Exactly 12 years after becoming one of the first two African students to graduate from EARTH University, Francis Nimukunda (’03, Uganda) has finally returned to his second home. “Being back after all this time is amazing – every step I take, I have to hug someone! EARTH really is my family.”
In the years since he left Costa Rica to return his native country, Francis worked hard to fulfill his role as a leader of change by taking advantage of opportunities and making his own. Just after graduating, he and fellow graduate Sylvia Natukunda (’03, Uganda) worked together to build a model integrated farm at Makerere University, and Francis went on to manage the farm for another six years. Because of all the practical experience I got at EARTH, I wasn’t afraid to go out into the field when I started working; I knew what had to be done.
Although he was happy to be employed in the agricultural sector, he explains that “I was never quite satisfied, I was always thinking in the back of my mind that I had to do something to benefit my community directly, because of the strong community consciousness I got at EARTH.”
One of the most urgent problems Francis saw in his village was the lack of educational opportunities for rural children: many parents couldn’t afford the transportation, boarding, tuition and other fees necessary to attend school in the cities. In 2007, Francis and his family founded the Rwabuto Memorial School (named after his late father, who was a teacher and a farmer) on their farm in rural Isigiro district. Francis reflects that, “Part of my inspiration for opening a school came from the community experience work at EARTH; I loved working with the kids and I realized it’s easier to create change starting with young people than adults.”
Today, the Rwabuto Memorial School has grown to include seven primary classes, with a total of nearly 450 students from the surrounding area, the majority of whom come from low-income rural homes. The curriculum is influenced by EARTH’s educational model, with students enjoying practical lessons around the farm. In addition, the school employs around 20 locals and has been very successful in retaining teachers, which has helped the Rwabuto students to perform exceptionally well in the national exams for four consecutive years. According to Francis, “One of the reasons we have been able to prepare our students so well is that we invest in quality teachers, and we always pay them their salaries on time – something that is very uncommon for private school teachers in Uganda. People appreciate and respect you when you have values and ethics.”
In addition to the school, Francis co-manages the family farm with his younger brother, where they grow coffee, beans, vegetables and plantains, and a restaurant that is run by his wife. With so many projects, every day brings a new challenge, but Francis feels prepared to take it all on: “The education at EARTH emphasizes teamwork, respect and ethics, which has really helped me with these projects. Anyone can tell you, it’s difficult sometimes to work in a team and even more so with family, but thanks to the training I’ve learned how to get everyone on board and working together.”
Above all, Francis’s proudest achievement has been “Influencing my family to tap its resources for the benefit of the community.” In the future, he hopes to continue seeing positive changes in his community and “have three healthy projects that are supporting each other: the farm, the restaurant and the school.”
During his time on campus, Francis wants to connect with classmates and professors and watch a new generation of African students graduate as leaders of change. “I was the first male African student here and that is my title that no one can take that away from me, it’s something I’m very proud of. My advice to the graduating students: return home and be the most humble version of yourself, and opportunities will come your way.
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