A person’s dreams can come in all shapes and sizes. They can be reasonably ambitious, such as publishing a book or starting a successful business. They can be wild, like scaling the Seven Summits or qualifying for the Olympics. They can also be more down to earth, such as the author’s dream of living in a home with a dishwasher so as not to wash dishes by hand.
During Hamis Mugendawala’s childhood, one down to earth dream likely consisted of basic school supplies; he would be literally down to earth writing in the dust. Pencils and paper were not an option. And while growing up in a poor, illiterate family in Uganda, higher education probably felt like another impossibility.
That dream, however, eventually became a reality. Hamis eventually made it to Makerke University, and University of London, and later to the University of Southampton UK, where he received a PhD. Those credentials propelled him to a position with the Parliament of Uganda. It was there, in 2007, that he received a message that would forever change his life.
The message was an email from Kasey Beck, founder of Invictus Institute. At the time, however, Kasey was one of several undergraduate students on a service trip to Uganda. At one point on the venture, Kasey emailed the Ugandan parliament, asking if the group could meet with members and other high-ranking officials.
“Fortunately I happened to be the only one that responded,” Hamis recalls. After meeting Kasey and the rest of the group in person, Hamis organized visits with various Ugandan politicians. It was then that Hamis and Kasey’s friendship began to take form, particularly over conversations about Africa’s political landscape. “He had too much interest…and so did I,” Hamis jokes.
Those conversations turned to the impoverished conditions of so many Ugandan citizens. Kasey was especially affected by seeing people in his own age group stuck in such unfortunate circumstances. Eventually, his melancholy prompted a piercing question to Hamis: “What do you think we can do to help young people realize their dreams?”
Hamis was so struck he could not given an immediate answer. “But,” he affirms, “I later told him that ‘through education.’” With that answer in mind they undertook their first enterprise of educational improvement. After identifying five remote schools, “we designed a fairly comprehensive program,” he explains, “with some financial support from one of the local MPs to retrain teachers on various aspects and the headteacher on effective leadership.” Despite working with only a handful of schools, their endeavors generated an overwhelming amount of buzz. “Since then we have never looked back.”
After Kasey returned to the states, he and Hamis continued to deliberate on how to assist young people with formal educational support, especially those from poor backgrounds. Their own lack of resources complemented the lack of resources felt by so many young students, ranging from supplies to no reliable source of additional help with schooling, leaving them stranded in scarcity. “This is when the idea of online tutoring started,” Hamis recollects, and thus Invictus Institute was born.
The work moved slowly yet persistently at first, with Kasey assembling volunteers in the states and Hamis coordinating activities in Uganda. “Seeing children who originally could not speak English and do maths become very competent in these subjects,” inspired him, he states. Finally, Invictus Institute became a registered 501(c)(3) in the U.S. In addition to Uganda, the online mentoring program has spread to Bangladesh and India, and will soon be implemented in Ethiopia, Ghana, Solomon Islands, South Africa, and Vanuatu.
Today, Hamis wears several different hats within the organization. His responsibilities include recruiting schools and students for the program, forming partnerships in Uganda and beyond, organizing Ugandan volunteers to set up the necessary electronic equipment on their end, and research. In all of that time, Invictus Institute has surpassed all of his initial expectations. “It is beyond imagination, he admits. “My original thought was that it was to be confined to Uganda but surprisingly it is going places. I can’t comprehend how we have done it.”
He credits Invictus Institute’s establishment in two different continents, Africa and Asia, as its greatest success, and envisions it spreading to yet another continent: Latin America. Additionally, he foresees strong, stable partnerships with numerous organizations, including the nations’ governments. Realizing that vision, he predicts, will be accomplished by continuing to tell Invictus Institute’s story, crafting a concrete strategy, and seeking greater funding.
Invictus Institute’s dream is a world full of well-educated, responsible youngsters prepared to enrich their lives and their developing countries. With the memories of his difficult background in mind, Hamis Mugendawala is happy to be turning that dream into a reality. “My personal history creates this thirst to make a contribution to this noble cause,” he declares, a cause that owes him many thanks for its progress.