It may seem like a small act, but the monthly or yearly donations by student sponsors provide a benefit that continues long after the last check has been signed.
The Head of School at Mungere School were sponsored students who escaped the cycle of poverty to rise through the ranks of education. They were both the first in their families to go to school and were sponsored through university.
Msafiri Ramadhani, Mungere’s 31-year-old deputy headmaster, told us his story of how he found his sponsor on the side of the road:
“I was born and raised in the village of Majengo where about a quarter of our students are from. I am the fourth of seven children and we grew up in a mud house with no electricity or running water.
“My family are banana farmers, which is a hard life. It is physically tough and the crops are unreliable. Realistically, without being educated and without being sponsored, I would also be a farmer with the bananas or in a rice field. It is what my siblings still do.
“When I was eight years old my parents separated. As is tradition, we boys stayed with our father while the girls moved away with our mother. . . By the time I was nine, I was allowed into the local primary school. For years I had seen the other children coming home and when I was accepted I said to myself, ‘Now, this is my time!’
“At 17, I progressed to secondary school but I had not yet been sponsored. I had to beg my father Ramadhani and my eldest brother Ali to pay for my school fees. . . By this point my father was an alcoholic so really I was the boss of myself. I would wake up at 4:30am to clean the house, get dressed and then walk the five miles to school. I would get back from school about 5:30pm and would go to the farm to get food and firewood. If there wasn’t any food, a relative would always try to make sure I had something to eat, but there were times when I went without.
“Between 9pm and midnight, I would study by the light of a kerosene stove. Sometimes it was a struggle to breathe because of the soot. To stay awake, I would drink a lot of coffee or put my feet in cold water. My aim was always to be the top of the class and I had a friendly rivalry with some of the other students whose marks were close to mine.
“In my second year of secondary school, I was sponsored. I was on my way to school and started speaking to some Japanese tourists who were buying bananas. I began chatting to Okazaki Yasunori, one of the tourists, and eventually I asked if I could become his pen pal. At the time, he was a biology teacher based near Tokyo and he happily provided me with his email address.
“I did not have email, so I went home that evening and picked a bunch of bananas to sell. With that money, I went to the internet café and opened an account. For a year we just spoke over the internet and sometimes he would send me books. A year later, in 2003, my school fees rose drastically and it looked like I would have to leave school. Okazaki then started paying for everything.
“He paid for me through secondary school and even university in Uganda. It was a total of seven years and I could never have gone to university if he had not paid. Having a sponsor changed me and made me so very focused. There were never any strings attached to his money, but I wanted to impress him.
“He would talk about how he felt when he was teaching and people were genuinely listening. I wanted that. I could imagine myself teaching and I know it is a great way of giving back to my community. I am one of only two people ever from the village of Majengo to go to university and I want to inspire more youngsters. I know their life and I know how to help them change it for the better.
“I feel such an affinity with the Red Sweater Project because I was also sponsored. I now have a good job and am building my own brick house with running water and electricity. I am also now sponsoring my youngest sister, Husna, through university.
"The girls [at Mungere] are not just being married off and the boys have a focus and are not being led astray by a life on the streets. Because of sponsorship, for them I see a bright future. All of our children will have a better life than their parents and the cycle of poverty will begin to break. I really thank my sponsor so much and I know how grateful our students are for the support of the Red Sweater Project and their sponsors.”
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