educategirlsToday (May 20) is my birthday. I don’t need any birthday presents. I have more than enough.

I’ve been wracking my brain for a special way to mark my birthday – something that fits with my passions and makes a difference for someone born into less privilege than me.

In the past few weeks, we’ve all been horrified with what’s happened in Nigeria to the nearly 300 schoolchildren who’ve been kidnapped by terrorists and have yet to be returned. I would give almost anything to be able to make a difference for those girls and their mothers. I’ve got a strong urge to gather all the fierce and loving women (and men) I know, fly to Nigeria, and form a huge circle of protection around those grieving mothers. And then we’d search until we’d found those girls and we’d form an even bigger circle of protection around them, until the Boko Haram had no choice but to give up.

But I can’t. Short of showing up to support the local Nigerian community in an assembly on the steps of our legislative building (which I did), there’s not much I can do.

But something else came to me. I may not have the power to bring back those girls, but I have the power to educate more girls.

That may be the best response to the tragedy in Nigeria. Keep educating girls. Keep telling the terrorists they can’t win. Keep believing that love wins.

Here’s what I’m doing… I’m helping my friend Nestar build a school in Uganda – a place that’s known the kind of terror that these young women have gone through.

Eight years ago, when I was working in international development, a young woman named Nestar Lakot came to work with my team for a year as an intern. Born and raised in Kitgum District, Northern Uganda during the two decades of civil war between the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the government of Uganda, Nestar experienced firsthand life in the midst of civil war. Her family was displaced from their ancestral farm-home after losing two of her brothers to the brutality of the LRA. Their home and possessions were reduced to ashes.

nestar2Nestar is one of the most wise and articulate young women I have ever met – so wise that when she worked with us, we sent her on a speaking tour across Canada. I used to tell her that I thought she might run the UN some day – she’s that smart.

Shortly before she returned to Uganda, I arranged for Nestar to be interviewed on a local radio station. There are two things I remember about that interview:
1. When the interviewer asked about her impressions of Canada, she said she was struck by how many people didn’t know their next door neighbours. “If you don’t know your neighbours, how can you know whether they’re hungry?”
2. When a caller said he thought it was a waste of time to send money to Africa because all of the governments there are corrupt, she didn’t react defensively. She simply said “There’s an old African proverb that says ‘When elephants fight, the grass is crushed.'” She’d seen far too much grass crushed in her young life.

Nestar moved to The Netherlands to get her Masters Degree and ended up meeting a man and having two beautiful children. She planned to go back to Uganda, but then her son got sick and needed open heart surgery. It seemed wise to stay in a place where they had access to modern medical care.

ukefBecause she couldn’t go back right away, Nestar started sending money to Uganda to educate children in the region where she grew up (Kitgum). And then she dared to dream a big dream. What if she started a foundation to build a school for underprivileged children? So she started Uganda Kitgum Education Foundation.

She didn’t just wait until she could afford to build a school – she started with what was available. In borrowed space, she started a small preschool with a few children. The next year, the school added grade one, and each year they plan to add a grade level (growing with the children). Within a year, the school has grown to educate more than 100 children! Their plan is to build a primary school for 300 students, along with a latrine, underground water tank, solar panel system, dormitories, multipurpose hall, and playground equipment. Read more about their future plans here.

Her dream keeps growing and I want to help it grow. Will you help too?

Here’s a conversation I had with Nestar recently where she shared more about UKEF and the incredible work they’ve been able to do in just one year. So far, most of it is funded by Nestar’s own efforts – making jam from organic berries, baking cookies, hosting barbecues, etc. As Nestar says, even if it’s small, your donation can go a LONG way in supporting this work.

As they save to build their own school, the immediate needs your donation will support will be:

  • salaries for the 6 teachers, 2 school cooks, and 1 janitor
  • food for the children
  • school uniforms for the children (each year, the children receive a school uniform – dresses for the girls and shorts and shirts for the boys)
  • chairs and tables (Last year they bought 30 tables and chairs. The students they enrolled this year are still sitting on the floor.)

You can donate to UKEF on their website, or scroll to the bottom of this post and click donate. The funds will go to my Paypal account, and I will transfer EVERY SINGLE PENNY to UKEF. (If you have any doubt about that, I’d be happy to share a before and after printout of my Paypal balance.)

Also, for every registration for Mandala Discovery, I will donate 10% (or $4.50). I’ll be making this a long term commitment, so a percentage of future offerings will also be sent to UKEF.

I believe in Nestar and I believe in her work. AND I am happy to support an organization run by someone from the region where the school will be built. Instead of sending in foreign workers who may not understand the local context, we’re supporting someone who knows better than any of us how to help children in her region. Not only does she have first hand knowledge, having grown up in the region, but she has passion and an education – a Masters degree in Public Policy and Human Development. Also, the organization is run by volunteers with low overhead, so 90-95% of your donation will go directly to providing education for children in rural Uganda.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact Nestar or me.

Please help spread the word about this. Share this post on social media, write your own blog post about why we should educate more girls, share a photo of yourself holding a sign like mine above – do whatever you can to invite people to contribute. (You can download a printable pdf of the sign I’m holding here.)

Here’s a list of others who’ve written related blog posts in support of this campaign. If you write one, let me know and I’ll add your name.

Thank you. #lovewins #educatemoregirls




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