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Welcome to Jumpmind Reveal, a blog series showcasing some of the talented folks we have here at Jumpmind. In the first installment, we bring you a story about Mark Michalek, Jumpmind’s Director of Retail Product. Mark has been with Jumpmind for eight years.
In June of 2021, Mark, his wife, and his three children aged 12, 10, and 7, traveled to Uganda for the purpose of starting up a humanitarian effort to teach children technology and leadership skills. Mark and his family remained in Uganda for two years. During this time, Mark and his team mentored hundreds of young Ugandans, giving them a tech education and a marketable skillset, along with the chance to alter the trajectory of their lives.
What compelled you to take on this mission?
It’s hard to explain, other than to say I felt a calling from God to do this. God has blessed us very much and in a way this was a small thank you to him. I believe that wealth inequality and extreme poverty are formidable problems, and that brilliance is equally distributed, but opportunity is not. Teaching young people STEM skills is one way to begin to usher in the change that’s needed.
What made you decide to focus this initiative in Uganda specifically?
My father-in-law was teaching in the area and had lived there for a few years, so we had personal connections in the area. Uganda is not unlike the rest of Africa; poverty is extensive and access to electricity, education, sanitation, water, and health remains far from universal. There is a tremendous need to improve income-earning opportunities, as it’s hard to improve the overall economic status of Ugandans when so many are reliant on subsistence agriculture.
What types of projects were the children working on?
Mostly mobile application development and robotics. We had a competition where kids developed robots that would move cotton balls from one side of the room to the other; the robot that transported the greatest volume of cotton balls at the end of the designated timeframe was named the winner. It was amazing to see their leadership skills in action and to see them light up with inspiration given the chance to participate.
Did you take a sabbatical from work to do this?
Actually, I stayed working for Jumpmind and arranged to work part-time during the two-year period. Jumpmind President and CEO at the time, Greg Wilmer, was super supportive and a great ally.
What was this experience like for your family?
We lived in Kampala, which is the capital of Uganda. My kids attended an international school, where they were exposed to other kids who were from all different countries. But they observed poverty on another level daily. The experience changed us all and I hope the experience showed my kids that everyone can make a difference. At the end of our time there, it was hard to say goodbye, but we also missed our friends and family back home.