The UWC Factor in East Africa


notes from the road towards a UWC in East Africa

photo by Mary Mai (2)

When someone asks you what’s so special about UWC, or what the UWC movement is all about – what do you say? That’s what I’ve been trying to figure out since I got to International School Moshi (ISM) in northern Tanzania, which is working towards joining our movement. ISM is in many ways synonymous with the IB, runs several truly inspiring community projects and has a dining hall that seems to be exceptionally big on rice and potatoes – so far, I’d say, quite a fitting description to my experience at Atlantic College, nearly a decade ago. But what is this UWC factor that’s missing?

About two weeks into my stay at the school, a student in her second and last year of the IB Diploma programme came up to me and told me – in much nicer words, of course – that she wasn’t really getting why I’d been wasting my time helping the school become a UWC. She’s only heard a bit about what UWC is or what it does, and I’d only gotten a glimpse into ISM life. For her, it seems, that was enough to determine that her school is not a UWC nor is it going to become one just like that.

I get here, there’s something different, something special, that no one seems to be able to fully grasp, let alone put into words, that makes just any international school into a UWC. I know off the top of my head how to put it into words that would go on a glossy marketing brochure for prospective parents or donors, but this is the real thing. Now I’m here – at least for a couple of months – trying to put it into words and actions, so that ISM is able to finally become the first UWC in the region and only the second one in Africa.

Now, let me pause on that for a second – the UWC movement has been around for more than 50 years, and just over the last five years the same number of new schools have opened up. All of them, put aside UWC Dijilan, were set up in a region that has an existing UWC. Not that I have anything against UWC Thailand or Robert Bosch College, quite the contrary in fact, but we as a truly international community have to recognise that.

Sure, you could argue whether East Africa “needs” UWC more or less than other parts of the world, but at the end of the day, particularly when we see so many new Colleges opening, it is strange, to say the least, that East Africa and Africa in general (much like South America) are left behind by the UWC movement. Assuming we believe we are doing something worthwhile that truly brings about change, we cannot allow one of the most economically deprived regions in the world not be part of that.

Keeping in mind that sub-Saharan Africa is the part of the world with the biggest percentage of young people, education becomes even more pertinent. Ahmed Alhendawi, who about six months ago ended his tenure as the United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth, recently talked about this in an interview and said that “people talk about a demographic dividend for Africa. What we have now in Africa is not the ‘dividend’, it is just a youth population bulge. The dividend is the result of your investments. If you invest well, you get results – you get a peace dividend and a development dividend. But that doesn’t happen by itself”.

We have a unique opportunity here to harness the amazing power of the UWC community and use it in East Africa – first and foremost increasing massively the number of East African UWCers, considering the importance of some local students in every UWC. And we’re well on the way. The school, backed by a supporting community of UWC alumni in Moshi and the area and led by new director Anna Marsden – who should be known to many WKUWC alumni – is hoping to receive preliminary approval from the International Office within the next few months.

photo by Mary Mai (1).JPG

The processes that make up this journey towards UWC are manifold. Some are rather complex, but with the good will of the members of the community we should be able to crack them – shifting the focus of the CAS programme at the school to be a lot more student led is a good example; others are pretty straightforward in idea, but quite tricky to get done – as is the case with fundraising. Finding money for much needed scholarships is never an easy task, and when we’re in an in-between sort of phase it gets even trickier.

Apart from the UWC community that is very much present in the area, be it directly connected to the school, through cooperation with UWC Maastricht, or in other parts of life in the Kilimanjaro region, ISM seems to be a uniquely good candidate for becoming a UWC thanks to its involvement in the local community. Sustainable projects that touch on primary education, refugees, wildlife and women’s rights are part of what already makes ISM what it is – and could be enhanced once it becomes a UWC.

Sustainable projects that touch on primary education, refugees, wildlife and women’s rights are part of what already makes ISM what it is – and could be enhanced once it becomes a UWC.

As the UWCer around for now, I felt I should share with the UWC community my thoughts on this truly exciting initiative. On top of that, particularly seeing that so many fellow alumni are at least as excited about it as I am, I invite you to keep an eye on updates from ISM over the next few months, and let us know if you want to get involved somehow.

Amit Meyer, UWC AC ‘09


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