BY JAVIRA SSEBWAMI | PML DAILY STAFF WRITER
DALLAS — Ugandans living in the United States, particularly in Dallas, Texas, have come together and pooled resources to support the Ugandan team representing the country at the ongoing Vex World Robotics Championships in Dallas.
Mobilized by the President of UNAA – Dallas/Fort Worth chapter, Ms. Florence Bazanye, the Ugandans, numbering about 40, have pooled about $2,500 so far, groceries, and free guided tours around the city during their breaks from the competition.
The Ugandans started pooling resources from last Tuesday when the team of teenagers and their adult coaches arrived in the USA.
Among these Ugandans is 72-year-old Kulsum Mohammad Jiwa, also known as “Mother Theresa,” who left Uganda in 1973 during the expulsion of Indians by President Idi Amin.
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“Mother Theresa” says she left with her husband, newborn, and only one suitcase. In Dallas, where they settled, she has done all kinds of jobs, including one as a bus driver for 10 years, but she has now retired into charity work.
Ms. Bazanye says they launched the mobilization after learning that the teenagers and their mentors have been left to their own devices, yet they are carrying the nation’s flag at a world stage.
The Ugandan team composed of children was solely supported by their parents and the company after failing to raise any form of support from the Ugandan government.
Young Engineers Uganda is a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education afterschool program of the African School of Innovations Science and Technology (ASIST) Ltd, which was founded in 2016 by journalist Arinaitwe Rugyendo.
The program aims to nurture the next generation of Ugandan scientists, technologists, creative thinkers, and problem solvers using a robotics and LEGO curriculum, endorsed by the European Commission of the European Union.
More moral support has also been received from Ugandans on Twitter, particularly the First Deputy Premier Rebecca Kadaga, Former Presidential Candidate Prof. Venacious Baryamureeba, Eng Irene Sewankambo, the Executive Director Uganda Communications Commission, former Principal Private Secretary to President Yoweri Museveni, Ms. Molly Kamukama, the Ugandan Ambassador to the USA, Amb. Robbie Kakonge, and the Ugandan Permanent Representative to the UN, Amb. Adonia Ayebare.
Many Ugandan Dallasites preferred to remain anonymous, but Ms. Bazanye says they did it for the nation, especially after learning that the team was on its own devices.
“We had to come and support these children. This was their first time on this world stage and the first time for Uganda. This is the stage where the best young brains in the world figure out things that shape the future. We had to come in to inspire more Ugandan children to start coming here,” Ms. Bazanye says.
Ms. Karamagi was grateful for the gesture:
“We have been overwhelmed by this philanthropic gesture. We cannot take it for granted because this historic representation of the country has been quite chocking. However, we had no choice but to participate in order to open a permanent channel for the rest of the Ugandan children in the future.”
Ms. Karamagi added that Young Engineers Uganda has granted the nation history by taking it to the world stage of robotics and opened a window for the rest of the Ugandan children.
“Being our first time here, we are the youngest team but also the underdogs who are taking on the giants. Our efforts have been recognized by Google and NASA, but importantly, we have flown the Ugandan flag in the community of robotics geniuses. That’s what matters, and with more support, we shall also reach the underprivileged children of Uganda to make it here in Dallas in the years to come.”
About Young Engineers Uganda
Founded in 2016, Young Engineers Uganda is a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Education program of the African School of Innovations Science and Technology (ASIST) Ltd. Its aim is to nurture the next generation of Ugandan scientists, technologists, creative thinkers, and problem solvers using a robotics and LEGO curriculum endorsed by the European Commission of the European Union. The program is also present in a number of schools around Kampala, and its pedagogy is supportive of the new competence-based curriculum. It is a good program that prepares primary school-going children for the new curriculum.
“Children who attend our programs have high chances of scoring highly in project-based learning, maths, and physics,” says Team Uganda Head Coach, Ms. Allen Nanyonjo.
“We are extremely proud of our team’s achievement in fielding more girls than boys for the Vex Worlds Championship, which has also attracted recognition from Google for promoting gender equality in STEM,” she added.
“Our mission is to empower and equip children in Uganda with practical implementation skills in STEM from a young age, and this world-stage achievement is a testament to our commitment to promoting gender equality in the field of robotics,” says Ms. Nanyonjo.
The Vex World Robotics Championships have seen the participation of over 50 countries and over 2,200 participants from all over the world, making it a truly global event that brings together the brightest young minds in the field of robotics.
The Ugandan team is competing in the VEX IQ category, themed “Slapshot,” where they will work collaboratively in alliance with another team to score points using their robot, which can slap or shoot discs into goal zones.
The participation of the Ugandan team opens up a wide range of opportunities for children in Uganda, including scholarships and visits to renowned institutions such as NASA, Apple, Google, Tesla, and many more, says Arinaitwe Rugyendo.
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