Students help build a brighter tomorrow
April 6, 2007
UW-River Falls is one of 12 colleges across the country raising awareness for and raising money to help build schools for children in Africa through a program called Building Tomorrow.
UWRF students had the chance to travel to Kampala, Uganda for two weeks during J-term and seven more students will have the opportunity to receive first-hand experience during J-term 2008.
In January, students Katy Leisch, Kasey Barrett, Kate Walbruch, Kate Thompson, Molly Thompson, Nate Dulon and Becky Vandenhoy, along with faculty members Amy Lloyd and Brent Turner, traveled to Kampala, Uganda for two weeks to interact and serve as guest teachers for the children at Meeting Point Kampala.
In a video created from photographs taken while in Uganda, Leisch describes Meeting Point Kampala as an organization and makeshift school started by a Ugandan woman named Noelina, who took in the children and their families, providing them with health care, childcare and education.
“This was the first trip for Building Tomorrow as an organization,” Brent Turner, one of the advisors of the UWRF chapter, said of the Ugandan trek. “ ... UW-River Falls students and staff were amongst this first delegation, along with students from the College of William & Mary and the University of Virginia.”
In addition to the 12 campus chapters, founder George Srour said Building Tomorrow has a partnership with Key Club International, a high school service organization that raised enough money to build a school in a year’s time.
During the trip to Uganda, the students from UWRF taught the children in Kampala everything from mathematical equations and English phrases to dance steps.
“The children could not get enough,” Leisch said.
The students were able to get to know the youths of Kampala on a personal level.
“Interacting one-on-one with the students at Meeting Point Kampala was one of the most gratifying experiences of the whole journey,” Leisch said.
Leisch said she was impressed with the amount of information the children were able to retain. “The students did nothing but blow us away with their talents and intellect,” she said.
Barrett described the Ugandan experience as “unforgettable.”
During the first week the group was in Uganda, they stayed in a hotel, but the following week they stayed with host families, Barrett said.
“Everyone’s experiences were different,” Barrett said.
The family Barrett stayed with did not have running water at the time, so she ended up going six days without a shower, but she said they provided her with everything she needed.
“They were very, very nice,” she said.
Of her experiences with the children of Uganda, Barrett said she was amazed by their level of intellect.
“We expected them to be below average,” she said, adding that the children would only have to be taught something once and they easily retained the new information.
How it all began
According to the Building Tomorrow Web site, the program is “a nationwide non-profit organization encouraging philanthropy among young people by raising awareness and funds to build and support educational infrastructure projects for vulnerable children in sub-Saharan Africa.”
The UWRF chapter of Building Tomorrow was created after the J-term trip to Gulfport, Miss. in 2006, Turner said.
“Students wanted to know of ways they could work toward social change and I told them about my friend George, whom I went to college with at William & Mary,” Turner said.
Advisor Amy Lloyd said students on the trip to Gulfport expressed interest in Building Tomorrow and began asking questions about how they could create a chapter at UWRF.
“They were very interested in getting it started,” she said.
Though students are instrumental in rising funds for the building of schools, Srou played the most integral role by creating Building Tomorrow. He said he started the organization after traveling to Uganda with the the UN World Food Programme, for which he served as an intern.
“I remember being struck by the thousands of kids who I saw going to dilapidated schools everyday, and one school in particular, Meeting Point Kampala, and just feeling like students could make a huge difference in these places if only they had the resources and medium through which to do it,” Srour said via email.
The process to build more schools is currently underway.
“We have one school currently operational and three more that we’ll be starting on this year,” Srour said. “We have just closed on a piece of land for one school and are working on the others. Our hope is to have at least 10 schools open by 2010.”
In the future, the construction of more schools throughout Uganda and other countries in Africa may be made possible.
“The models we’ve established both in the U.S. and in Uganda are scalable, meaning that we can take them from one place to the next and hopefully expand the reach of the organization,” Srour said. “Hopefully as we build up our infrastructure, we’ll be able to stretch our in-country operations through other Ugandan districts and perhaps even other countries.”
The cost of the trip was $3,000 per person and financial assistance was not offered, but those who went to Uganda came away with a priceless experience.
“It was by far the best experience of my life,” Barrett said.
Barrett said members of the UWRF chapter thought about doing some fundraising to help offset the cost to travel to Uganda, but they were more concerned about raising money to build schools.
Though she said she will not be able to afford to go to Uganda this coming January, Barrett said she will apply to go her senior year.
The UWRF chapter of Building Tomorrow will be sending another group of students to Uganda in January.
Every chapter raises money to support and raise awareness for the cause. During fall semester, “The Big Event” helped raise $1,800 for Building Tomorrow, Lloyd said. The goal for UWRF is to raise $10,000 in order to fund the construction of another school in Uganda.
“ ... We, here at UWRF, have the power to make tomorrow possible through providing support for educational infrastructure,” Leisch said.
To support the cause, students, staff and faculty members can purchase necklaces made by Ugandan women.