Asset Based Community Development at Bujuuko

July 16th, 2017

When Bujuuko Foundation’s board members first visited Bujuuko High School in November 2015, we were still working within a traditional development model based on identifying needs.

In that first meeting, we introduced ourselves to the students, shared our goals to support their educations as others had supported ours, and asked what changes they wanted to see in the school.

We had some animated conversations with the students. They didn’t use the word “problems” to describe their school; they used the word “challenges.” And they listed many, ranging from improving the quality of the diet served at lunch (starch and beans every day) to increasing the number of computers in the school (they all worked on a single one).

With the administrators we discussed budgets, and among ourselves we discussed fundraising possibilities.

What we didn’t do was ask the students how they could contribute to making their school a better place.

The Inadequacy of Focusing on Needs

Our initial approach left us uneasy. First of all, how would such support be sustainable? We could reach out to all of our friends and professional contacts and illustrate to them the real needs of Bujuuko students and the potential to make a real difference in someone’s life – but eventually the resources of our acquaintances would be exhausted.

Second, how could we make a case that this one school in this one village in this one country deserved special attention? It is one thing to support the efforts of your friends, as we were doing, and another thing to convince acquaintances that these youth deserve their support, when there are so many poor children in the world who merit the same consideration.

Finally, and most importantly, would this type of support really help the students in the long run? Certainly resources can sometimes make a difference, but finding your own potential as a young person can make a bigger one. Couldn’t it disempower these young people if we suggest that growth and progress always comes from the outside? We are all teachers, first and foremost, and we wanted to find a way to contribute not just to their school environment, but also to their skills, their self-confidence, and their self-esteem.

The Potential of the ABCD Model for the Work of Bujuuko Foundation

As we discussed our misgivings, we learned about another approach, called Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD). As developed by professors John L. McKnight and John P. Kretzmann, ABCD shifts the development lens. Under this approach, the community is not defined as a complex of needs to be filled by service agencies. Instead, the community is defined by its assets, including community members’ personal skills and resources. Instead of asking, “What do you need?”, outside professionals using an ABCD approach ask, “What do you have?”

Immediately, we knew that this approach offered a way to better respond to many of our concerns.

Bujuuko Foundation’s model might best be described as asset-based, student-led, school development. Used in this way, ABCD has tremendous potential as not only a community-development strategy but also as an educational tool.

Empowering Youth as Change Agents

Most importantly to us, the ABCD model treats Bujuuko students as agents of change.

Instead of being mere recipients, ABCD encourages students to realize that they have the ability to affect their own circumstances.

This approach seemed particularly valuable for Bujuuko Foundation because our partners are high school students – embarking on the most formative years of their lives, developing not only the skills but also the attitudes that can help them succeed in school and in life. As teachers, we were especially excited by the opportunities that ABCD offers young people to learn and grow with appropriate mentoring and encouragement.

Fostering Critical Thinking

The ABCD model develops students’ critical thinking skills.

Having grown up and been educated in Uganda, Job and Sadhat felt that Ugandan high school students are not often encouraged to think for themselves. With print materials and computers in short supply in many schools, students often rely on teachers to impart information. Those who reach the university level are often poorly prepared to read, experiment, and think critically.

The ABCD model jump-starts these critical thinking skills by asking students ‘what are you good at?’ or ‘what would you like to learn?’ and ‘how can you use your talents to improve your own school?’

When we first posed these questions to Bujuuko High School students, many of them struggled to understand what we were asking and to evaluate their own abilities – but gradually they began to perform the critical thinking that such a set of questions requires.

Tying Inputs to Student Learning Outcomes

The model of ABCD we are working to support in high schools provides a better way to ensure that donated money and time are used to help the students.

We know that donors and other partners – including parents, teachers, and others in the community in which we work – want to know that the fees they are paying, the services they are providing, or the funds they are donating are really being used to help students.

We are keeping these funds and services focused and accountable by helping students to develop their own projects. Students develop budgets and work plans for the changes they want to make, and we are present and part of the team as those plans are developed and changes are implemented.

Offering Integrated Service Learning

The ABCD model encourages service learning students from participating universities to engage with their fellow students in developing countries as peers and partners.

The first group of four WVU students arrived in Uganda on July 13 to spend more than two weeks working alongside Bujuuko students on their projects. Undergraduate students in the United States may be the same age as some secondary students in Uganda, where schooling is thirteen years and is sometimes delayed for financial reasons.

Inviting U.S. college students to participate in an ABCD school-based project offers several advantages compared with other study abroad or service learning opportunities.

Our service learning students are learning new skills alongside the students at Bujuuko, placing all students on the same terms. We hope that the students will form friendships and keep in touch through social media and e-mail. These friendships can help students from both cultures to understand their own talents and opportunities, to see their own culture more clearly, and to be more empathetic by hearing the stories of friends in different circumstances. Those friendships may also someday form a bridge for innovation or commercialization of good ideas and for rebuilding in times of trial.

Bringing New Resources to Secondary Education

Many educational interventions, especially in developing countries, focus on primary school education.

But in just a few years, secondary students will be leading their communities. ABCD can arm them with the mindset and skills to be commercial and social entrepreneurs for positive change in their larger communities.

By recognizing and encouraging those skills and capabilities, using an ABCD model in secondary schools encourages the self-confidence that results by showing students their own potential.

Sparking a Wide Range of Vocational Training

School-improvement projects require hands-on skills such as budgeting, work plan development, accounting, and project management, in addition to skills specific to each project such as animal handling, electrical wiring, or carpentry.

Students who work on implementing the projects will gain vocational skills they can use in business, whether or not they pursue post-graduate education.

Making Educational Ripple Effects

As students improve the overall conditions or educational opportunities at their school, every student in the school has a greater chance to succeed academically and to be competitive for college education and scholarships. If the improvements are maintained, these changes benefit not only current but also future students of the school.