“CROSO is personal”

Today’s post comes from one of CROSO’s Board of Directors, David Matanda. David grew up in Mbale, Uganda– the very community where CROSO’s partner (C.R.O.) is located. As he shares his family history, it’s clear that David and his family are keenly aware of the power education has to change an individual’s life path and also to help eradicate poverty in a community. Now David is carrying on that legacy! CROSO is so grateful for David’s leadership and support on the CROSO board.


My names are David Matanda, I am proud to be a son of Late Hon. Edward Kamana Wesonga who was a member of the 7th parliament representing one of the constituencies in Mbale called Bubulo West. I  was born and raised in Mbale town, found in Eastern Uganda. Mbale is a town known to have quite a number of street kids who are known to welcome tourists and help with carrying luggage and giving directions to tourists in and around the municipality.

I was fortunate enough to have had a home to go to and very grateful to my parents who could afford to educate me in good schools that my father never afforded to go to. My father himself was an orphan at the age of eleven, my grandmother was illiterate, ‘knowing nothing nor to read or write’. A chief in my village saw a lot of wisdom in my father and after my grandfather had passed away, the chief went around soliciting scholarships to enable my father to start school at the age of eleven. Therefore my father depended on scholarships to earn him the education that his parents never had.

While in parliament my father advocated for service delivery by creating districts and his constituency happened to be the first (or among the first) to be given district status and the first street was named in his names. He wanted to eradicate poverty through education by bringing services close to the unfortunate people. He gave out scholarships to the poor, constructed the first high school in his village as a way to give back and that high school has been one of the best performing in the region and followed by others. Unfortunately my father died in a motor accident in 2007 along Jinja Kampala highway before he had accomplished his dreams.

Imagine growing up as a child with no home, no future, no dream and not knowing whether you will eat day by day through your childhood. ’That’s a life of a street child in Uganda’. I am so grateful to Molly and all the Angels of CROSO for the Godly work we are doing in Uganda by giving that dream and future to Uganda’s street children.

To me, as you now know, CROSO is personal.

Thank you and God bless you.

8th Annual CROSO Benefit!

Registration is now open for the 8th Annual CROSO Benefit


Register Here by September 16, 2015

The 8th Annual CROSO Benefit will be held Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015 from 6:00 – 9:30pm at:

Monastero’s Ristorante
3935 W. Devon, Chicago

Tickets must be purchased in advance and include hors d’oeurves, salad, dinner, dessert and coffee/tea. A cash bar will also be available.

Help CROSO provide more former street children with post-secondary education in the coming year.

Website photo

Sponsorship Opportunities are also available

Sponsorships help to cover the cost of the event and will be recognized in the Benefit Program Book, on the CROSO website, and in our 2016 Annual Report.

$1500 Pearl of Africa Sponsors (receive 4 tickets to Sept 24)
$1000 Heart for Uganda Sponsors (3 tickets to Sept 24)
$500 Mbale Ambassador Sponsors (2 tickets to Sept 24)
$200 Count on CROSO Sponsors (1 ticket to Sept 24)

If you are interested in sponsorship or have in-kind materials you’d like to donate to CROSO, please contact us at molly@croso.org.

If you are unable to attend but still wish to donate, please consider making a donation via our PayPal link here.

“Grateful” by Kathy Carey

Today’s post comes from one of CROSO’s Board of Directors, Kathy Carey. She visited our CROSO Scholars in Mbale in June and shares her reflections on her time there. Learning a more complete sense of context for our Scholars (where they live, seeing the infrastructure of the country and hearing more of their personal experiences), Kathy has a new understanding of CROSO’s role and importance.


By Kathy Carey, CROSO Board Member

“Grateful” is the word that I heard most often from our CROSO scholars in Mbale when I visited them in June.  Grateful to be in school, grateful for the confidence and opportunities that stem from education, grateful to be off the street, grateful for a meaningful future.  It is hard to imagine the lives our CROSO scholars have lived, without one or both parents, surviving by “picking” as they say – the picking of garbage and discarded food on the street for sustenance for themselves and siblings. Until I saw with my own eyes the “living” conditions on the street and in the slum, I would not have understood how desperate their young lives were.  They are an amazingly resilient bunch.


I met most of our current scholars when I hosted an afternoon gathering for them in the courtyard of the small inn where I stayed.  Although it rained all afternoon, they did not mind – the food was plentiful and they were very, very happy to be together, sharing their stories, academic goals, and plans for the future with me.  They are studying to be lawyers, social workers, teachers, nurses and engineers.  The job market in Uganda is tough, especially so for our displaced young people; but they are studying hard, getting good grades, and coming up with jobs!  By the end of the afternoon I felt as if I had known them for years and I must say – I am extremely proud of each and every one of our scholars!


Later in my very busy 4-day visit, I met and briefly interviewed some of the applicants for our next round of scholarship awards.  Knowing how absolutely life-changing it will be for each of them to attend University, AND knowing that we do not have the funding for all of them was difficult for me.  It is my sincere hope that someday soon we will be in a position to award scholarships to all of the qualified applicants.  The road these young people take to even be in a position to apply for a CROSO scholarship is mind-boggling.  I cannot think of anything more important to them than the opportunity to go to college to earn a diploma, certificate, or degree.


Uganda, as an African nation, certainly has its share of problems.  In the bigger picture, I felt like a raindrop falling into an ocean – with the more pressing concerns of infrastructure, economic and technological development, and AIDS, how could one expect the leaders of the country to give attention to the street children in smaller cities such as Mbale?  But sometimes one has to focus on the trees rather than the forest.  We believe that by significantly improving the lives of individuals, we can improve the quality of life for many. With the power of education, our scholars will become leaders, problem-solvers and innovators, giving back a hundred-fold to their community and beyond.

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.