The two types of stories that I like to tell the most are those about single individuals with vision, compassion and commitment and those about young people making the world a better place. And this story has both.
The story is about a 21 year old college student named George Srour who went to Kampala, Uganda with the United Nations World Food Programme for an internship in the summer of 2004. While he was in Kampala, he discovered Meeting Point Kampala in the slums of the city - an orphanage that accommodates almost one thousand children, many of whom are "Double Orphans" (those who have lost both their parents to AIDS) and are infected themselves.
While visiting the orphanage, George noticed that the learning center was in terrible condition. It was made of bamboo-and-timber and it had to be rebuilt several times a year because it reportedly would gets eaten away by ants. When he learned that a permanent school building made of durable material could be built for only $8,000, he undertook to raise the money.
Returning to his studies at (the College of William and Mary) in the autumn of 2004, George approached the administration about conducting a campus fund raising, and they agreed.
He called his project "Christmas in Kampala" and went to work raising funds. A web site was posted on the college's online newspaper called the Dog Street Journal. (An online newspaper, which, by the way, George had founded.) The web site asked students to donate $5.00 to symbolically "adopt" an orphan..
In an open letter addressed to the college community, George wrote:
"Each day, (the children) cram themselves into a bamboo-built school house for their lessons. Pointing to a large hole in the wall, the school master mentioned to me the dire need for a well-constructed school house, built of concrete and durable materials. When I inquired about the cost, she said the plans they had drawn up for this would cost approximately $8,000."
His letter went on to say that he wanted to present the orphans "with some of the school essentials they are critically in need of, including uniforms, books, crayons, geometry sets, paper, etc." George wanted to present the orphans with these gifts as a surprise during a visit on Christmas Day 2004.
Christmas in Kampala exceeded its fundraising goals by raising almost five times what was hoped for. George was overwhelmed by the response. William and Mary students, faculty members and staff contributed to the fund, as did members of George's hometown church in Indianapolis, Indiana. George had spent four weeks of his previous summer's internship in at the World Food Programme's Rome office before proceeding on to Kampala, and his former co-workers in Rome raised over $4,000. It is reported that many of those in Rome contributed money that had previously been intended to be used to buy Christmas gifts for traditional gift giving. An additional $10,000 was donated by members of the Key Club International, a high school service program. Incredibly, $500 of the money donated from the Key Club came from members in Jamaica who had suffered devastating hurricanes that year.
The fundraising was so effective that when George and two of his friends made their surprise Christmas Day visit, they not only had the money needed for the building of the new learning center and to provide the students with much needed supplies, they had planned a wonderful Christmas dinner for all of the approximately 1,000 orphans and school faculty at Meeting Point Kampala - a dinner where the students were amazed that they got to eat not only chicken, but meat also.
When George left Kampala after that visit, the students all stood in front of the old weather beaten learning center, with its cracks between the timbers and tin roof and sang a song a song for their new friend. The words of the song were: "Bye-bye embawo," which means "bye-bye timber." That was their way of saying that they knew that their new school building would soon be replacing the old wooden one.
The children of Meeting Point singing "Bye-bye embawo"
Photo Credit - George Srour
George Srour's story has gotten plenty of attention in the U.S. and he was awarded a The Simon Fellowship For Noble Purpose, which comes with a check for $40,000. George says that he will use the Fellowship funds to continue his work helping the needy.
George told one reporter "Originally I thought this would be a one and done sort of project." But after he saw how much people wanted to get involved in helping others he felt that it would be a waste to not make use of that enthusiasm.
George writes that Christmas in Kampala will take place this year and he is in the process of looking for new institutions in Kampala that are in need of assistance that he can help with the $40,000 that he received as a William E. Simon Fellow.
Now - tell me, folks, have you heard many stories better than this one? George Srour does not yet have a formal non-profit organization, and the funds for Christmas in Kampala were raised through the College of William and Mary which is itself a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization. I will post the addresses for this year's web sites when I receive them, but if you would like to look at the web sites for Christmas in Kampala - 2004 the links are below along with a link to the William E. Simon Fellowship announcement of George's award.
The new Meeting Point Learning Center going up
Oh, and if you are a non-profit organization in Kampala working with orphans, or know of one, post your comments at the end of the article and let George know what you are doing.
Christmas in Kampala 2004
The Simon Fellowship For Noble Purpose - 2005 Fellows