What Are You Going To Do With That Degree?
How about starting a home for homeless boys in Uganda?
By Rebecca Torstrick
Amanda Jones helps to keep all these happy fellows off the street.
Amanda Jones knew she would not be teaching for long. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Spanish (2005) and a master’s degree in secondary education (2010) from IU South Bend, she set her heart on doctoral work in peace or justice studies. Africa was not even on her horizon at that point. As an undergraduate, she went to Mexico several times through the IU South Bend Cuernavaca summer study abroad program. Her international interests led her to faithful attendance at the monthly teacher outreach programs offered by the Kellogg Institute at University of Notre Dame. There, Africa intruded on her destiny. At a lecture in March 2009, former child soldier Ishmael Beah of Sierra Leone talked about his life. “I was captivated by him,” she said. “There was joy in his smile—how could he be here?”
With that encounter, Amanda put her liberal arts education to work. She began to research child soldiers and came to understand that the process of rehabilitation was key to their success in re-entering society. She then moved to exploring opportunities to get involved with that process, settling on Uganda, where the Lord’s Resistance Army of Joseph Kony was infamous for its use of children as soldiers, only to discover there were no volunteer opportunities or jobs. She decided she would try to get to Uganda. A serendipitous encounter with a student who came to talk to her high school class about El Salvador opened a door. The speaker had worked with an organization in Kampala, Uganda, that worked with street children. She put Amanda in touch with the woman who had started the organization and Amanda began to prepare to make a one-month visit to Kampala to volunteer with the NGO.
While Amanda made these plans, her life as a local teacher unraveled. A transfer to a new school was aborted. Then an offer to teach in an early college high school was rescinded because she did not have the “right” master’s credentials. Amanda saw this as a sign it was time for a change. She resigned from her teaching position, emailed her contact for Uganda with a longer-term offer to help, and made plans to move.
The boys produce saleable jewelry (Photos courtesy of Amanda Jones)
Amanda arrived in Uganda in 2010 and immediately went to work to help develop the women’s program that the NGO had started the month before. She did bookkeeping for the NGO and worked on building her relationships in the community. Her research skills again came into play as she realized that the older street boys she was meeting, those older than twelve or thirteen, had real needs that were not being met by existing programs. Older boys, if not helped to get back in school or learn a trade, would end up in prison or dead, but most local NGOs were not interested in dealing with them because they were likely to be suffering from drug or alcohol problems. By November, Amanda had sixteen street boys living in her home where they got food, education, clothing, and counseling as well as hope for a better future.
She returned to South Bend in September 2011 to officially establish her NGO—Lot 2545 (named for Matthew 25:45, the “least of these”). She returned to Africa to open her new home for the boys, beginning with eight occupants but growing quickly to twenty-one. Her oldest boy is nineteen while the youngest is twelve. To provide for the needs of twenty-one boys, Amanda again returned to South Bend, this time to fundraise. She sells jewelry made by a local Ugandan women’s project and speaks to community groups to solicit sponsors to support a boy. She maintains Facebook pages, an Etsy site to sell the jewelry, and blog sites to support her work. She will not return to Uganda until she knows that her home is financially stable. When asked why she is doing this, Amanda said, “I am committed to the boys now in my home. I want to see them grow up as men who honor their wives and families and who will be agents of change in their community. We need the men to change so that women’s lives will improve.”