Reaching out to Uganda12/4/08

52kids connects CVU, African students

Dec. 4, 2008

By Ruthie Hill

Observer correspondent

Since its inception in 2005, the Charlotte-based 52Kids Foundation has grown considerably in size and budget, and therefore in its ability to support more children and families in the Kamuli district in Uganda. Founded by a Champlain Valley Union High School graduate, the foundation still relies heavily on the high school in addition to private sponsors.

 


    Courtesy photo
Jagger Koerner (right), founder of the 52 Kids Foundation, stands with his brother Bud under the organization’s sign in Uganda.

 


    Courtesy photo
Jane Namaganda, a student from the Kamuli District in Uganda, reads during a Saturday tutoring session.

CVU alumnus Jagger Koerner of Charlotte, who graduated in 2004, founded 52Kids after a trip to Uganda in December 2004.

Fresh out of high school, Jagger Koerner joined Student Partnership Worldwide and traveled to Uganda, where he participated in one month of training in agricultural extension and five months of hands-on work in Kamuli. Recognizing that the one-month training didn’t suffice in answering some of the farmers’ questions, such as the kind of medicine needed to treat sick farm animals, Jagger looked to the local non-profit group Kamuli People’s Integral Development Association for support. KAPIDA held a three-day workshop with the farmer’s group and has since partnered with the 52Kids Foundation, serving as the Vermont foundation’s ongoing connection to Kamuli.

Though he focused on agricultural issues during his original trip to Kamuli, the town emphasized that its major area of need was education. When Jagger returned to Uganda in 2005 with a $2,500 budget, the foundation was able to pay for school supplies such as pens, pencils, uniforms and lunch for 52 public school students. The number 52 was determined in conjunction with KAPIDA by the foundation’s initial budget.

John Koerner, Jagger’s father and a 52Kids Foundation member, admitted it wasn’t always easy to choose one child out of families with eight to 10 people, but the foundation felt it was the best way to extend support to more families.

“It’s the best way to leverage what we do,” John Koerner said. “We work with 48 families.”

“The families chose. We were taking people only of primary school ages,” Jagger Koerner added.

Eventually, the foundation was able to transition the 52 kids from public to private school for $150 per year. The Koerners acknowledged that many organizations help put children in school, but 52Kids differentiated itself by realizing kids cannot do well in school when their home living conditions are deficient. So the foundation began providing beds and mosquito nets, food, fresh water and medical assessments, enabling children to not only go to school, but be able to care about their classes and do well in them.

“Kids are not going to do well in school if you can’t solve other problems such as water, HIV treatment and walking distance,” John Koerner said.

When the foundation started taking on those challenges, its support touched the whole town. The construction of a well is nearing completion and will, according to John Koerner, provide water to more than 4,000 villagers.

Support from CVU

The well project came into being with help from an $8,000 donation from CVU’s Thursday Night Hockey Group.

“Another benefit of partnering with CVU is that we’ve been able to increase exposure to the foundation and increase our donor base,” especially because of the fundraising efforts and involvement from the girls soccer team, John Koerner said.

He said CVU has been an invaluable resource for the establishment and continual growth of his son’s vision for 52Kids.

“The kids fundraise on their own, whether putting on concerts or doing yard work,” John Koerner said of CVU students.

John Koerner said the foundation funnels its money to four major areas: School fees are at the forefront, followed by health and nutrition, home living conditions and a Saturday tutoring session. The foundation hired a teacher from a local school to teach a 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. session on Saturdays focusing specifically on English.

“English is the official language of Uganda,” John Koerner said, explaining that while there are 30 to 40 tribal languages in the villages, the newspapers and radio stations are conducted in English.

He added that the Saturday tutoring sessions also include lunch, which generates a 100 percent attendance rate.

Jagger Koerner noted that improving health care quickly became an essential prerequisite for keeping kids in school. Physicals are done biannually, and the 52Kids Foundation, along with KAPIDA, has an agreement with the local hospital. The hospital has a list of the sponsored children and in any emergencies those kids are taken care of immediately.

Future work

Presently, the foundation is concerned with the sheer distance kids travel to the school. John Koerner reported that a child could walk between two and 2.5 hours each way to school. The next big project is to build dorms closer to the school where the kids can stay Monday through Friday.

“We’re adding some programs this year,” the elder Koerner noted.

The foundation is working with CVU to set up a travel program to Uganda so students can partake in community service efforts. He hopes to coordinate two trips a year, one in the spring and another in the fall. He explained that over the past two years, players from the CVU girls soccer team have ventured to Uganda in small groups to meet the kids the foundation works with, and then they return home to fundraise.

Jagger Koerner is in the midst of making brochures for a more official volunteer program, one not run exclusively through the school.

“We’re also looking to have a program for people interested in medicine and health care,” such as pre-med students, Jagger Koerner said.

“The first thing is to build up the organization enough to support all the people we’ve started with all the way through their education until they can get the degree that’s useful to them,” Jagger Koerner said.

He added that the students sponsored by 52Kids would go into universities and the goal is to diffuse that education, encouraging others to go to school and bringing services and skills into Kamuli.

“In the last year and a half, we’ve gotten a lot closer to doing that,” Jagger Koerner said.

To learn more about 52Kids, participate in a volunteer program or donate money to the organization, visit www.52kids.org.