EvolvEd intern Annie Wang sits down for a conversation with Kwagala Amos, an expert on African Cultures and Tales. Read about how life in Africa has changed since the COVID-19 outbreak, his impressions of American education, and his hopes for international connections on EvolvEd!
AW: Thanks for meeting with me today. To introduce myself, my name is Annie and I’m on EvolvEd’s intern team. I’m a double major in Education and Media Studies at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, NY going into my senior year.
KA: My name is Kwagala Amos and I’m a student at Kampala International University which is here in Uganda, and I’m studying mechanical engineering. I was in my account on LinkedIn, and I saw one of the cofounders of EvolvEd had posted, inviting people to come and teach and maybe share what they have. With the situation of Corona, right now we’re in a lockdown, so when you feel bored, you want to show out something, at least share, so I decided to join because I was just bored and on LinkedIn when I saw that opportunity, and they were offering it freely to join.
I thought, “What can I share?” As a student, I saw that I can share my culture. Here in Africa, we have a rich culture, and I’m an African, born here and seen things, so I wanted to have a topic where I can share the tales and where all this can be actually interesting to people out there.
AW: That’s really great. I was excited when I saw your subject on the site because I think being able to share culture and diverse backgrounds on a place like EvolvEd is important, and it offers a space for subjects not available on traditional online learning sites.
I saw on EvolvEd that you offer student-based lectures and a little bit on YouTube. Do you help students with mechanical engineering?
KA: I’m able to help them with first of all mechanical engineering, but you see before you reach a section of mechanical engineering there are topics that can be shared out to grade 12 students if you look at some of the videos that I’ve posted, like integration. Even grade 12 can really do them, so I wanted to build up something for some people to get help from me just sitting at home and waiting for schools to open up again.
AW: I was curious about how your life has changed with the COVID-19 pandemic since we’re seeing unique situations all around the world in this unprecedented, anxious time.
KA: Right now–I was at school before this coronavirus pandemic stuff came and I was focused on my academics. I didn’t have a YouTube account, I was just an ordinary person and ordinary student. This pandemic came, there was a lockdown, and we all had to come back home. While I was home, I was seriously lonely. There was nothing I was doing. I was just here at home, watching movies and T.V.
But then I got an idea, seeing huge books around, all of this knowledge around at home. Why not start something? So my life changed from that moment when I asked that question. What can I start? That question was answered when I looked at my Google account, so I wanted to open a YouTube account. Opening up that account was one thing that happened to me during this pandemic. It’s not something that I started sometime back. It’s something that just happened recently. Furthermore, I have found EvolvEd, which is also good. Another thing that has happened I used to go visit groups, my friends, and people, but then when this pandemic started, I haven’t with quarantine–I’ve visited my friends twice.
And right now here in Africa, most people, most households don’t have their own cars, transport, so we mostly use public means. And right now, guess what? The public means, the transport is double. Where you used to pay two dollars, now you pay four dollars. So I realized something has seriously changed a lot. The prices of things have doubled. So whereby I realized most of the things I was having I have to reduce. I have to reduce the number of things that I buy. I have to reduce the expenditure, so that is just a brief of how my life has changed. But of course on a positive and negative side.
AW: Can you tell me a little bit about your hometown and how your experiences shaped your academic interests?
KA: Particularly here in Africa in my hometown I can say Kampala because I’m from Uganda, that is part of East Africa. So here in Uganda, you see in history there is a time where there was the Stone Age period, then from the Stone Age period the machines come in the Industrial Age and then from there, other developments.
When you look at my hometown in particular in Uganda, maybe Africa as a whole, we are in the period whereby I guess the Industrial Age. We are a country that is just developing, that wants to become maybe sustainable, producing our own stuff. So I realize if I can study and understand more about mechanical engineering, where I can help out, maybe we install machines here in Africa, in my hometown Kampala. So if we can set our factories where we can manufacture mobile phones, where we can do our things our own way so I can build great help. I saw there is a serious need–because I was even talking about with my brother, he’s also going to venture in engineering–whereby we can have a serious effect and serious change in that field of engineering. So that is basically how my environment has affected me and has led me to that direction.
AW: What are your impressions of American culture and education systems and how they compare to your experience in Uganda?
KA: In America, the education in most cases is hands-on, where students and the people are taken to class, and whatever they study, they have everything. It is a place where if you set out to be an astronaut, they will take you to NASA and maybe you will see them.
But here, let me say if I’m having a brother who wants to be an astronaut, will they have an opportunity to see such things? Of course not. So I see in America that students are having more opportunities to see a thing, to touch a thing. For us, we just maybe see it on the Internet. The thing is information. You guys have a vaster information than ours, for us, we are limited, whereby right now we use newspapers, we use books. In America, someone can easily go to a sit-in compound where they can freely comment, they teach you whatever you want to learn.
Another thing I can say, our education in most cases is teacher-based, where you go to school and the teacher has to teach you, but if you look in America it goes from teachers to parents to the community. Education evolves around so many things. So in America, there are more chances of a student succeeding in whatever field they choose to study.
And then lastly, maybe I can talk about specialization. Here, in Uganda, it’s very hard for someone to specialize in a subject, reason being there’s less attention given to learners, to students where if you look at most, let me say 80% of our education system, you start out not knowing what you’re going to be tomorrow. It’s when you reach university when you choose to go, but in America a child starts, let’s say kindergarten, knowing “I have to be a teacher.” That student shall learn from that state and shall specialize in university where they will be experts, but then us it’s a whole different thing.
AW: I think it’s interesting to think about in American education how many forces are factored into education to decide what is taught.
What are your career goals post-college and how does teaching fit into those goals?
KA: My goals, first I want to get a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering. After venturing in mechanical engineering and maybe after college I’ve graduated and gotten that, I intend to come back because there’s a serious need for, as I told you earlier that, we are in need of engineers because in many fields we need to start making our own stuff, fabricating our own things, so after attaining that information I need, I intend to come back and teach these people–my fellow Ugandans and my fellow Kampalians who are staying and studying in Kampala–and maybe, we have a good number of people that are elites who understand so that we can…because one person can, let’s say we are few in engineer we cannot attain our goal but if we are many, then we can make it.
So my target is after understanding, I come back and help, maybe inspire lower students to venture in this direction. Yeah, that’s what I intend to do.
AW: What do you think the benefits are of an international connection on a site like EvolvEd where you can connect with people all around the world?
KA: Being connected exposes someone to many ideas and a lot of information because as we talk right now, for example, so many people that are going to get from this to understand and to get inspired, so from there, one thing is you are not limited. Let me explain more about limitation. Because, for example, I am a person who is studying to be an engineer but I won’t be limited to only engineering because I’m an African, and I feel like sharing my culture out there, so I won’t be limited to just engineering. I’ll find some leisure time.
We are in a lockdown here, we have nothing to do, I’m not at school. But I have a lot of information about Africa, about Uganda, and about all of us, so I feel if there’s a connection to the outside world, I can share out the way of life of Africans, the plants we have here in Africa, the animals, the wildlife, and all of these things, so I feel I am not limited.
Another thing about connecting to the outside world, of course, is it helps me receive information to my people here, how I can improve life over this site, maybe when someone inspires and tells me the way things are done over there, then I can easily translate them here. Then another thing is, maybe it’s not direct to me, I can see someone out there, like my young brother who does art, so if I find an artist out there who is my friend, I can easily get information or link that person to my young brother. My brother is helped, so a gap is bridged.
AW: Is there something you wish people knew about Africa or Uganda?
KA: Yeah sure. I wish…actually some people think Uganda or Africa is backward, maybe in terms of development, so they think if they land in Uganda there will be lions roaming around. But we’re hospitable. Actually, Uganda is one country where we are free, and we welcome every person. Then another thing I would like them to know is we have a lot of interesting things, a lot of adventure. You can come and see. Actually, in Africa–well it’s only in Uganda–these mountain gorillas are only found in Uganda.
AW: I saw on the site that you want to share your culture with people outside of Africa through different tales or things you know from being an African. Are the tales passed down from relatives?
KA: Actually, these are stories that are passed from my ancestors and some we share from other cultures. Because in Africa, we have so many types. You meet friends from another tribe and they tell you. That’s how our ancestors got all of these stories and tales. So whereby I get them and I can tell them to children at home and their families.
To keep entertained without iPhones or the internet, our own parents entertain us as children, where we used to make a fire and sit around. And they tell a story that is interesting, that is personal, and that is inspiring. I intended to have people in my class who I can tell stories for their enjoyment but then also invite their families and friends and maybe sit around and then share them out.
That is what I want to do: to share an experience.