FRONT ROYAL – Beth Waller previously thought it was best for her fundraising efforts to have a local angle and benefit the area.
That changed last year when Herbie Kawuma contacted her friend Tammy Ruggiero via Facebook about his Light Up Life Foundation that aims to assist children in his homeland of Africa.
Although initially skeptical, Waller said after conversations with Kawuma she went “180 degrees different and believe that we have so much here that we need to spread our wealth abroad.”
In December, Waller and her friend Jennifer Avery traveled to Africa to meet Kawuma and confirm that the foundation was legitimate.
During a visit to the Bunyade Village in the Ugandan Kiboga District, they started a fundraising campaign over Facebook and GoFundMe after realizing the foundation was indeed legitimate and all of the help needed in the area. Waller offered to match up to $5,000, and the efforts resulted in $11,500 being raised.
Waller and Avery saw the school the village children attended and thinking it was no place for children to learn, they decided construction of a new school would be a cause worthy of donations.
Kawuma said over the phone that if the children are willing to learn in the current setting, a new building will foster even more of much-needed education.
Due to PayPal charges and currency exchanges, Waller decided it was best to hand-deliver the donations, which she did on a return trip in April. That money was used as seed money for the school, and initial construction during her visit.
The school is located in the village where Kawuma’s father was born, and he said he always dreamed of initiating lasting change to the area. Some of that initial change began in the December visit as Waller, Avery and Kawuma helped feed 600-plus children.
The three mulled what would be the best focus of future donations, and despite needs being widespread, settled on a school building. Although the school is the third priority behind food and medicine, Kawuma said providing education “is teaching somebody how to fish rather than giving them fish every day.”
Kawuma lost his mother at 9 and dad at 13, but he said: “One thing that my dad left me with was the little education that he gave me.” Kawuma said the ability to read and write was key in allowing him to leave Africa en route to a better life as a dance instructor in Norway.
“By giving these children the ability to express themselves through writing and reading is one way to equip them for the future,” he said.
He added that the school would be the start of something big and “change many lives in a time to come. When I’m gone out of this world, the school will remain, and the teachings will continue.”
While the money Waller delivered in April was enough to start construction on a school, she decided to start another GoFundMe drive aimed at raising $25,000, of which she will match $12,500, to see it through completion. The money is being raised through Waller’s What Matters nonprofit organization and will be donated to the Light Up Life foundation.
Kawuma said the school would house kindergarten-age students and hopefully expand as the kids grow. He hopes that the school will be fully functional for its first rounds of students sometime in the fall.
He thanked Ruggiero, Avery, Waller, and everyone in Front Royal who has donated so far.
“All I can say is this is not my vision. This is a vision for everyone. When we give, we get back a connection of humanity, where we cease to only think of us and also think of other people and the people to come after us,” Kawuma said. “
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