With the morning cold biting his feet, Akandwanaho trekked more than seven miles each day to his primary school in Uganda. Other days, he fought bouts of malaria to show up to class.
Akandwanaho, who does not have a last name and is known to friends and mentors by the Western name “Dominic,” is the son of illiterate farmers. He believed that his life would closely resemble his parents’. But now, he has the chance to matriculate at Harvard next fall as a member of the class of 2016.
“When I was young, I dreamt of an education,” Dominic writes in an email.
In 2006, he was offered a chance to fulfill those dreams. After excelling in his primary school examinations, Dominic was named a Kasiisi scholar by the eponymous Kasiisi Project, founded by Currier House Co-Master Elizabeth A. Ross.
Ross began traveling to Uganda in 1987 with her husband, fellow Currier House Master Richard W. Wrangham, who studies chimpanzees in the Kibale National Park. A friend who worked at a local school introduced Ross to the serious problems facing the education system.
Since 1997, Ross has worked to provide education and conservation information to community members in the Kibale National Park area of Uganda.
When the government introduced free, universal primary education for every student in 1997, it also stretched the resources of existing schools, Ross said.
“That meant that the number of kids in schools ballooned overnight, but there were no extra resources.” Ross said that she identified a need for a program that worked with schools to improve the quality of care and education the students in the Kibale Park area.
“We started in one school that was pretty much condemned, the buildings were very derelict,” she says. “We came back [to the United States] and people got interested, and it grew from there.”
BUILDING A FOUNDATION
When Ross started the non-profit Kasiisi Project, she noticed that many Kibale schools were in disrepair and lacked basic infrastructure.
“There were no floors, there was no furniture, and whenever it rained, the wind, it just washed through,” said Ross. “If we can make the schools better, then we will give the kids an opportunity that doesn’t require going into the forest and poaching and cutting down trees.”
The Kasiisi Project built classrooms and latrines for the girls, Ross said, and began distributing sanitary napkins to female students who would otherwise miss school without them.
In 2006, the Kasiisi project began to provide porridge lunches to every student in the Kasiisi and Kanyawara schools.
“They’ve made huge improvements in the schools,” says Brennan A. Vail ’12, who conducted thesis research on child nutrition and energy in Uganda with the Kasiisi Project schools. “At the schools that don’t have the porridge, 20 percent of kids aren’t eating anything for lunch. At the schools that do, only 2 percent of the kids aren’t eating anything for lunch,” Vail added.