Today’s post comes from one of CROSO’s Board of Directors, Tom Bertsche. He shares how he was invited to learn more about CROSO and what he found out as a result. He now advocates for CROSO’s mission and is passing on the invitation to learn more.
Testing the Water
By Tom Bertsche
There’s been lots written lately about the state of education in America, with ongoing debates about Charter Schools, elected versus appointed school boards, early childhood education funding, the value of standardized tests and the amount of testing we put our young students through as part of their journey through our education system. The list grows every week. But, as Nicholas Kristof observed in a recent article, while we don’t agree on everything regarding education, we at least keep the issue front and center, and over time seem to continue to make incremental improvements in how we administer education in our country. All this education talk has led me to wonder why I spend the time that I do thinking about and working toward education opportunities on the other side of the world. Surely, there are ample opportunities to positively impact education in my own community or engage in the debate here at home.
And so, while I have been involved with my own children’s education, I have been drawn to supporting education more broadly, through CROSO. Specifically, the access to college level education in Uganda. Why this organization, and, by extension, Uganda? The first easy answer is the truth that I value education in general, being over-educated myself. But, the reasons for supporting CROSO are even simpler than that. Shallow as it may be, I like a winner, and CROSO is a winner in its field.
A few thoughts: it seems the reason I do most things in life is that someone asks me. Not that I don’t have any initiative, but there’s a helluva lot of gardening and other work in my life that I do because someone asks. Often, it’s my wife – but I find that as I say yes to many of these requests, some “stick” and become part of my favored activities because I enjoy them and find value in them. In this instance, an invitation was extended by Molly Heineman to learn more about CROSO and the situation in Uganda. So I did, validating the notion that people often are happy to do as they’re asked, and, more to the point, support requests that come from their friends or family or from people they hold up as important.
And what I found out was that a small group of people working out of Evanston, IL was having a disproportionately large -and positive – impact on the lives of former street kids in Uganda. Most were young people who had overcome tremendous adversity already – many pulled off the streets as young children and provided an environment where they could study and develop their talents and intellect. I looked at CROSO itself and saw a successful enterprise that was meeting its mission, year after year, of providing scholarships to these former street children so that what was started could be completed, and in the completion could be forged a productive life off the streets. So into the cold water went my first foot.
But there’s a bit more. CROSO’s model is sustainable – it can grow and leverage its effectiveness as more and more students benefit from the scholarships. How is this the case? Two primary reasons: first, the cost of a college education in Uganda – from a Western perspective – is very inexpensive. Rather than needing $80K to provide an education, a three or four year degree costs only about $2,500 per year everything included. So, as more people here support the mission, exciting and meaningful numbers of young adults can get to University, not just one or two. Young adults that otherwise would have no chance at an education, and, more importantly, no path to get to a life beyond living in the streets, now have that opportunity to join the workforce as nurses, engineers, teachers, accountants and technical professionals. And here’s the kicker – CROSO sets expectations that these students stay involved with the communities they’ve come from, serving as role models in the growing group of graduates that will help pull along those who come after them. Each scholarship has the potential to be repeated and grow geometrically over time as former students continue to inspire more and more students that are coming along. And I like the idea that over time, Ugandans themselves will contribute much to their own success, and that the cycle of poverty can be slowed and possibly reversed. It is a great benefit that these students are staying in Uganda, helping make it a better, more stable, more egalitarian place for all. It’s a slow slog to be sure, but one that’s worth taking. So now my second foot is in the water, and it’s not so cold after all.
But one more piece of the puzzle still needs to come together – why Uganda, and not some other country? What is special about this place, at this time? After all, this entire endeavor came from the eyes-wide-open, personal experience of Molly and her vision of what could be. Chalk one up for a bit of good fortune for the people of Uganda. But why continue in Uganda? Like many countries in Africa, Uganda has had more than its share of challenges, whether they stem from government corruption to human rights abuses or intolerances of many stripes. But these challenges appear to be manageable – the country has the stability to grow beyond these challenges, and so the effort to strengthen the society as a whole through education makes sense on the macro level as well as on the personal level. CROSO has a sustained impact in a society that truly needs and benefits from the effort being put forth.
So, here is my call to action to everyone who has made it to the end of this post: learn more about CROSO, check out the website, read the student biographies, engage someone you know to get your questions answered and then you too will want to find a way to support the CROSO mission. Now I’m swimming in the heated pool, and thinking it’s a very good place to be.