By John W. McDermott ’62
I met Eric and Boris, both Amherst ’07, and heard about Educate! quite by accident shortly after retiring to the town of Amherst. That chance meeting when they were undergraduates has transformed my life through volunteer work with Educate! over the past five years, culminating in a life-changing visit to Uganda to meet Educate!’s staff and observe our program firsthand.
As a rising high school senior in 2002, Eric founded Educate! to create educational opportunities for African refugee youth. He brought the program with him to Amherst, where he met his classmate Boris, who became his friend and partner in the evolution of Educate!. Together they have created a model of education that unlocks the potential of African youth to solve their communities’ greatest problems: poverty, disease and environmental degradation. After only one year of the program, the 830 Educate! students at 24 partner schools have started nearly 50 community initiatives and 12 businesses from which more than 17,000 people have benefitted. While visiting schools in western Uganda, I met students who, with the support of their Educate! mentor, were reforesting their land with more than 20,000 seedlings donated by the Ugandan government.
Educate! is driven by the idea of “exponential empowerment” — investing in a few people over the long term so they can have a positive impact upon many others, thereby accelerating the pace of community improvement. In this way, students who may never visit Amherst College become extensions of its motto: Terras Irradient. Educate!’s goal is to replicate its model throughout Africa, an opportunity recognized recently by the organizations Echoing Green, Ashoka Changemakers and Do Something and by Entrepreneur Magazine.
Now working full-time for Educate!, Eric and Boris have built a committed staff of 23 and a network of interns, volunteers, contributors and advisers in Uganda and the U.S., many with close ties to Amherst College, to carry out Educate!’s mission. As executive director, Eric represents Educate! to sponsoring organizations and oversees development of the program. As president, Boris brings business startup experience and considerable networking skill, focusing on fundraising and organizational growth. Their achievement reminds us that, at their best, lives of consequence inspire others to follow their example and that one is never too young or, as in my case, too old to begin.
To learn more about Amherst's campaign, Lives of Consequence, to nominate a friend or classmate whom you admire and would like to honor, or to read about other lives of consequence, please visit www.amherst.edu/campaign.