Educating Girls in Uganda
Uganda, like most countries in Africa, has experienced drought, famine, war, political instability, human rights violations, an AIDS epidemic, and extreme poverty. Providing higher education for Ugandan girls is especially critical, as research has shown that when young girls and women are educated, they are able to care better for their children and lead their families out of poverty.
The evidence is so striking that it can be boiled down to one sentence: If you want to change the world, invest in the education of girls.
According to the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative, 46.5% of girls in Uganda get married and have children before reaching the age of 18. The literacy rate of girls lags behind that of boys, and even though the primary school population is evenly divided between boys and girls, girls comprise only 46% of secondary students and 38% of college students.
In order to provide a high school education to girls in an area of Uganda where there are no opportunities for a non-sectarian higher education, Maharishi Secondary School for Girls is the first non-sectarian boarding school for girls in the eastern edge of Uganda. It started with a small group of 30 girls in 2009 in Mbale, Uganda. The next year it doubled to 60 and kept growing. Now with new buildings in progress, they are aiming for 600.
The school has been successful in helping children who have been rejected from other schools for behavioral problems or for being HIV positive. Grant Lusimbo, the amiable director who helped found the school says, “Our students are now performing better than the schools who take only the cream. This is a great joy to us. Now we get the students that the others say, “We can’t touch this one. We say, OK, we will take her, we have a method.’”
The method he refers to is the Transcendental Meditation technique, which the students practice twice a day together as a group in addition to taking a rigorous course of academics.
Director Lusimbo explains that the TM technique allows the thinking mind to settle down and experience the source of creativity, silence and calmness within. At the same time the body experiences deep rest and releases stress. This stress relief is especially important for Ugandan students, because even though the political situation is more stable now, the decades of stressful events have left large segments of the population, including the young people, suffering from depression and PTSD.
Lusimbo recounts what happened the first time he introduced the TM technique to students in another Ugandan school in 1983. He explains that in Uganda, corporal punishment is a common way to discipline students. “All of a sudden after introducing TM the behavior was so good,” he says. “So all corporal punishment was abolished.”
Now he likens the Maharishi Secondary School to a hospital that cures a patient who was considered incurable by doctors. “The other schools are saying, ‘No, we can’t teach you.’ We say, ‘Bring her to us and we’ll resurrect her.’ ”
The teachers, who also practice the Transcendental Meditation technique, are equally enthusiastic. Headmistress Kalyebbi Felistus says that she has taught in all types of schools, with girls alone, boys alone and mixed, but finds that these girls are more disciplined and eager to learn. History Teacher Zemei Beth says that the students are lively but “We don’t experience misbehaviors.”
Peer-reviewed research shows that the daily practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique not only improves social behavior by calming anxiety and anger, but it improves focus and clarity of thinking, helping students to effortlessly increase their learning capacity. One student reported, “After morning lessons, I come out with my mind tired. But after meditating, my mind has become fresh and I can pick up on whatever they are teaching and understand hard subjects like biology, chemistry and physics.”
Science teacher Opado Joel says, “Our school has now improved in the level of academics simply because of one thing, and that’s meditation.”
One student who is HIV positive and had suffered from the stress and isolation that accompanies this condition, reported, “Since I started meditation, I have seen my health improving. I used to have body aches and terrible headaches, but these days I am happy to be healthy. I don’t experience aches. I understand myself—who I am. And my friends have started supporting me because they are also meditators.”
About the Author
Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living and is the author of six books, including The Ramayana: A New Retelling of Valmiki’s Ancient Epic—Complete and Comprehensive, co-authored with Kumuda Reddy, M.D.
More Posts by Linda
- Tired and Burned Out? Transcendental Meditation Can Help: An Interview with Dr. Nancy Lonsdorf, MD
- Worried About the Future? Six Ways to Calm Your Anxiety
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- Five Strategies for Family Caregivers
- From the Streets to College in Four Months: The Communiversity of South Africa Empowers Underserved Youth in Cape Town