Doing good work in Africa

KPU teacher Kyle Matsuba receives award for enriching schools in war-torn Uganda.

  • Nov. 24, 2016 6:00 a.m.

How do you save children devastated by war?

If you’re Kyle Matsuba, you put your research into practice and go to the post-conflict region of northern Uganda to launch a social emotional learning and mindfulness program in primary schools.

“Since the war, the area remains impoverished,” said Matsuba, a psychology instructor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU). “Kids struggle to get enough to eat and pay school fees, and are often abused. We are working on making schools safer and more enriching environments in which to learn and grow.”

Less than a decade ago, a civil war was taking place between the Uganda government and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), an extremist rebel group known for kidnapping kids and turning them into child soldiers. The long-term effects of that conflict on the region and the damage it inflicted, in particular, on youth was especially troubling to Matsuba. Enough so that he applied his theoretical research into real-world practice and it is making a difference.

After implementing a mindfulness program in Uganda for over two school years, Matsuba has found significant improvement in Grade 5-7 students’ empathy and prosocial behaviour, as well as significant decreases in their depressive symptoms.

“I’m optimistic because of recent results,” said Matsuba. MindUP, a program developed in the U.S. by the (Goldie) Hawn Foundation, “is proving instrumental in helping extremely at-risk children in northern Uganda. The practice is replicable, which could mean hope for children in other post-conflict areas.”

Matsuba is an expert in moral personality and at-risk children living in urban poverty.

His research identifies personality factors associated with volunteering and individuals engaged in extraordinary endeavours. He also studies the lives of at-risk youth and the changes in their well-being after participating in intervention programs.

Matsuba’s efforts with Ugandan children are being recognized with the 2016 Good Work Award (GWA) by the Association for Moral Education, an international forum that emphasizes self-reflective educational practices that value the worth and dignity of people as moral agents.

“He brings the program to a place where children are clearly in need of support in improving their well-being – a place that is not the most comfortable and easy to work in, to use an understatement, is the reason for the GWA committee to regard Matsuba as the eligible award winner,” wrote Doret de Ruyter, chair of the GWA committee.

The Good Work Award will be presented at Harvard University during the AME’s annual conference Dec. 8-11.

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