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Nurturing the heart and the mind

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They called her Namatovu.

When she first arrived in Uganda, Elisa Edmondson ’15 was called Madam Elisa. Within only a few weeks, her students renamed her “Namatovu” in honor of her compassionate and motherly ways.

Edmondson, a native of Tokyo, spent her second summer working for the Japanese NGO, Ashinaga. Named for the 1912 American novel, Daddy Long Legs, Ashinaga provides orphans emotional and educational assistance around the world. Founder and President Yoshiomi Tamai has helped thousands of Japanese children orphaned by natural disasters, including earthquakes and the 2011 tsunami, as well as AIDS orphans in Uganda.

With support from the Furman Advantage program, Edmondson, a communication studies major and poverty studies minor, decided to explore more of the continent after completing a semester abroad in South Africa.

“I wanted an experience that would have me working with children in an environment that was out of my comfort zone,” Edmondson said.

While she spent last summer at Ashinaga’s headquarters in Japan, she spent almost two months this summer outside Kampala in the district of Nansana.

Named the Rainbow House, the facility includes a primary school for sixty children in grades one through four, a counseling program, and a college preparation program for select high school graduates. As an intern, Edmondson created an English version of a Japanese newsletter which will be mailed to program donors.

Her favorite part of the day was always the time she spent with students. On Fridays, Edmondson and other interns facilitated a book club with high school graduates hoping to attend colleges in countries including Japan, England, and the United States.

Edmondson woke up to the sound of roosters every day, spending much of her six-day work week with primary school students, assisting teachers and offering small group and individual help with academics.

“It was a challenge to cater to every student’s needs, but the opportunity was extremely rewarding, especially when a student visibly improved,” she said.

One student, Maureen*, was an orphan and lived with a neighbor. “Webale” was one of her favorite expressions, which means “thank you” in Luganda, the local language. “She would thank me every day for teaching her,” Edmondson said.

Others expressed their love through food and invited Edmondson to their humble homes for a meal. She was always given the biggest portion of rice.

“They have little, but give so much,” she said. “They are rich in their own way with hearts of gold.”

While she’s unsure about her plans after graduation from Furman, Edmondson said another trip to Uganda is definitely on her list. “I want to go back and see how the kids are doing; it was heartbreaking having to leave,” Edmondson said.

*Name has been changed.

Learn more about Furman internships and Furman Advantage.

Last updated October 7, 2014
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Clinton Colmenares
News & Media Relations Director