Takako Mino ’11 Paves the Way for Debate and Discourse in Uganda

Through debate techniques learned at CMC, Takako Mino is helping a whole generation of Ugandan youth give voice to issues and concerns that directly relate to their own lives. Read her story here, the sixth in a series of articles profiling CMC students and their summer internships.

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Name: Takako Mino ’11

Major: International Relations with a regional focus on Africa

Summer Internship: From May through August, Takako developed a debate program targeted mostly toward young women in Uganda through a group called the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE). FAWE was the 2008 recipient of the Henry R. Kravis Prize in Leadership which identifies extraordinary leaders in the nonprofit sector. Takako’s internship was funded through a grant from The Center for Human Rights Leadership at CMC.

Future Plans: “I have definitely fallen in love with Africa’s warmth (not just climate-wise) and sense of community, and I would like to return in the future to continue to work for youth empowerment. But before doing that, I would like to spend a year working in Japan to reconnect with my own culture and background and to learn about the education system there. I will most likely not be attending graduate school yet since I want more experience in the field.”

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CMC: A debate program in Uganda seems like it wouldn’t be a high-priority item in terms of need.

Takako: I think it is a high priority item. Uganda has come a long way in terms of improving access to education. It has introduced Universal Primary Education and Universal Secondary Education, so children from impoverished backgrounds can attend school without paying for tuition. But the quality of education is poor in most places. Students can get tossed from one grade to another without actually learning much. The teaching style usually does not encourage student participation, and although children study English, most of them cannot express themselves well in English. To make matters worse, classes are all taught in English at a certain level, so the lack of English comprehension skills hurts students in other subjects. Debate provides an opportunity for students to speak and to express themselves in English so that they can become more confident and comfortable in speaking in English.

CMC: So, like in much of the rest of the world, being able to speak English affords a huge practical advantage.

Takako: Yes. Speaking English also has many practical uses in such a linguistically diverse country. Last year, I studied abroad and interned in Uganda for six months, and I had the opportunity to travel to different parts of the country. Uganda has over 50 ethnic groups, each with its own language. English is often the common language for Ugandans. One thing I noticed is that most Ugandans rarely have opportunities to meet and interact with Ugandans from other parts of the country. Uganda also recently emerged from the Lord’s Resistance Army conflict, which devastated the northern region. Northerners often hold prejudices against Southerners, and vice versa. There are also divisions among the people of the North and the people of the South as well. Thus, in order to rebuild trust needed to move the country forward, there needs to be a lot of dialogue. Since young people are the future of Uganda, I wanted to help them gain exposure to other young Ugandans and to have opportunities to discuss important issues with each other. Debate is one form of doing this.

CMC: How did you make the debate program happen?

Takako: I visited schools in each region of the country (north, west, central, and east) to establish a foundation for a national debate league. Although we still need to begin holding regional competitions and to gather more resources for national competitions, we will slowly move toward that goal. Furthermore, debate empowers young people to express their opinions and to defend them. Teachers have told me that after the debate training, students have become more active in their classes and raise their hands more often to contribute ideas. Young people’s opinions are often not respected, yet they need the skills to fight for their rights when adults force things upon them like early marriage or female circumcision. Debate helps students become better critical thinkers to question and evaluate what authority figures say, so it also encourages them to become independent thinkers. Learning how to form effective arguments and how to refute arguments helps students perform better in all of their subjects.

CMC: How have the Ugandans you are helping been responding to the program?

Takako: I’ve been working with both girls and boys, and I’ve had an overwhelmingly positive response from them. Although they were quiet and afraid to speak when I first began, those who continued to practice with me gradually became more confident and inspired others with their courage, especially when they demonstrated their skills in the public debates. They were also very curious about the U.S. and Japan (I was born in Tokyo) and asked me many questions about the countries. At the schools where meals were provided, I tried to have meals with the students to get to know them in an informal setting. So I’ve gotten used to the typical posho (maize bread) and beans provided at every school. The students would complain about the quality of the food and would be really amused to see me eating it with them. This was one way to help break the barrier between teachers and students and to help them see that I’m just a normal person despite the different color of my skin.

CMC: What do you hope to gain from the internship?

Takako: I hoped to gain a better understanding of the Ugandan educational system and about the challenges faced by young Ugandan students and how they overcome them. I wanted to learn about the perspectives of young Ugandans on various issues. I have been interested in the field of international education, but I wanted to gain on-the-ground experience to determine whether I did want to pursue a career related to education. After my challenging but deeply fulfilling experience this summer, I’ve discovered that I enjoy teaching and would like to do something in the field of education.

CMC: How are you employing skills that you learned at CMC vis-?-vis the internship?

Takako: I’m definitely employing the skills that John Meany, head of CMC’s debate program, has taught me through my participation in the Middle School Public Debate Program, which is the outreach program of the Claremont Colleges Debate Union. I’ve already had opportunities to train people to judge and students how to debate through the program. In fact, John Meany provided some debate textbooks to leave at each school in Uganda as well as other handout materials. He also gave me valuable advice about how to conduct training programs at each school.

Studying international relations has exposed me to many issues in developing countries, and when I encounter those issues in Uganda, I have a better understanding of the wider implications and dynamics of problems faced by one school. The public debates that I hold are sort of Athenaeum-style too because after the first two of the three speakers on each team, we have 30 minutes of questions from the audience. Then the last speakers on each team conclude the debate.