach and an epiphany I had while teaching it.

I’ll begin with a brief summary of the class.  This particular class discusses purpose and mission.  The definition we use for purpose, simplified, is “the reason one exists.”  Your purpose is why God put you on Earth where he did and when He did.  A Mission is a special assignment.  For example, one’s purpose might be to feed the poor and hungry.  A mission that would help accomplish this purpose is to start and run a soup kitchen.  We are happiest in our lives when our missions support our purpose.  Let me repeat that.  We are happiest in our lives when our missions support our purpose.

Wilkinson, in his book, says that each of us has a Big Dream.  His Big Dream is the complete package of your Purpose and the Missions that comprise it.  Most of us fall into the traps of forgetting our Dream, feeling unworthy or unable to achieve it, thinking it is unimportant, or feeling it is too late for us to pursue our dreams.

Too often, we find ourselves in missions that are unrelated to our Purpose.  Therefore, many of us are unhappy.  How many of us work only for a paycheck?  How many more enjoy aspects of their job, but still feel unfulfilled?

Wilkinson says his Dream is to help others identify and achieve their dreams.  One question he often hears at conferences, and I discussed with teachers here in Uganda, is, “How can I identify my dream?”  Part of his response follows:

Think back to what you wanted to do while you were growing up.  Of course, it might have been a whole list of things.  Don’t settle for just the job description-a fireman, or movie star, or president.  Think about what those roles meant to you then, and what they can reveal about your real interests and motivations now(Underline added for emphasis)

I want to draw your attention to the underlined portion of the excerpt.  This sentence sums up the epiphany I had while teaching my class.  In class, I shared about my own process of discovering my purpose and I will share those comments here.

About two years ago, I experienced a change in the way I saw the world.  This led to a change in my activities.  I began to read more and follow political blogs, radio shows, and discussion forums.  I enrolled in George Wythe University.  I began to think about getting involved in politics.  I started a study group focused on principles of sound government.

I continued to pursue my studies, but my focus on politics began to feel wrong.  The transition in my life received a huge boost after talking with my friend, an amazing personal coach, Nick Smith.  He had helped me identify talents and interests that I had without realizing it – one of which was teaching.  I began to weigh my interest in teaching and politics and chose to pursue as my focus at school the philosophy of education.

Since that time, I have considered education my calling in life, but as I taught the Purpose/Mission class at MTA, I realized that I wasn’t quite correct about my purpose.  I understood that my purpose doesn’t change.  Missions do, but Purpose is the reason God put us on Earth – a life calling.  I wondered if politics and education were missions, and if so, what my purpose was.

To answer this I asked the question that Wilkinson identified.  What do those roles mean?  What do they reveal about me?  I wondered what the purpose behind my interest in politics and my desire to teach.  The answer is liberty.

My purpose is to promote and defend the cause of liberty.

After realizing my true purpose, I thought about my schooling.  As I read the homepage of George Wythe University two years ago, I knew I had to attend that school.  It was the mission statement connecting with my purpose that called to me.

To build men and women of
virtue, wisdom, diplomacy and courage
who inspire greatness in others
and move the cause of liberty.

I also remembered an excerpt from A Thomas Jefferson Education in which Oliver DeMille identifies the three goals of Leadership Education:

The third educational system is leadership preparation, which has three primary goals.  First, its purpose is to train thinkers, leaders, entrepreneurs and statesmen-individuals with the character, competence and capacity to do the right thing and do it well in business, government, church, school, family, entertainment, research and other organizations.

The second goal is to perpetuate freedom, to prepare people who know what freedom is, what is required to maintain it, and who exert the will to do what is required.  These two goals are accomplished by the third: teaching students how to think.  Those who know how to think are able to lead effectively and are able to help society remain free and prosperous.  Those who know only what to think or when, no matter how valuable their contributions to society, are not capable of maintaining freedom or leading us to real progress without additional leadership skills.

That’s my dream.  Liberty.  I feel strongly that my primary mission is to support liberty through preparing myself to inspire others to work hard to earn a great leadership education for themselves.  I could ramble on and on about this, but I’ll wrap things up.

My dream is Liberty.  What is yours?  You have one, and Wilkinson says:

“Whatever you feel is true or not true about you today, you were made to be Someone Special, someone with a Big Dream beating brightly in your heart.  And the world is waiting for you to begin your journey.

Once you decide to pursue your Dream, you’ll be amazed at how much your life changes.

Abdu the Mentor

•July 23, 2011 • 1 Comment

Wherever you find a great mentor, you will see great teaching that recognizes every human being as a unique individual.  Mentoring celebrates individuality by acknowledging that each student has talents, gifts, interests, and personality traits that drive the way he sees the world and interacts with it.

Abdu, a teacher at Cranes, showed me one of the greatest examples of mentoring that I’ve ever seen.  During our colloquium of The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind, Arojjo noted that freedom was a major part of William Kamkwamba’s growth.  He meant creative freedom.  William’s parents gave him time and space to explore, research, and experiment with radios, lights, bicycles, books, etc.  Even when his experiments destroyed radios and his father’s bicycle, his father allowed him to continue experimenting and supported his self-education.

As we spoke, Abdu said, “Something like this just happened recently at our school.  A young boy was playing with a broken radio during class.  He must have fixed it, because when he applied the batteries in his pocket, the class was interrupted by the radio’s sound.  The teacher was angry and was going to beat the boy.”  Abdu intervened and said, “If you beat this boy you will teach him that his talents and interests are bad.  Also, you will make it so he never trusts you again.  You don’t know what this boy will become.”  Abdu proudly pointed out that he intervened like this even before learning about Leadership Education, but now he understood even more the importance and impact of such an approach to students.  Abdu suddenly jumped up and said, “In fact, I’ll go get him!”

He brought the young man in and introduced him to me.  Abdu told the boy, “What you did was not bad.  It was good.  You need to explore your talents!”  Then he explained to us that since taking note of the young man, Abdu learned of the boy’s other talents like sculpting.  Abdu turned back to the boy and told him what a great sculptor he was.  The other teachers were free with praise and encouragement, and I took a picture with the young man and encouraged him too.

The discussion of the book started back up and began to turn to issues about government and political corruption.  I stopped the conversation and said that before we transitioned too far away from education, I wanted to point out that it is easy to learn and discuss and lean toward academic pursuit while neglecting the application of what we learn.  I said that I’d been in Uganda for over a month teaching and observing classrooms, and what Abdu did was the best teaching that I had seen.  He applied the lessons that we had been learning.  He inspired a young man.  That boy will not forget Abdu and he will not forget this special day – neither will I.

97 Photos and a Weekend of FUN!

•July 9, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I am currently uploading 97 photos from today and yesterday on my Flickr photo stream.  Click any photo to the right to connect and peruse them all.  I’ll not write a detailed description at the moment due to fatigue and laziness, but enjoy the photos.  They were taken at Mabira Forest and Ssezibwa Falls on Friday and at Kigali Falls (on the Nile) and the Source of the Nile today.

[Edit:  There might end up being less than 97 photos.  I am having issues with uploading, so they are not in order completely, and I think a few got dropped.]

I will share one inspiration I had.  First, to see the Nile River is an awesome experience.  From the car I thought, “It just looks like a river.”  However, when I got out, and it dawned on me that this is THE NILE!  I felt a tingle in my body.  It is thrilling to be in such a historically significant place.

This is where I had my epiphany.

Later at the source of the Nile, I was talking to Dan.  I shared how the Nile is a classic (see my previous post on classics, here), because it makes me want to learn more about the geography, geopolitical significance, historical and agricultural importance, animal and plant life supported, and current controversy surrounding the Nile.  It was awesome.  Just typing about it makes me feel a little emotional, and I have developed a strong desire to travel with my wife (and later with my kids) to other significant locations throughout the world.  Have I mentioned how amazing it was!?

Force vs. Discussion

•July 6, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Today, I taught a class at Mukono Town Academy.  Only Fibi and Florence attended, but I prefer it that way.  That meant that no disinterested people were there to hold us up or drain the energy level of the class.  I taught the class about using discussion instead of lecture.  When I asked them questions, their answers kept reverting to force (like beating) and conveyor-belt approaches (like lecturing).  Our discussion helped them to see the problem with that approach, but it took a while for it really to sink in.

During our talk, it occurred to me that this is probably the problem with my son, Corbin.  Corbin has a hard time controlling his anger.  He gets worked up and lashes out at others – even his mom.  I cannot abide anyone, not even (or especially) my child, disrespecting my wife.  I began to use force (spanking) to correct his behavior.

In our class at MTA, we talked about the difference between training and educating.  Training, or force, is the quickest way to get a desired behavior.  It is fast and convenient for the teacher, but what happens is that when the force is removed, the person is not prepared to make decisions for himself in a responsible manner.

Corbin has become dependent on spankings to identify limits for him.  Even my presence carries that threat, so it applies even if I’m not actively spanking a lot – he’d been trained.  Now that the threat of force is gone, he isn’t prepared to set his own limits and control his own behavior.

The teachers asked what we do when we struggle with getting the students to exhibit the behaviors we want.  I reminded them of DeMille’s teaching that when we aren’t getting the results that we want; the answer is always to build relationships.  I used the following example in relation to one of Fibi’s struggles.  She has a hard time with students who refuse to participate in extracurricular activities like Music Drum and Dance practice.  I asked them to imagine a young man whose parents had been fighting recently.  Maybe the father has been unfaithful and is leaving the family for another woman.  He feels shame, anger, confusion, and depression.  He feels worse when he is around friends who have happy families.  He hates feeling like he is pressured to “have fun” when he feels so miserable.  By forcing this young man to participate, we are telling him that his emotions are unimportant, and maybe we tell him that he is wrong to feel the way he feels.  This destroys trust and damages confidence.

How different would this experience be for the young man if we approach him in a different way?  What if we ask him to converse with us, and without bringing up his participation, we discover the source of his struggle.  That young man will understand that his feelings are important and valid.  He will understand that he is important and that there are people who care about him.  He will become a young man who trusts and loves his mentor and will follow her wherever she leads him.

I guess I have a lot of work to do with Corbin – literally and figuratively.  He responds well to working with me in the yard, changing oil, and similar jobs.  I need to build our relationship.

How much better would our relationships be if we used less force and more discussion?  Let’s find out!

The Phases of Learning and Plato’s Cave

•July 5, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Today I taught Lesson 7 – The Phases of Learning – at Cranes.  It was OK, but I missed the mark.  I prepared two options: teaching Oliver DeMille’s phases as taught in A Thomas Jefferson Education and Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.  I planned to teach both by explaining Dr. Demille’s phases, then by reading the excerpt from Plato’s Republic as a group and discussing it.  The problem was a matter of time.

After the discussion of the phases in A Thomas Jefferson Education, our class time was almost over.  The discussion was informative, but I felt that the class would have been more powerful if we focused on reading and discussing Plato’s Allegory instead.  The Cave is a powerful, timeless allegory that teaches about the process of seeking understanding and utilizing that understanding for the betterment of mankind.  It describes the difficulties inherent to that process.

I love both perspectives.  I don’t want to bore you with my feeble attempts to type out the details of both in an entertaining way, but I highly recommend that you read them for yourself.  My wife might be willing to lend you her copy of TJEd.  I’d lend you mine, but there’s a slight distance problem at the moment, but check with me in a month, and it might be doable.  Plato’s Republic is available online.  I prefer Allan Bloom’s translation, because that was the one recommended to me by mentors who had read several different translations.  I’ve included the link – here.  It starts in Book VII.  Here’s a fun artistic rendering of the cave to whet your appetite.

I do want to share two questions that were posed by my students.  For them to make more sense, I will briefly explain the first phase in DeMille’s Phases of Learning.  The Core phase is typicall from 0-8 years old.  It is a time for a child to learn basic values that will guide their lives.  Right vs Wrong.  True vs False.  Good vs Bad.  These build a foundation much more important than the early pursuit of “scholastic excellence”.

Christopher asked, “Is it possible to lose or reject the values that you learned in the Core Phase?”  The answer is – Absolutely.  There is a natural law of progression and growth.  Things develop line upon line, here a little and there a little, and progress through developmental stages.  This growth requires nourishment.  If you deprive a plant of water, it will shrivel and eventually die.  If you neglect the activities that reinforce or maintain your Core Phase values, those values with diminish in importance in your life.  You can also choose to reject them, and this might actually be beneficial at times.  For example, imagine you were raised by racists.  There are certain values that your parents may have instilled in you that you need to adjust or eliminate.  The maintenance and correction of values occurs as we interact frequently with our Core Book.  (I guess I need to do a post on Core Books!)

Sula asked me, “What if you didn’t get a core phase?  Is it possible to get one later in life, or will you end up bad?”  To answer this question, I shared a story from my religious mission in Bolivia.  Our missionaries were teaching a man in a small village.  The neighbors would talk to the missionaries and tell them to quit wasting their time.  They said, “You don’t understand what a bad man this is.  He is drunk every day.  He beats his wife.  He fights with neighbors and urinates on their property.  He often passes out on the doorstep of other people’s houses.”  The missionaries chose to ignore the complaints, and the man began to progress.  He learned to study scripture and pray.  He quit drinking within two weeks.  He was clean and kind.  He visited neighbors to apologize for his previous behavior and paid them for any damage he inflicted on their property when he was drunk.  He attended church regularly and became a leader of the men’s organization.  His neighbors were amazed at the change, and some of them began to look for religion in their own lives.  The changes happened because he gained a Core Phase that he never received or had previously rejected.

I love the awesome questions that we have in class, and the discussions about them are equally awesome.

I apologize for the long delay in posting again here.  I’ll try to get a few out this week, but we’ve suffered electricity outages and internet network issues.  Add those to my own laziness and fun, distracting adventures and you get fewer posts.  I’ll repent.  I hope.  Leave a comment below to tell me what you think about The Cave or TJEd’s Phases.