Civil Engineers on the Quest to Provide Access to Education in Africa

From the dorms of the University of Wisconsin-Madison came the partnership that is set to revolutionize learning in and about Africa. Civil Engineering graduates, Joel Baraka – who is an ALA Alumni, and his partner and friend, Anson Liow connected on their passion for education and love for board games at the inception of their friendship. With avid dedication and innovative efforts, they have banded together to create educational board games to provide access to education in schools in Uganda. As an asylum seeker who was in a refugee camp in Uganda himself, Joel realized the need for educational material that is engaging and will enable and encourage children in Uganda to learn. Having volunteered with refugees before, Anson was prompted to join Joel in this objective, and their partnership burgeoned.

As founder and CEO of My Home Starts, Joel conceptualized the 5 STA-Z Educational game, which is based on the Ugandan educational curriculum. The board game covers the four main subjects at a primary school level. By playing this game, the students stand to improve their academic performance, while also improving their critical thinking and communication skills. When Covid-19 hit, they had to rely on crowdfunding through the GoFundMe platform to further encourage learning in Uganda. The support that they received inspired the creation of the ‘Your African Quest’ board game.

This game focuses on the African continent. It enables users to learn more about the continent’s nature, people, cultures, food, and countries. Joel mentions that he has witnessed a lack of knowledge surrounding the continent, not only from Americans but from other Africans. It is very common that the knowledge that African people have about their continent is limited to their own countries and/or regions. There is a gap of knowledge that this board game aims to fill, while simultaneously providing access to education to those who need it: with every dollar that is raised through the sales of ‘Your African Quest’, learning is made more accessible to school-going children in refugee camps across Uganda.

The beauty of the creation of the game is that the content was sourced from various avenues. They relied first on the internet for information, but as the game gained more support, especially at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, they received more input on the content from the Department of African Studies and other African students on campus. Joel has also consulted some ALA alumni from various African countries regarding the information that they share through the game.

When asked about their plan to scale, Joel expresses interest and intention to do so, however, is very adamant that the plan to scale should never eclipse the main objective of their project, which is to provide education to Uganda.

Joel is currently a Project Engineer at CG Schmidt in Wisconsin, while Anson is in the final semester of his pursuit of a Master of Science in Construction Engineering and management.  Anson believes that his experience as an engineering student has contributed to and benefitted his contribution to My Home Stars, in his role as Product Engineer. In the future, both engineers would like to build schools in Uganda and across Africa, as a merger of their passions for engineering and education.

The story behind Your African Quest signifies the progression and social impact that can be achieved when people come together with a shared goal towards advancing an innovative plan as such. Although great in its objective, the game still has a lot of scaling and impact potential. Joel and Anson have worked tirelessly towards building the game and obtaining the funding that is necessary to expand it, and subsequently, provide greater access to students in refugee camps. There are many ways to support this team, one of which is by purchasing the game and donating. Click here to do so!

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