Thursday, February 6, 2014

Faith and Fees

There is so much to learn every day in Uganda. This week I am learning more and more about the education system here. When students graduate from P7 they take an exam over four subjects: reading, math, science and social studies.  They then have an aggregate score, the lower the better. I've been told that students who score with a number higher than 20 typically tend to struggle in Secondary. Faith who called me at midnight scored a 27, so in theory she doesn't seem to be a "good" candidate for secondary.

In the past 36 hours I have had many thoughts and many discussions on this matter. I said if someone had not paid my school fees in high school because of my grades, I wouldn’t have gone to high school…I was not a great student, not because I’m not smart, but because I don’t really learn the way I was taught. I’m more of a “hands on”, have to see it to believe it kind of student.

What if Faith is the same way?
Or what if Faith can’t focus in school because she receives 1 or 2 meals a day? And those meals consist of posho and beans, hardly enough food to quiet the growling stomach let alone learn in school.
Or what if Faith missed school last year each month for four days because she didn’t have adequate supplies to manage her period?
Or she missed days of school because she doesn’t have a net over her bed and continuously contracted malaria?
Or had a bout or two of typhoid from dirty drinking water?
Or because her access to basic hygiene supplies is limited and she gets sick often?
Or she needs more hours to study but there is no electricity to study by?

Faith and her mom were at WSH by 9am yesterday, waiting over 90 minutes before I arrived to the school. 

Her mom a beautiful woman with kind eyes and a big smile, sat there speaking to me in Luganda, telling me she didn’t have an education and she wanted more for her daughter. I asked Faith yesterday, “if no one pays your school fees, what will you do?” She replied, “I’ll go home and sit”. Sit and do what I thought?  Later in the day I went home and I googled something about secondary schools in Uganda and I came across this blog The following quote was enough for me to know that allowing Faith to go back home to her village to sit and wait for someone, anyone to pay her school fees was not the answer.

"The study found that in Kampala 21% of female secondary school students between the ages of 14 and 17 have engaged in 'transactional sex' - providing sex in exchange for something, usually money. One in twenty has had sex with a relative for this purpose."

I began to brainstorm ideas for Faith and the others who according to their scores aren’t strong students, what if the students who graduated from P7 who are over the aggregate of 20, stay at WSH, help in the kitchen, in the dorms, in the garden, on the grounds and at night they get some additional help and sit for the P7 test at the end of this year. If they hit the 20 or below mark we fight like hell to find them a sponsor?

In Uganda it’s beat into everyone’s head you must go to Secondary and you must go to University, the reality is that’s not going to be many student’s options if they don’t have family, a sponsor or the ability to continue with their studies. Today as I was having lunch with my friend Frank, I said you know I feel like when students finish P6, someone needs to sit down with them and say “if you continue to study hard and test well in P7, you should have no problem in Secondary” but if the student isn’t showing signs of being a strong student, someone needs to say “you know secondary may not be your best choice lets find a vocation for you” And set the child’s expectation of what their future is going to look like well before they graduate from P7, not a week before classes in Secondary start.

Tonight I had dinner with the group from the UK who provides a majority of the funding to the school. Out of the 30 P.7 students, they have identified 11 who have tested well and need sponsors, they are able to commit to 5 students, that leaves 6 children who have an aggregate of 20 or below who are in need of school fees. It costs approximately $1,000 a year to send a child to secondary this includes, fees and other requirements that add-on quickly. When 35% of the country lives on less than a dollar a day, you can see how sending one or any of your children to secondary is far out of the realm of possibilities. The Bernie Project’s mission for this year is nutrition and hygiene, but I feel it is imperative to find a way for these 6 kids to get to school next week. The Bernie Project needs commitments and donations of approximately $350.00 for each child by next week. The additional funds can come throughout the year. We will be posting stories of each of these students in the next few days. If you are interested in helping sponsoring one of these children, please donate via our website or if you are mailing a check, please reference “school fees”.

So what about Faith? When I was finishing up the conversation with she and her mom yesterday, she asked “shall I stay here at school? My mom doesn’t have transport money for me to go home with her.” I could have given her 5,000 shillings ($2.00) and she could have been heading back to the village to sit and wait. But instead I said, “no I think you should stay at school.” I learned today that students who don't have someone to sponsor them can retake P7.  So, tomorrow I’ll go to school, speak with Faith and encourage her to retake P7 and then maybe next year, she’ll have a better aggregate and a better chance of succeeding in Secondary.

And the reason why her aggregate will improve:

Because at the end of 2014 The Bernie Project will have provided:

- A well-balanced nutritional program to help Faith focus and learn better in school.

- AFRIPad menstrual supplies to keep Faith in class during her period.

- Basic Hygiene supplies like bathing soap, clean drinking water and mosquito nets to keep Faith from getting sick.

In the mean time The Bernie Project will start to design a pilot program for the kids who are never going to make it to or thru secondary, some type of program that allows them to still become a productive and contributing member of their world, because while our focus this year is nutrition and hygiene, I think it’s a damn shame to invest in kids through P7 and then let them go back to their village to sit and wait for something better to come along.

Help us give these kids a better, brighter future.

By donating today, tomorrow, or next week or next month at

With Abundant Gratitude,


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Greetings from Uganda!

Finally an update about 10 days late! It’s hard to believe that I have been here for 2 weeks already, I started this blog last week and well time has slipped by.

A friend said to me “well two days in Uganda is like a week in the States”. I will say this morning when I realized I had arrived to the US exactly two weeks ago, I was surprised myself as it feels like I’ve been here a month already.

I will post a blog for detailing an overall view of what the past 2 weeks have been like on a personal level, but now an update specifically for The Bernie Project.

Currently the school is on holiday break and the kids will return to school on February 1st. The Ugandan government highly stresses that kids go back “home” during holidays, home could be their parents, grandparents, uncle/aunt’s house or even some distant relative. However at the Wakiso School of Hope there will typically be 60-80 kids left behind because they have nowhere to go or there is some other reason they did not go back to the village during this time.

The second day I was on the ground I learned that the school would have no food the next day, so we purchased a 50 kilo bag of posho and a 50 kilo bag of beans so that the kids would have food through the weekend that would cover the school until I could sit down with the staff and discuss what our first “test” menu was going to consist of and make those purchases.

Last Monday we purchased rice, posho, beans, cabbage, dried fish, pineapple, tomatoes, and onions. We also added eggs for two days with bread for breakfast and meat for lunch on Sunday. After we purchased the food we went back to the school where we met with a sales representative from Feed a Million Mouths- Uganda. Which is the African version of Feed My Starving Children, but the food is produced on the continent and not shipped across the world to get here, which I like because it’s stimulating the economy within country opposed to the food being shipped thousands of miles from the US. They supply a Meal in One porridge that provides the same nutrients as 4 slices of bread, 2 eggs, 2 large portions of Fruit and Vegetables and 8 oz of milk in one serving. The contents have a low glycemic index and it is made with all natural ingredients. The rep brought a sample for us to try, I must say I was skeptical at first, but it was really quite good. We then called some of the kids over to give it a try and it was a big “thumbs up”.

Seems perfect, right? It’s a bit expensive so I need to do some budgeting to see if that is something we can continue throughout the year.

On Wednesday of last week, I spent the day at the school observing and participating in the cooking for the kids, I stirred the porridge…the stick is taller than me and being 4’11 that’s not saying much, but seriously when was the last time you cooked with a spoon that big? I also helped cut the cabbage for lunch…there are no cutting boards and Ugandans are much more savvy wielding knives freestyle than I am, so I was using my leg as the cutting board with a dull knife I fully expected to leave with a deep gash in my leg…well I cut myself indeed but it was more of a nick to the thumb than my quad thankfully!

The first week of the improved menu was a big hit! There were many smiles on the faces of the kids and many of them saying they were now looking forward to meals.

Yesterday, we took inventory of the remaining balance of food from last week and made plans for this week. We have created Menu A and Menu B where we plan on alternating each week so the kids have some variety in the meals that are prepared.

I’m also in the process of identifying and meeting with schools that have meal plans, food suppliers, built out kitchens and ways to track usage of food and waste of food.

On behalf of all of the kids at the Wakiso School of Hope thank you so much for your support!

Here are a few photos that highlight the past two weeks:

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Recap of August and where The Bernie Project is headed

It’s been a long while since I’ve updated The Bernie Project blog, I apologize, it’s not because stories and words haven’t been rolling around in this pumpkin size head of mine, it’s because finding the time to sit down and tell the story has been used doing something else.  Starting a non-profit is like well starting a business and the list of “to-dos” does not get shorter, couple that with my “real job”, things have been really busy since June.

For people who don’t know me personally, professionally I’m a corporate meeting and event planner and the last few months have been nothing short of insane. The fact that I’m writing this blog en route to my “Swan Song” in the event industry is sort of amazing, bittersweet and perfect timing.

My fourth trip to Uganda in August was fantastic and I was lucky not one time did I think “what am I doing here?! This is a mistake.” Those 9 days could not have gone better, the affirmations I received that week were a blessing. Sure is there a lot of hard work ahead of me and The Bernie Project no doubt, did I leave there with more questions than answers like I do every time I leave Uganda, yes, but unequivocally moving to Uganda, starting The Bernie Project is exactly what I’m supposed to be doing next.  Will it look exactly like it does today in 6 months, I hope not, will things ebb and flow as we progress, I’d bet on it.

What exactly did I do while I was there? Thanks to all of you who have donated, we were able to provide posho and beans to the kids during August, along with providing general hygiene kits for all of the kids, they received bathing soap, washing (laundry, yes they hand wash their own clothes) soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, Vaseline and a hanky in a draw string bag. We also equipped all the girls who have their periods with AFRIpad kits. Many girls in Africa miss four school days a month because they don’t have adequate supplies to manage their period. AFRIpads is an awesome Uganda based organization that provides washable, reusable pads. Most Western women grimace at this thought, but if you were using, newspaper, leaves, rags or old clothes, reusable pads would be a welcome product.

For the past few years a UK based organization has been providing the funding for the school’s feeding program, but this past year they have not been able to raise funds for all of the months, the launch of The Bernie Project could not have come at a more perfect time. Once I came back from my trip, Chris the woman I’ve been in contact with from the UK organization emailed me and asked if she thought The Bernie Project could cover the feeding program for 6 months in 2014. I told her yes we will cover 6 months, and we will also provide hygiene supplies each term. A few days later she emailed me and said the group who raises money for the feeding program now feels they can only commit to four months in 2014. I know people are thinking “what would the school do if The Bernie Project wasn’t on the scene”, we don’t need to answer that question because we are there. Universe, God, divine intervention, whatever you’d like to deem it, has put me and you right where we need to be to ensure that 250 kids at the Wakiso School of Hope don’t go hungry and suffer from malnutrition.

While I was at the school it was very apparent the school has a lot of issues that need to be addressed and it’s going to take a lot of patience and resources to bring this school up to a level we can all be proud of we are a part of, there are many people all over this world who have had the fortunate experience to know the kids at this school and I’m confident if we work together we can prove that the phrase “it takes a village” a “global village” at that is a true statement.  

The Bernie Project’s short-term goals ensuring that the kids don’t go hungry for one day, like they recently did, because the firewood was wet and they couldn’t cook for a day. That was a fun phone call to receive as I’m spending thousands of dollars on a corporate dinner for a few 100 people in the US; I’m getting a call that the kids at the school hadn’t had anything to eat for a day.  Talk about a stressful 24 hours! Another short-term goal getting mosquito nets back up in the dorms, there were few over the beds while I was there and the few that were there had massive holes that an ostrich could infiltrate. The number of malaria outbreaks while I was there was disheartening. Ensuring that the kids have access to hygiene supplies every term and encouraging them to practice good hygiene is an essential initiative to keeping the kids healthy. Long term goals: finding sustainable ways the school can feed itself, creating incentive programs to keep mosquito nets in tip top shape, incentive programs for keeping the compound of the school neat and tidy and finding ways to encourage and support the staff that has little resources or motivation to stay at a school that is in dire need.

Before I head to Uganda in January, raising funds for the 2014 feeding program will be The Bernie Project’s main focus, along with committing to providing hygiene supplies to all children every school term (3 times a year).  After October 12th, I will be directing much of my energy to creating fundraising events and speaking engagements through the end of November in California. After Thanksgiving I’m taking The Bernie Project on the road and will be stopping in Phoenix, Albuquerque, Denver, Kansas, Missouri and Illinois. I would love to come and speak to students of all ages, organizations and groups of any kind to discuss our goals and how you can become a part of our community. If you’d like me to come and speak at an event or have a fundraising event in mind, let’s talk, email me at

A college friend of mine recently, innocently asked me, “April, there is so much need in Chicago, why don’t you do something here? Why do you have to go Uganda?” I said Jake, “it’s a fair question. But Chicago is not my path, Uganda is, I can’t explain it and I don’t I have a concrete answer for you. All I know is a number of events have happened in my life that there is no question Uganda is where I’m supposed to go next.”  There is need all over this world and while I strongly encourage you to support me and The Bernie Project, I equally encourage you to do something, anything to make a difference in someone’s life whether it’s in your own back yard or 2,000 miles away.

With Abundant Gratitude,


It Starts With One.