Maureen Dugan worked at the Interamerican Development Bank, an international organization, before working for over 29 years as an U.S. Foreign Service Officer. She joined the Arlington Academy of Hope (AAH) as Executive Director in 2012. She has traveled to or worked in 72 countries so far.
Women LEAD: What is your background?
Maureen Dugan: I come from a large family in New York. We’re very close. My parents emphasized the importance of education and of giving back, helping others.
For as long as I can remember, I was interested in other parts of the world and remember having overseas “pen pals” as a child. By the time I got out of school, I had studied overseas in several countries and done internships or volunteer experience in Central and South America, Southern Africa, and the Caribbean.
I feel like a won the “zip code lottery” in life. We were not wealthy growing up and I didn’t realize until I was grown how much my parents sacrificed for us and to give us a good education; they never complained. I was lucky to have been born in a country where all children can go to primary school and secondary school, and to university if desired. If you’ve been fortunate in life, I believe you should give back to others who are less fortunate.
I was in the Foreign Service for almost 30 years before retiring and joining the Arlington Academy of Hope as Executive Director.
Women LEAD: You are the Executive Director of Arlington Academy of Hope, a nonprofit organization with the mission of helping children in rural Uganda reach their full potential. Can you tell us more about Arlington Academy of Hope?
Maureen Dugan: Arlington Academy of Hope (AAH) was started by two Ugandans, John and Joyce Wanda, who emigrated to the U.S. and wanted to give back to the villages they were from. AAH has a primary school for 340 in rural Uganda that scores in the top 1% of more than 19,000 primary schools nationwide. We have almost 300 secondary school students on AAH scholarships, about 40 university students, women’s microfinance, and have built two health clinics that keep the children and their families healthy.
Our primary school is amongst the best. 100% of our students pass the Primary Leaving Examination (PLE) and go on to secondary school. Last year, our first class entered university! It’s well trained teachers who are present every day, working long hours with the students…well equipped classrooms, and changing attitudes and expectations of students, parents, teachers, and other Ugandan staff. We are so proud of all of them! We share our experience and resources with poor local schools.
Women LEAD: What are the biggest challenges to improving access to education in Uganda?
Maureen Dugan: Resources and poor quality of education. Uganda is a very poor country. The government does not have sufficient resources to provide a quality education for all nationwide. And families are poor, so paying school fees is challenging. The schools often have over 100 children per classroom, a dirt floor, no electricity, scant books, paper or pencils, and absentee teachers,. When we started AAH, only 14% of children in the district were graduating from primary school., and the majority were therefore resigned to a life of abject poverty. Can you imagine?! So many parents thought it was not worthwhile to send their children to school, given the poor quality, and opted to have them work in the fields, fetch water, or go to market days.
Fortunately, we are changing this in the area we work in.
Women LEAD: Why is educating girls important to you?
Maureen Dugan: Getting an education is a basic human right, and if countries are going to economic progress, you can’t have half the population not fully participating. If a girl graduated primary school, she is less likely to get HIV AIDS, and more likely to marry and start a family latter. Families and communities fare better when women are educated and have more earning power, as they invest more in health and education for their children.
Women LEAD: Can you talk about one woman who has impacted you in your life?
Maureen Dugan: Without a doubt, my mom who just passed away a few weeks ago. She was an accomplished professional – a research scientist, a very kind and generous person, and absolutely the best mom ever. She always nurtured and encouraged us, made us think we could do whatever we set our sights on. After retiring from the research lab, instead of taking it easy, she started the local chapter of AARP, was on the Board of a foundation for the aging, was active at the local Senior Center, and was a volunteer insurance counselor and tax advisor for the elderly. She was such an amazing and giving person. She really liked AAH’s mission and focus on results, and sponsored a girl at our school who she enjoyed corresponding with.
Women LEAD: Are there websites or books that are inspiring you right now about gender equality, women’s empowerment, and education?
Maureen Dugan: I am really inspired by She’s The First – an amazing organization that sends girls to school around the world. She’s The First sponsors over 50 girls at AAH! And how can you not be inspired by Malala? I also like Girl Up, Chime for Change, Girl Effect, Girl Rising, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Educating Girls Matters, We Are Teachers, and of course Givology! There are so many others working to give girls an education. Also inspiring are the real people I meet in my travels. Whether in Afghanistan or Uganda or elsewhere, the enlightened parents who struggle daily to survive but still manage to educate their children, and the hardworking students…They really inspire me too!