Two REACH Women elected Student Body Presidents
By Emma MacKenzie, International Coordinator
In the world of student politics at universities and colleges across Uganda, the top spot is Guild President. This is an elected position which REACH students have run for before, but they have never succeeded until now! REACH students didn’t just win one top spot – they won two! And what’s more, both are young women.
Esther and Georgina were both elected to the top spot at their schools within just a few weeks and a few miles of each other. Esther attends the Uganda Christian University in Mbale (UCU Mbale) and Georgina attends Salem Nursing School, also located in Mbale. Both young women were experienced in student government from their secondary school days where both were elected prefects. These are their stories of hard work and victory.
I met with Esther on her campus and spoke in an open courtyard where one of her posters was still visible on a tree. While finding a place to sit, many students called over to us to say hello to Esther and congratulate her. Esther is only the second woman to become guild president at UCU Mbale, but she was confident that she could win. “I felt that I was someone with potential.” She wasn’t worried about who her opponents would be plus she had the support of the extended REACH family on campus who helped her “so much, so much, all of them supported .”
Running on the platform “spirit of togetherness and integrity,” Esther used a positive message to try to bring together students of different tribes. Her team went into full campaign mode by branding water bottles, t-shirts, and, of course, banners and posters. They put on events, like a cododi dance (traditional drumming and dance routine) and attended school events like the sports gala. By making themselves visible and promoting her positive message, Esther took the lead.
As a softly spoken young woman, she did run into difficulties within her campaign. There were some people who attempted to take control and make her take a backseat. It is rare in mixed-sex schools for women to become guild presidents and even though UCU Mbale had one before, Esther was still going to run into that glass ceiling. She persevered and stood her ground against the imposing personalities in her campaign.
Now that she has won, she is determined to see that she fulfills her campaign promises. One of her top priorities is getting water tanks installed in the student dorms for dry season next year. Esther also wants to stay true to her campaign slogan. “I want to see that the different tribes and different campuses come together.”
Georgina attends an all-girls nursing school on the outskirts of Mbale and became involved in student government during her first year. The previous guild president befriended Georgina and encouraged her to run for the role in her second year because of her strong leadership skills. Georgina used her previous experience in her main campaign message saying, “I am capable of making the environment as you would like it.”
Because Georgina’s school is small, only 158 students, she had to run a campaign that focused on getting to know as many students as possible and speaking to each one herself. She went from dorm to dorm speaking with each student to ensure that they knew her message and her goals. She also participated in debates where her previous experience helped.
After such a close race, Georgina knew she had to prove herself still. She immediately got to work on her campaign promises and goals, and when I spoke to her she had already accomplished one of them – only 2 weeks after being sworn in! Georgina managed to move the guild office to an unused office, rather than sharing an office in the main admin building with school staff.
“My aim is to make sure that at least on weekends we can go and shop or go for prayers.” Georgina also plans on having another set of washrooms built and adding trenches to help with flooding on campus during the rainy season.
Has this experience in student politics made Esther and Georgina interested in perhaps joining politics after leaving school? For Esther, it has and Georgina wouldn’t rule it out, but she definitely wanted to focus on becoming a great nurse first.
Both Georgina and Esther were able to get to this point because of their own determination and a little help from fellow students and the encouragement of REACH staff. University Coordinator Sam Wambaka is exceptionally proud of his students and hopes that their success will encourage our other students at other campuses across Uganda to run for student leadership positions. He hopes that Esther and Georgina are just the start.