All Local, All The Time

Mwebaza fosters change through education at Niwot Elementary

Since 2008, the Mwebaza Foundation has been building collaborative partnerships between schools in Uganda and Colorado. As an educational organization, the foundation works with students to inspire global citizens through cross-cultural learning opportunities and global studies curricula that foster global understandings and deepen worldviews.

What started as a pen-pal exchange between Dale Peterson's first-grade class at Niwot Elementary School and Namatovu Catherine's elementary school students at Mwebaza Infant Primary has transformed over the past 15 years to something even more impactful.

Currently, Mwebaza works with 11 different partner schools throughout Colorado and Uganda. Over 12 months, more than 2,050 students explore their intercultural and personal value systems through art projects and cross-cultural exchange activities, including video presentations led by Ugandan teachers and chats with Ugandan students. These projects invite students to relate their values to local and global issues, equipping them with more knowledge and power to identify unethical systems, and then build ethical ones.

Mwebaza's School Development Director, Hillari Hansen, partners with teachers in each school to develop lesson plans that lead classes through readings, videos, discussions, and hands-on art projects.

This past year at Niwot Elementary, Hansen and Art Educator Lauren Mocilac created and led engaging art projects that explored the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, including climate action, zero hunger, clean water and sanitation, and gender equality.

Kindergarten students read the book, "Duck for Turkey Day" by Jacqueline Jewels, and discussed the traditional foods that their families eat during celebrations. They recreated a plate that reflects their favorite holiday foods using a mix of materials.

Students in Mwebaza Club learned about food systems in Uganda, crops native to the region, and traditional foods eaten by their friends. Students made their very own rolex - an egg omelet wrapped in a wheat-based, fried bread called chapati.

First-graders made equity puppets to celebrate the similarities and differences they have with their friends in Uganda. Using a variety of skin-colored markers, students made self-portraits and then drew their friends from Mwebaza Infant Primary. Second-graders learned about traditional Ugandan Batik art made with tree bark and then created beautiful designs on their very own piece of Batik fabric from Uganda.

In the third-grade art classes, students learned about Ugandan traditional pottery and how people therevuse natural, earthen materials to hand-make vessels like bowls, water jugs, plates, and more, instead of using plastic or other synthetic material. Students then made and decorated their own clay pots.

Fourth-grade students learned about underrepresented events in Colorado's history, including the Sand Creek Massacre, the WWII Japanese American Amache Internment Camp, and the first African American farming community west of the Mississippi in Dearfield, Colorado. Students made ornaments that reflected these events and the natural beauty of Colorado.

Fifth-graders transformed waste into art by collecting objects that would otherwise end up in a landfill - for example, plastic bags and single-use cups. They read the book "One Plastic Bag" by Miranda Paul, and learned how women in West Africa create woven baskets, mats, and containers out of plastic bags, then sell these items to make money for their families and communities. Fifth-graders learned about the eco-friendly social enterprises Mwebaza's partner communities developed and now run.

Mocilac said, "The creativity and momentum we inspire feels genuine. Students can connect their creative process to problem-solving, creating welcoming spaces, and personal ties to students across the globe."

Students exercise choice when selecting topics from customized curriculums that guide them to discover who they are, what is important to them, and how to be critical thinkers, leaders, and problem solvers while studying real-world issues. With this foundational knowledge, Mwebaza dreams that students will apply their learning in the world, get involved in their communities, and realize they have the knowledge and power to be change-makers.

Inspiring global citizens can interrupt the cycle of dependency inadvertently created by nonprofits. Global citizens are more aware of problems affecting us all and are eager to collaborate to solve these issues. As one Niwot Elementary student said, "We've learned about pollution and climate change. We've learned how it's different for each of us. In Uganda, they might have a better way of dealing with climate change than we have in Colorado."

The Mwebaza Art Sale kicks off this week at Niwot Elementary. Students in Kindergarten - 5th grade will display their artwork made in class throughout the halls during the Learning Celebrations. The Mwebaza Club Members will also showcase their handmade crafts. Parents can stop by Niwot Elementary from Feb. 7 through Feb. 9 from 3:40 - 6:30 p.m. and choose to "purchase" their students' art for a donation of any amount.

Proceeds from this art fundraiser will go towards a second teachers' home built at St. Paul School, in Nkokonjeru, Uganda. Last June, sustainable building engineer Kenny Quinn donated his time to travel with Mwebaza to Nkokonjeru to work with and train a team of builders on hyper adobe construction during the first home build. Instead of using traditional brickmaking, which can tax resources such as water and wood, this earth-bag method uses fewer resources and time.

Providing teacher housing at St. Paul School not only saves the school money from having to pay teachers' rents elsewhere, but it also increases teacher retention rates and allows the school to attract qualified educators as its student population increases. Teacher Tonny and his siblings now live in this first house on campus. Want to learn more about this Niwot-based nonprofit? Visit


Reader Comments(0)

Rendered 04/08/2024 21:28