Africa In Our Lives: Joel Baraka and Anson Liow

Joel Baraka is a former King Morgridge Scholar at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (’22) who graduated with a bachelor’s in Civil Engineering degree and currently working full-time as a project engineer for CG Schmidt Inc.

Anson Liow is a graduate student pursuing his Master of Science in Construction Engineering & Management on course to graduate this December at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Joel and Anson, are friends and boardgame enthusiasts who met in the summer of 2019 when they were taking summer classes together at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. At that time, they were both undergraduate students in the Civil Engineering department at UW. Driven by curiosity, they partnered to create the 5 STAZ, an educational boardgame that breaks down the Ugandan primary education curriculum to make learning fun and accessible to refugee children in Uganda.

Tell us about your experience of creating 5 STAZ and how it led to the creation of African Quest.

Anson: 5 STAZ started with Joel during his high school time at African Leadership Academy (ALA) in South Africa. He had the idea of making learning more accessible and fun for refugee children. He started building prototypes where he worked with teachers to break down English, Mathematics, Science, and Social Studies, the four main subjects of the Ugandan curriculum, and put them in a game format.

When I met him in 2018, and he shared with me what he was doing, I was intrigued. He and I teamed up and I started working on product design. I worked to ensure the game was both functional and visually appealing. To date, we are working with 5 schools in the Kyangwali refugee camp and have made the 5 STAZ accessible to more than 5,000 students

Joel: I also think that our education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison influenced the creation of both games. For example, as engineering students, the course work can sometimes be a lot. But I think being badgers and one thing that has kept us going is the belief in the Wisconsin Idea, which states that what we do here at the University should enhance the lives of every person in the State of Wisconsin, as well as around the nation and the world.

This has been key in our continued improvements of the 5 STAZ, especially knowing that we are building a learning tool that will make education accessible and support the learning of refugee children.

This was the same reason behind creating our new game, Your African Quest. We are very excited to share this with people here in Wisconsin and across the US. Especially those that would love to learn more about Africa. To school-going children, this will be a great way to get exposed and learn about African countries, geography, people, food and even African culture.

Tell us about your experience creating Your African Quest.  

Anson: Working on building this game was really exciting. I am personally from Malaysia and there is no doubt that I got to learn so much about Africa. During the creation, I mostly focused on the game mechanics and how the different parts of the game build on each other to bring about exciting moves during the gameplay.

Joel: I loved the experience! I was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, but grew up in Uganda and attended my high school in South Africa. In many ways I was exposed to different cultures and learned about different parts of Africa early on in my life. I have always been intrigued with how each African country has its own unique history, diverse cultures and way of lifestyle.

I spent a lot of time working on the content side of the game, and I personally was surprised by how much I did not know and how much I still need to learn which was a very humbling experience.

We still have a lot of stereotypes about the African continent and I think with the game we have created, there is a chance to start some interesting conversations on round tables in homes, and schools and raise awareness about the African continent.

We want anyone who will get this game to have fun, but most importantly learn something about an African country, the African People, Food, geography or culture.

Tell us more about your social mission work in Uganda and the connection with Your African Quest.

Anson: Since 2018 when Joel and I met, we have been running My Home Stars, a non-profit social enterprise where we focus on making education accessible to refugee children. Since then we also have been providing the 5 STAZ as an educational tool, free of charge. With our team, based in Uganda, we train the teachers on how to incorporate the game into the curriculum. Your African Quest is a unique opportunity to create a partnership with the general public who would like to learn about Africa while making an impact. For example, anyone able to make a $40 donation, they are able to get themselves a copy of Your African Quest and also send another copy of the 5 STAZ to school-going children in Uganda.

Joel: In simple terms, there is an impact to be made and I do not think Anson and I can do this all by ourselves. We need people to help us make that impact, transporting the games, training individuals, and paying our team members in Uganda. We strongly believe that not only can a fun and dynamic game such as Your African Quest bring people together to foster social connections, but can also be used for social good and help us uplift each other.

Where can people go to find out more about the game?

Anson: Individuals can visit our website and youtube channel to learn more about the game. We were also able to work with the UW Madison Marketing department and they helped us add Your African Quest to the UW Madison Holiday Gift Guide. Currently, the games are expected to arrive on December 6th and we plan to ship them out as soon as we received it for those people who have ordered. Our goal is to make sure every order can be delivered out to our buyers before Christmas.

We love talking to people about our work as well. People can reach out directly to us or through our website or social media (Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn).

What are ways in which the ASP community can support you both in this endeavor?

Joel: Buying a game for yourself, your family, and even as a gift to friends would mean a lot. There is so much in the game that anyone from any background will find fascinating, including individuals who are from the continent. Some of our friends from Africa that have played the game have found it fascinating and we hope to get the ASP community, professors, and students involved.


You can learn more about African Quest and purchase your set here

You can also connect more with Joel and Anson here…

Joel’s email & phone number: & 608-692-0569

Joel’s LinkedIn

Anson’s email & phone number: & 413-230-9821

Anson’s LinkedIn