Mother Teresa is my hero. She once said, “We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop.” It’s true. Look around you. Turn on the news. Get a newspaper. The world seems to be in disrepair. People everywhere are losing hope. But you and I? We can’t.
I find myself getting quite overwhelmed lately, especially with respect to our mission in Gulu. UNICEF reported that from 2008-2012, only 17% of youth in Uganda attended secondary school. SEVENTEEN PERCENT. Given the state of many primary schools, this means that even if a student completes primary level (which is also a staggeringly low number), they might be leaving without basic literacy and numeracy and in most cases, be unable to continue. Being unable to continue in school limits the economic opportunities of these individuals significantly. These numbers are even worse in the northern part of Uganda, where many people are marginalized. I meet children every single day who want to go to school and are seeking my help. And every time, I have to tell them, “I’m sorry. We’re full.”
This year we increased our number of secondary students from 15 to 40. 25 new students meant 25 new people to visit, families to work with, marks to track, and funds to raise. It’s been a tough year, to say the least. We are fortunate that 18 of these 40 students have scholarship sponsors. A scholarship sponsor is an individual, family, group, club, classroom, school (the list can continue) who verbally commit to send their student through secondary school. As long as the student upholds their end of their scholarship contract, they will remain in school. My goal is that every one of our scholars has this individual or group by the end of 2014. Maybe then we can add a few more worthy, hardworking, amazing students to our program.
As Director of Programs and Development, half of my job is to ensure that our students, programs, and projects are funded. I’m writing project proposals and grant applications this week! The other half of this is fundraising. As a 100% model, all of our fundraising goes towards our students. The money raised and donated by scholarship sponsors pays for their school fees (including boarding school), uniforms, registration requirements, emergency medical care, and our mentor who works one-on-one with each student to provide academic, social, emotional, and any other guidance necessary. In certain case-by-case situations, we provide transportation costs and school supplies to students in extremely tight circumstances. All of it adds up, and fast.
I have people contacting me all the time wanting to help, but not knowing how they might do it. “I’m on a tight budget.” “My school is 90% reduced/free lunch.” “My students have nothing.” “I’m a teacher and I only know teachers.”
Well, friends, there’s hope! We have met some amazing supporters over the past two years and I’d like to share some of the things they’ve done that WORK and work well. The following examples have been completed at schools (but may also be adapted to work in the office or community).
- Coin Drive: One school uses Penny Wars to compete between classrooms. For two weeks, each classroom raises as many pennies as they can. The catch: opposing classrooms can put silver coins into their opponent’s jars that count AGAINST the total! The winning classroom walks away with pride and maybe a free dress or jeans day (at Catholic schools or charter schools with uniforms).
- Bake Sale: One school advertised their bake sale to raise funds to support a student they had previously committed to after my trip last Fall. Two Friday’s later, they made double the cost of one student and decided to sponsor two!
- Movie Night: One school hosts regular movie nights on campus. They charge admission and sell treats — and send the proceeds to Educate for Change.
- Benefit Concert/Talent Show: Have a local band? Want to help organize a school talent show? Most administrators are more willing to approve these types of events if there is a cause you are working towards.
- Clubs: There are several schools who have Interact Club or similar types of community service clubs always searching for international projects. They do their own fundraising, and need a place to send their cash. We have the support of two different Interact Clubs in New York and California!
- Restaurant Nights: Several restaurants and fast-food places will offer 10-20% of their nightly proceeds to NGO’s or other causes. Sign up, advertise the evening, deliver coupons around campus (if needed), and eat your heart out!
- Solidarity Lessons: As a teacher, I had ample opportunities to discuss the state of the world with my students. They all knew about my passion for Uganda and education, and most of them were willing to help in any way they could. So I put a jar on my desk. At any point the students felt called to drop a few coins or maybe some babysitting cash in the jar, they would. No pressure. It adds up, folks.
I always get overwhelmed by fundraising. But, it’s really not too difficult if we take small steps and if people join together. As an educator, working with students to raise money was a beautiful thing. I saw some of my students begin to take more financial responsibility, in some cases realizing that the cost of a pair of sneakers (they didn’t need but wanted) would send a student to boarding school for one term. It also allowed them to learn about, connect with, and be in solidarity with students they may never meet.
For those of you who are not teachers or do not have children, there are some of these ideas that can also work for you. An alternative taken by one of our scholarship sponsors was that $500 a year was a bit too much, but between two families maybe $250 a year was something they could commit to.
And of course— we do not only take donations in chunks of $500. Any and all donations are essential for our work. No amount is too small or forgotten.
I will be traveling to the US in October for three months and would love to discuss these ideas with you further, if you are ready and willing. If you are in or around any of the locations below, please email me at email@example.com and maybe we can work something out!
- Saratoga Springs, NY
- Poughkeepsie, NY
- New York, NY
- Boston, MA
- Worcester, MA
- State College, PA
- Pittsburgh, PA
- Cleveland, OH
- Indianapolis, IN
- St. Louis, MO
- Los Angeles, CA
- Tampa, FL
- Jacksonville, FL
- Anywhere down the eastern seaboard
- Name your place (you never know)
As always, THANK YOU. Much love from Gulu.