by Rowan Beck
Frank Woitera, co-founder of the 52 Kids organization, has made his first journey from Uganda to Vermont. Woitera arrived for a six-week stay to visit friends and promote 52 Kids Foundation. It was not an easy task to get a visa, but he proved coming to the area was essential for the continuation of the Foundation because it strengthens the community ties 52 Kids has in Vermont and beyond.
Woitera and local resident Jagger Koerner created 52 Kids Foundation in 2005 after they volunteered in Uganda through Student Partnership Worldwide. Together, they began working with the community of Kumali to make a positive, sustainable change. During day-to-day interactions, the pair soon realized that many children had trouble staying in school. The students had difficulty getting meals, paying tuition, and overall health was poor. Many of the childrens’ parents were bedridden from HIV or had died from the disease. Young children were becoming heads of households or were displaced and sent to live with a grandparent. Because many adults suffered from HIV, it was assumed that the children had HIV. Fortunately, that was not the case. Testing discovered that only two children had HIV. Woitera and Koerner were compelled to continue their work after their term with Student Partnership Worldwide was completed. As a result, the Foundation was born. Woitera and Koerner named the Foundation “52 Kids” because it only cost $52 to educate a student.
The mission of the Foundation is simple: “Teach Ugandan children to live positively without aid.” The money raised by the Foundation is used to educate, empower, and find gainful employment for needy students in Kumali, Uganda. In this effort they have had multiple successes. At present, one student has continued her studies in Nursing and Mid-wife training at the Kumali School of Nursing, another is receiving electrical training at Jinj Vocational Institute, and a third is in training at the YMCA for hospitality.
Coming to the U.S. was no small feat for Woteira. It took him two years to obtain a visa. Although his first attempt was unsuccessful, once a letter from Vermont Senator Leahy was received, financial statements and tax returns from the Foundation were provided, and proof that his visit to the community would be a fundamental connection for the organization, he was granted a travel visa.
After Woitera passed that hurdle, he had to come to terms with traveling outside of Uganda. At 28, he had never left his homeland and now was flying halfway around the world. “When I got on the plane to Boston and sat down, I picked my head up and looked around,” Woitera said. “Everyone on the plane was white.” It was a new experience for Woteria who immediately laughed as he realized that must be how volunteers felt when they arrived to help the 52 Kids organization. When he stepped outside of Boston’s Logan airport, he was in awe of the smooth roads and bright lights.
Woteria has spent most of his time in Vermont fundraising, educating students at CCS and CVU on Uganda and 52 Kids, and saying hello to friends that have helped throughout the years. Surprised at the amount of volunteers he has come in contact with since his arrival, Woteria commented, “I was coming out of a restaurant on Church Street and ran into a girl who had volunteered through CVU.” Volunteers are essential to 52 Kids. Without volunteers, Kumali would not have dormitories for locals to stay in during the week and an internet café where the students learn computer skills. Locals Peter Brady of Charlotte, Rolf Kielman of Hinesburg, and former Shelburne resident Ted Child were among a group that recently renovated a school in Kumali that was untouched since the 1940s. They fixed the roof and completely redid a classroom. Currently there are seven Ugandan schools, two primary, two secondary, and three vocational schools, involved with 52 Kids.
Woitera is grateful for all the financial and physical support the Foundation has received and encourages community members to attend a fundraising reception on Thursday, Oct. 18 from 5:30–7:30 pm at Main Street Landing in Burlington. Woitera will discuss 52 Kids’ progress, its future goals, and how the Foundation will achieve both short and long term goals.
For more information about the 52 Kids Foundation, visit www.52kids.org.