Testing the Water

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.

Third Time’s a Charm

Today’s post comes from one of CROSO’s Board of Directors, Omar Salem. He shares his motivation for connecting CROSO with high school students in Skokie and Morton Grove (northern suburbs of Chicago) and what an incredible partnership it became.

Third Time’s a Charm

By Omar Salem

When I joined the CROSO Board of Directors in 2011, my primary goal was to have CROSO named as the beneficiary of District 219’s Dance Marathon.  Each year one charity is selected to receive the money raised by the students of Niles North and Niles West high schools.  As a graduate of Niles West and a staff member at Niles North, this goal felt close to me in many ways.  Naturally, the hard working and highly motivated students of Dance Marathon do not take their contributions lightly. The process from charity nominee to beneficiary took three years to become a reality.

Our first year as a nominee was just that; we did not make it past the discussion round.  The second year we were invited to give a fifteen minute presentation about our charity and our possible plans for the money if we were chosen.  This was a great experience to present in front of more than 40 young men and women who dedicate their free time for such a great cause.  Unfortunately we were not selected that year.  We received great feedback and used that to improve our presentation for the following year.  We were fortunate enough to present the next year and even more fortunate to be chosen.
Molly, Omar and Beth (all District 219 alumni) at the Dance Marathon in May 2014

Molly, Omar and Beth (all District 219 alumni) at the Dance Marathon in May 2014

I don’t think my role as a staff member at Niles North helped influence the students’ decision.  Rather, the fact that our founder and president Molly was a student involved in WHO Club and Dance Marathon, and that Beth and I were graduates of this school district demonstrated that regular people, people who had been students like them, could make an actual difference in world issues. I believe students saw themselves in Molly, and it was motivating to know that they too could, and will, go on to do even more amazing things as they set off on their own journeys in the future.
The importance of post-secondary education weighs heavily on the young people of District 219.  But they are lucky enough to live in a country where it is possible for all who want to attend college to do so.  Our scholars in Uganda do not have the same luxury.  With the help of the Dance Marathon students, former street children in Uganda will be able to pursue their goals for years to come.
To this day, I still see students and staff members wearing the CROSO Dance Marathon t-shirt in the hallways and it makes me proud.   Proud to be a graduate of a school that has such caring and progressive students.  Proud to work in a school district that has inspired students to give so much.  And, proud to be involved with an organization that is helping revolutionize a generation of young people in Uganda through higher education.

From the Board: Understanding the Power of Education

Today’s post comes from one of CROSO’s Board of Directors, Margy Roberts. She shares how she initially became involved in CROSO and why she passionately supports this organization with her time, talent and resources.

Understanding the Power of Education

By Margy Roberts

I was fortunate to know of Molly’s 2006 work with Child Restoration Outreach in Uganda.  I heard her speak about her dream of providing post-secondary education opportunities to students from CRO.  After the founding of CROSO in 2007, my initial involvement was simply attending the annual fundraisers.  It was exciting to see the numbers of students receiving scholarships increase each year, and to hear their stories.  Each student has his or her own story of sadness and hardship; yet, they have amazing courage and resilience.  They each accepted the assistance offered by CRO, to leave the streets, and work hard to do well at school.  They subsequently applied and were accepted into college or university programs in Uganda.   CROSO scholars also demonstrated remarkable leadership qualities, spending many hours in programs with the children at CRO.  A unique feature of CROSO is having the continued relationship with CRO, where the CROSO scholars return during school breaks, to work with and mentor the younger students.  This feels like a great way to promote optimism for a better future.

My husband and I continued to be inspired by these stories, and, once our own children were through college, and financially independent, we decided to commit to sponsoring one of the CROSO scholars.   The cost of post secondary education in Uganda is relatively low in comparison to the United States.  For this relatively small investment, the results are so remarkable.  Here is a former street child, who is now going to college!  As one of the CROSO scholars stated at the end of his monthly letter to me, “ I now see myself becoming the kind of person I dreamt of, because I know I have a bright future.”

In addition to simply being moved by the students’ stories, and knowing we have the ability to help them, we also have a strong conviction that education is the answer for the most pressing issues of our time.  We read almost daily about acts of terrorism, and the extremist views that feed them.  Isolation and lack of education feed this extremism.  The gap between extreme wealth and extreme poverty can also be addressed by education.   Author and columnist, Nicholas Kristof, writes, “Education is the elevator that can change the world.”

Since joining the CROSO board two years ago, I have been corresponding with two CROSO scholars, and, have served on the scholarship committee. Both of these experiences have motivated me to work harder for scholarship funding.  It is difficult to choose a limited number out of the many qualified applicants.  In addition, writing to the students, and hearing back about their experiences, has helped me to connect to another culture and part of the world.  One of the students, Ariong Gabriel, referred to me as his “tribe-mate”, since we have both studied in the medical field.  While my daughter was taking similar courses last year, we found that she shared many of the same experiences that Gabriel described about his classes.  Many of our students have taken on extra-curricular leadership roles at their schools; Gabriel was elected Games and Recreation minister this school year.  They invariably end every correspondence with expressions of gratitude for the support they are receiving.

Top 10 CROSO Accomplishments in 2014

As we wrap up another year, it’s important to look back and see the progress we’ve made. This year has been a breakout year for CROSO and we’re happy to share our top ten accomplishments.

10. CROSO hosted three smaller events throughout 2014 that were great opportunities for CROSO supporters to come together to support our scholars.
– July 1: Brains & Beer Trivia Night–
This event was co-hosted by Taller de Jose and
was a wonderful success!
    – September 3: WBEZ’s Global Activism Expo
– December 11: CROSO Shopping night at Ten Thousand Villages in Evanston
Thank you to everyone who supported CROSO
by purchasing your holiday presents that night!

9. Our social media presence is growing! CROSO now has over 500 likes on Facebook. If you have friends who are not yet connected to us, it’s not too late… visit our Facebook page today and invite your friends to like us too!


8. We had our second annual CROSO Zumbathon in March 2014. This year, Niles North High School generously shared their space with us and some high school students volunteered to help make the day a success! We had five awesome instructors who led the crew in dancing for several hours. Check out the photos from that day:

Post by CROSO.

7. CROSO selected 5 new or continuing scholars to receive the CROSO scholarship starting in 2014! To learn more about them and their stories, check out the students page on our website: http://www.croso.org/students/

6. in 2014, we celebrated two new CROSO graduates– Lotimong Esther, who completed her diploma in Comprehensive Nursing, and Kiseka Samson, who completed his bachelor’s degree in Economics and Management.  We are so proud of their hard work and dedication and wish them the best as they move forward.

5. After much discussion, the CROSO board voted to provide laptops to each of our scholars. As the scholars continue to share in their monthly emails, access to personal computers has made a significant difference in their abilities to complete their assignments. Thank you to all our donors who have helped to make this added support possible!

4. Our annual benefit grew from an informal night (like we’ve had in the past) to a sit-down dinner event with a paddle raise. We raised over $30,000 as a result of your generosity and that of our event sponsors! We were thrilled with the outcome and look forward to continued growth next year.

Post by CROSO.

3. One of our CROSO scholars, Muganzi Solomon, was recently elected as the Guild Speaker for Uganda Christian University. He worked hard to gain support of his classmates and the community and we are so proud that he has been elected into this position. We know he will represent CROSO well!

2. District 219’s Dance Marathon club donated over $60,000 to CROSO as a result of their fundraising efforts throughout the 2013-2014 school year! These high school students were amazing ambassadors of CROSO’s mission throughout the year and some even emailed directly with our scholars in Uganda. We are so grateful for this donation!

Post by CROSO.

1. Our scholars have had the chance to complete some great internships and training experiences in 2014. To share just a few stories:
Margaret and Carol interned with the Bugisa Coffee company in Mbale while studying Business and Business Administration at Uganda Christian University.
Samson went with one of his professors to complete field research in Kajjansi about how local income generating activities impact the economic development of the community.
George worked as a student teacher in Mbale early in the year and was even asked to stay on as a part-time teacher!
Titus completed a three month industrial training experience with the Mbale Municipality.
These opportunities are clear examples of how access to higher education can help these former street children create professional networks and build strong resumes as they move forward with their careers.

Holiday Shopping to Support CROSO!

As we approach the holiday season we are reminded of how grateful we are for supporters like you. As a part of this holiday season we encourage you to support CROSO in a few different ways. You can support our scholars by completing your holiday shopping online at www.smile.amazon.com, or at our Ten Thousand Villages shopping night, or by simply donating to CROSO in honor of a loved one. See the information below on how to make any of these possible.

Ten Thousand Villages Shopping Night:
CROSO TTV 2014 flyer



Amazon Smile

Now when you shop online at Amazon, a percentage of your purchase can go to CROSO! Simply go to http://smile.amazon.com/ch/26-1589975 and start shopping!


Donate in Honor of a Loved One

Please use our PayPal “Donate” button (on the right side of this website if you’re using a computer, on the bottom if you’re using a cell phone). Donations of all sizes are welcome! To support a scholar for one full year (including tuition, books, housing and meals) costs $2,000.

Thank you and happy holidays!