Maui native teaching in Uganda

Lantana Hoke had always wanted to serve overseas in the Peace Corps, ever since learning about it as a teenager on Maui.

For the past year and a half, the Haiku native has been a volunteer educator in Uganda, where she teaches students and teachers, and recently helped build her local school’s library.

“They love to look at books,” Hoke said in a Peace Corps news release in April. “Watching them listen to a read-aloud is like watching American children at a movie; they lean forward, enthralled, and talk excitedly to each other about the pictures.”

Hoke, 28, serves as the primary educator at St. Alphonsus Primary School and Sancta Maria Primary Teacher’s College in the small village of Nkokonjeru. She had worked at the Paia Youth & Cultural Center for more than a year before making the trip to Africa, and calls the experience “intimidating, exciting and exhausting.”

“I love teaching, traveling and learning about different places, cultures and people, so it was a natural choice for me,” Hoke said in an email. “And it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I love Uganda.”

Hoke described her village as “oddly familiar,” with its humid climate, local customs and abundance of banana trees. However, it remains “wildly different” due to the country’s practice of corporal punishment in classrooms.

With the construction of her village’s library, Hoke received a grant earlier this year to promote good use of it by students and rewarding positive behavior rather than punishing negative behavior. The grant for the 2014 Uganda school year, which began in February and ends in December, was awarded by The Pollination Project, a nonprofit promoting “social change projects and passionate and creative leadership,” according to the company’s website.

“As a staff, we came up with a system of giving students ‘Angel Tickets’ when they exhibit good behavior or complete certain tasks in the library like reading and answering questions, looking up words in the dictionary or other positive behaviors,” Hoke said in the news release. “By rewarding positive behavior and the use of the library, I hope to jump-start student and teacher involvement in reading, literacy and a focus on rewarding positive behavior.”

The tickets are redeemed at the end of each week for game or movie nights, and at the end of the school year, students can earn a field trip to Kampala – Uganda’s capital city.

During school there are three long breaks, in which Hoke participates in Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World), a “super fun youth empowerment camp that teaches gender equality and leadership skills to teenage girls,” she said.

Outside of school, Hoke stays busy with buddy-reading projects, volunteering at a local nursery school and orphanage, and visiting local elders. She also teaches physical education through dance and yoga, but spends “a lot of time taking care of daily chores, including hauling water and boiling it in order for it to be drinkable, washing clothes by hand, and cooking,” she said.

Hoke remains in contact with her family on Maui “as often as I can,” and she ultimately plans to return to the island.

“I would love to work in international development and continue my work with youth and education,” she said. “I love working abroad, but I eventually want to come back to live on Maui.”

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at