Scholar Spotlight: Longora John

Today’s blog post is written by CROSO Board Member, David Blumenthal

As a board member of CROSO for the past three years, I get to meet a lot of wonderful people supporting our organization.One of my favorite experiences, though, has been exchanging letters with the scholars we support. I would like to share with you a little about one of these scholars, Longora John.

John is a young man with a bright future, and someone that has overcome incredible odds. When he was a child, John’s family suffered from dual catastrophes. A war in northern Uganda resulted in his father joining the military. Over time, his mother was forced into the slums of Mbale before contracting AIDS. John, his four siblings, and a cousin were forced onto the streets. There, CROSO’s sister organization, C.R.O., brought in John from the streets and provided him with a stable and supportive environment. His path has taken a dramatic turn for the better through the help of C.R.O., CROSO, and John’s own unique talents and dedication.

At C.R.O., John has become an active and supportive member of the community. He is a friend to his brothers and sisters at C.R.O. and spends his free time sharing his love of music and soccer. In turn, he has been able to participate in unique opportunities. Before college, John spent a year in Norway as part of an exchange program. He is now a student at Ugandan Christian University pursuing a Bachelor of Arts. When he finishes his program in 2017, John hopes to become a secondary school arts teacher.10155487_1021912221177449_1661564322961422081_n

A college degree can be a long, arduous marathon rather than a sprint. Imagine how difficult this race can be for someone that has lost so much. And yet, John routinely expresses a deep gratitude and appreciation for the support of CROSO. He recently wrote to me how this past semester of student teaching at a secondary school in Mbale has instilled a feeling of hope that he will finish his college degree in 2017 and achieve his lifelong dream of becoming a teacher.

It is rare in this day and age to be able to see the direct impact of the work we do. Longora John would not have been able to achieve his dream of becoming a teacher but for the support of CROSO and its donors, among others. I hope you can see how our work is having a profound impact on the lives of an inspiring young man, and how that investment will pay off by transforming communities for years to come. Thank you for your support of CROSO!

The Evolution of CROSO’s Letter-Writing Program

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    By the end of 2012, our CROSO scholarship support program had existed for 5 years and was in full swing. Scholars were progressing through their programs, and the President of the Board was in touch with our contact on the ground in Mbale, asking for updates on students and staying in touch with the needs of the scholars as best as possible. At CROSO Board meetings, some student stories would be shared by the President, but most of the students’ life stories and issues remained a bit obscure to the rest of the members on the Board, and also to many of the donors. The idea of broadening our understanding of how students are doing through a liaison program was brought to the floor and accepted with little resistance.

    The liaison program initially paired board members with individual scholars with the expectation of sending monthly emails. For the past four years, each Board meeting includes sharing scholar updates by these liaisons who have communicated directly with the scholars each month. We have also received requests from volunteers interested in getting more involved and high school students who want to connect with our scholars as letter writing companions. In some ways, these letters have been a “game changer” for us and for our program.

We like to say that one of the qualities of CROSO is that it is an “intimate” experience of connection with worthy scholars far from us who are reaching goals they could not meet without our support. That “intimacy” is definitely enhanced by reading the students’ letters, their personal and family stories, their opinions, struggles and successes in this one-on-one exchange.

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Shibolo Awali

We also gain understanding of some of the current social and political issues in Uganda. When Awali, a CROSO Scholar who is studying law, wrote two years ago about the news of his country’s policies regarding homosexuality, his liaison Lisa (Monnot) Hyatt was able to share that with the board. Awali was also one of several scholars who shared their perspectives on the recent presidential elections held in February of this year. Hearing the scholars share both their personal experiences as well as what they are hearing on their campuses helps the CROSO board to better understand the context of our scholars. (To learn more about the election experiences, you can read our scholars’ reflections in their Facebook posts.)

As liaisons and scholars write one another, they develop a personal relationship too. The friendliness and affection of these letters is a gift we receive from the students and they from us. They send their best regards to our family members, ask about recent challenges, and continually express their gratitude to all who support them. We of course do the same for them. Another CROSO scholar, Esther has shared the excitement of her liaison, Sally Ryan’s grandchildren being born, and even calls them her “little brothers.” Esther is getting her nursing degree, and Sally has shared with Esther about some of the medical challenges she and her husband have experienced in the past three years. Gabriel, a CROSO Scholar studying Clinical Medicine, has communicated with Margy Roberts for the past three years. When he learned about Margy’s daughter who was studying similar courses in nursing in the US, he began to offer words of encouragement and advice to her through his emails with Margy. We hope our letters make the challenge of reaching out to these young scholars so far across the globe more manageable. As a result, our relationships and our program have become more intimate.

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Lotimong Esther

When we haven’t heard from a scholar in a few months, it gives us information that we can bring to our Director Molly (Heineman) MacCready to probe a bit about their welfare when she is talking to the C.R.O. project manager in Mbale. It is important to know when the health of a scholar is challenged by emotional issues, or about another whose mother has called that scholar home to find medical support for her condition and caused a challenge in her being able to focus on her studies. When we hear of a challenge, either academically or personally, we are able to draw on the strength of these letter-writing relationships to mentor and guide our scholars. We are always encouraging them to look ahead, and see ways that they can make connections and network through their experiences in their academic programs and internships in ways that will support them to get into the work world at the end of their program.

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Akitwi Pamela

This mentoring and personal exchange of letters also helps us to let our donors know more about the resilience, strength and successes of the students to whom they are finding it in their hearts to give so generously.  “Thank you for the love and care,” writes a new scholar, Atkiwi Pamela. Titus, who is looking to further his studies in Engineering, writes to his liaison Beth Lampson, “I am so excited too Mama Beth for giving that opportunity once more of getting back to advance in my field of expertise. I cannot stop saying Thank you Thank you, for that is the only way of paying back to you. Also send my sincere Thanks to the Donors in the Background who are giving in their time, a financial hand, and whoever is involved in CROSO programs in any form, May the Almighty God Most High Bless them all.”

If you are interested in becoming a liaison to one of our scholars, please email our Executive Director at Molly@CROSO.org.

Scholar Spotlight: Ariong Gabriel

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     CROSO scholar, Ariong Gabriel, has just begun his final year, studying and working towards a Diploma in Clinical Medicine and Community Health at Medicare Health Professionals College in Kampala, the capital of Uganda.

     The diploma in clinical medicine is a three year program, in which the students spend a great deal of time participating in clinical activities in community and outpatient hospital settings, while completing a rigorous academic curriculum of science and practical medical knowledge.  The majority of Clinical Officers work in rural settings, performing patient assessment, disease management, triage, minor surgical procedures, and referrals to tertiary settings. They participate in community outreach, health education, screenings and care coordination. They play an important role in the Ugandan medical system, because they can provide a lot of the care at smaller, rural health centers, where doctors are not available.  

Gabriel at the C.R.O. Clinic.

Gabriel at the C.R.O. Clinic.

     Understanding the academic and practical part of the program, and the role that Clinical Officers play, helps to explain the enthusiasm Gabriel has for his chosen profession.  When he was in secondary school, and helped by CRO, our partner organization, Gabriel enjoyed working with the nurse at the CRO health clinic.  He seemed to have a natural affinity for this type of work, and he continues to volunteer at CRO, when he is on break, or at a hospital placement nearby.  In a letter this year to his CROSO board mentor, he said, “I try to leave the hospital just as soon as I am discharged, and go to the project clinic, where I offer medical skill to those who could be sick, health educate others, as well as encouraging those who are at school not to give up through sharing with them how I overcame similar challenges.”

     Gabriel is a very regular correspondent with his CROSO liaison. He enjoys talking about his clinical experiences: “I will be completing my hospital attachment at Mengo hospital on Friday this week. It has been interesting to be here, since our major field of concern was maternal and child health. We were in groups of five and deployed to several departments such as triage, immunization, prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV, family planning, and post natal… We receive all mothers at triage, where we measure their blood pressure, height and weight before sending them for laboratory tests.”

     Our CROSO scholars all seem to be involved in many extra-curricular activities, in addition to academics, and Gabriel is no exception. In his December letter, he related his latest activity; “I was involved in the preparations for a mission outreach by the college Christian group, which I am chairperson.  We visit communities outside the college…sharing love and hope…we mobilize funds from ourselves and articles such as clothes, shoes, soap, sugar, etc.”

     Gabriel is most grateful to CROSO for the life-changing opportunity they have provided, but also for the mentoring relationship he has enjoyed with his board liaison:  “I appreciate the time, love and commitment you have rendered to me for the years we’ve been communicating. I’m grateful for your emails, which have always been part of my inspiration to work harder and view life in a positive perspective…. Great thanks to CROSO for your tireless support towards rescuing the formerly endangered bright future that was buried on the streets. Wishing you goodness through out this year.”

 

Post written by CROSO Board Member, Margy Roberts.

Love to Zumba?!

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Join CROSO for our third Zumbathon on May 1st, 2016 from 2-5pm! Several Zumba instructors will lead us in a fun-filled dance workout as we raise funds to support former street children in Uganda to attend college! All ages are welcome — no experience necessary!

Cost: $30 per person. (District 219 students with a current ID can pay the discounted price of $8.)

To register, click here!

Proceeds will benefit CROSO- a non-profit organization that provides college scholarships to former street children in Uganda. For more information about our mission, visit our website: www.CROSO.org.

The CROSO Community on a Local and International Scale

Elsa (1)Today’s blog post is written by Elsa VanHove, CROSO’s newest board member. Elsa shares how she got involved with CROSO and the various ways she’s grown in her relationships with the organization and the scholars we sponsor.

 

As a volunteer and new board member with CROSO, I am excited to share my experience with this unique and growing organization. A personal friendship led me to CROSO two years ago, when I was newer to Chicago and looking for a way to get involved in the community on a local and international scale. Since then I have taken on other ad hoc responsibilities, all of which have been incredibly impactful.

I started my experience on the scholar selection committee and am looking forward to reviewing applications for the upcoming year. The students applying to CROSO – some of them only a couple years younger than myself – have already faced so many challenges my American mind cannot fathom. And yet, through their writing, their grit, spirit, and passion shines through. I enjoy reading about each scholar, learning about what they want to study and why they have chosen that major.

Over the past year I have also been a pen pal to a scholar who is currently enrolled in school. As a pen pal, it is fun to learn about our scholars’ transition to college, seeing their minds open up through their education, and make cross-cultural connections. For example, Raymond and I both love meeting people from different countries, and I am so excited that Moses is enjoying his business courses, since I myself have a business degree. The pen pal program is a critical part of the CROSO experience. I’m sure you can remember struggles during university, unexpected and unpleasant surprises, difficult coursework, those moments when it seemed like a good idea to pack up and go home. Our own scholars may have these same feelings, and it’s important that they know they have a global network of peers, counselors, and friends who are cheering them on.

There are a number of ways to get involved with CROSO, and we are in need of people with all kinds of talents and time commitments. Consider the following options:

  • Be a pen pal/letter writer to one of our current/upcoming students
  • Work alongside our board members on one of our event committees (fundraisers and other fun networking events)
  • Become a board member and help ensure CROSO has a bright future
  • Attend one of the various events that take place throughout the year

If you happen to be short on time but deep of pockets, CROSO would always welcome a donation!

For me, CROSO is an appealing organization because of the personal aspect: I’ve had a chance to meet and work with funny, clever, and dedicated people here in Chicago and have had the chance to get to know the actual Ugandan students this charity supports. It is truly rewarding to know that I am doing my very small part to help a former street child take control of his or her own life and build his or her local community. Please click here for more information on how to get involved!