Sunday, June 2, 2013

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.


  1. I'm in! Am sending a check to the address today! "It Starts with One" I LOVE that! Thank you for helping these kids with your generous spirit.

  2. April, this is truly amazing! I remember the story of how Mahadi touched your soul that first day. I am so proud to have you as a friend and so happy you have found a path in your life that is truly fulfilling. I just sent a donation! I'm IN as well!
    My heart is full just reading this. I will pass along!