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 april@thebernieproject.org.

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.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

August Objective

In 5 weeks, I will be heading back to Uganda for the fourth time. I'm eagerly counting down the days to return back to a country I fell in love with 4 years ago. 

The Bernie Project launched just 2.5 weeks ago and already the support has been tremendous and for that I am so thankful!

While I'm in Uganda The Bernie Project has three main objectives:

  • Learn how The Bernie Project can improve the nutritional quality of the current feeding program at the Wakiso School of Hope. I will spend time with the administrators of WSH to hear their thoughts and ideas, along with visiting schools that have a nutritional feeding program in place and learning about their best practices.
    • Feed One Child $25.00/month
  • Deliver 250 hygiene kits that include the following: soap, hanky, toothbrush, toothpaste and vaseline to the students of WSH 
    • Hygiene kits cost $8.00/each 
  • Start the research process for a sustainable farming program in 2014. 

We have raised $3,500 since we launched on June 22nd and we have set a goal to raise an additional $7,000 before I depart on August 14th. 

We would love your support!

Please consider making a gift by either going to our website or mailing a check made payable to 

The Bernie Project 
c/o Visions Made Viable
17595 Harvard Ave.
Suite C235
Irvine, CA 92614

I look forward to sharing with you the stories and photos your contributions have helped make possible

With Abundant Gratitude,


WSH Students in 2011. Rousing rendition of Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes

Sunday, June 2, 2013

A Message from the Founder

Thank you so much for taking time to learn about The Bernie Project!

I am so excited for The Bernie Project to be getting off the ground. This project has been percolating in my soul for many years, but it began taking real shape over the past four months.

Our first initiative, stabilizing the feeding program at the Wakiso School of Hope (WSH) is our most imperative and urgent. WSH receives most of it's funding from a small organization AGLMUK in Wales, those funds are stretched very thin as their budget manages all components of the school. Currently WSH has limited funding for their feeding program this month and no funding for the months of August, October and December. When I spoke with Pastor Joshua (the administrator of the school) this past week I asked him, "what happens if you don't receive the funding." He replied "the children receive fewer meals or we take out a loan for the food and we go in debt."

For 250 children to receive 3 meals a day of porridge for breakfast, posho and beans for lunch and dinner the total cost is approximately $3,000 for one month, that's .13 cents a meal per child.  While these meals keep the children from starving to death it is far from nutritional. The Bernie Project wants to incorporate fruits, vegetables and protein, ensuring these children are receiving the vitamins and minerals that help them focus in class, ward off illness and grow to be healthy girls and boys. By donating $25.00/month you are providing one child 3 meals a day for a month, along with hygiene supplies that are appropriate for their age.

Once the feeding program is improved and stabilized, we want to evaluate the farm land WSH owns and create a program that not only allows for fruits and vegetables to be grown and used at the school but also to be taken to market and sold providing additional support to the school and village.

I'm traveling to Uganda in August and will sit down with Pastor Joshua and lay out a plan for improving the feeding program, along with plotting out what resources and finances will be necessary to create a successful and viable farming project. I hope to see the farming plans in place by mid-2014.

The short term goal of stabilizing their feeding program for the rest of the year is the most urgent. However, our long term goals of improving the nutritional quality of the feeding program and implementing a successful farming project are just as important.

I chose the tagline It Starts With One, because the first time I was in Uganda I wanted to personally affect positive change in one child's life, knowing at that time that was all I could invest in and afford. Over the past few years it has become apparent, that it is my duty to affect positive change not on only one child but many. However, I can't do that alone, so while it may start with one, it will take many to meet the goals of The Bernie Project. I hope you consider being a part of our team.

With abundant gratitude,


The Inspiration Behind The Bernie Project

Photo by Hannah Westphall

The Bernie Project was named after a little girl in a photo who ended up being very much a little boy in real life. April first laid eyes on Bernie the summer of 2009, when her friend and roommate Jen Gash returned from Sweet Sleep's inaugural trip to Uganda. The photo to the left hung in their house. April's sister, Katie came to visit and named the girls in the photo Tasha (in pink) and Bernie (in blue). Katie and April spent a good 10 minutes making up a story about Tasha and Bernie's lives. Unbeknownst to April at the time, she would have a life changing encounter with Bernie while traveling in Uganda with Sweet Sleep just a few months later. 

After spending three weeks working in Northern Uganda with Sweet Sleep distributing beds to child headed households, April was down to her last two days in Uganda. On one of those days April accompanied Jen and her colleagues to the Wakiso School of Hope (WSH). 
Sweet Sleep wanted to check on how the beds and mosquito nets that had been distributed in June were holding up, impacting the spread of malaria and improving the quality of sleep amongst the children.

When April arrived at the school, she was immediately mobbed by children reaching out their small hands looking for the smallest sign of affection. As April attempted to dole out equal parts of her hands, fingers, and legs to all the kids around her, Jen uttered the fateful words, "April this is where Bernie and Tasha live!" April quickly inspected the small faces around her in search of Bernie and Tasha**. Seconds later, April exclaimed to Jen, "Bernie's a boy!" Jen said, "How do you know?" to which April replied, "He has no pants on!"

April was officially introduced to "Bernie", whose real name is Mahadi. As Mahadi stood in front of April that day, he was shy and pensive, and he instantly won her over with his big brown saucer like eyes. April knew that meeting had forever changed her life. Though she had just met Mahadi, April decided on the spot that she would take responsibility for this child. She committed to pay for his medical care and to cover his school fees once he was old enough for school. In that moment, April didn't know how much that promise was gong to cost or the exact logistics of making that commitment come to fruition. But she did know that she was making a conscious decision to make a difference in one child's life.

April has been back to Uganda twice since that first trip. During a trip to Uganda in November 2012, April talked to a Ugandan friend about possibly sending Mahadi to a different (better) school in a year or two. After much reflection, April decided that she didn't want to pull Mahadi away from his grandma, his brothers, his friends and teachers and out of the only environment he's ever known. Instead, April was determined to find a way to improve Mahadi's school. The Wakiso School of hope can become a place where kids will learn, grow, and blossom into healthy and empowered young adults. Now, not only Mahadi, but all of the students April has come to know and love at WSH will have the opportunity to become well-equipped adults.

The roots of The Bernie Project started with one young lady making a commitment to one small child in Uganda. Join April in multiplying the positive impact, one by one, on the lives of vulnerable children in Uganda.