Celebrating another CROSO Graduate!

Written by Molly MacCready, CROSO’s Executive Director
(Photo above is from 2013 of CROSO Scholar Norah with CROSO representatives Beth and Molly)

Tomorrow, CROSO Scholar Nakyeyune Norah will graduate from Kampala University! I am so excited for her and couldn’t be more proud to have supported her in her pursuit of a bachelor’s degree. With the hopes that you’ll share in Norah’s joy of her graduation from university, I’d like to share some of my thoughts about Norah with you.
(For those of you who would prefer a video, just skip down to the bottom and watch!)

  1. Some of you may remember at our Annual Benefit in 2013 (the year that Norah was selected) that we shared a video of several Scholars discussing their plans for the future. Norah stood out as she passionately described her lifelong desire to become…wait for it… an accountant! While many in the room giggled at her enthusiasm for this career, Norah could not have been more serious. Norah loves math and enjoyed her entrepreneurship classes in high school. As she moved forward with her university courses, that love only grew. This week, Norah will graduate with her bachelor’s degree in business administration with a focus in accounting.
  2. Norah is a “footballer” as she would say (American soccer player to those of us in the U.S.) and is so proud of that title! When I visited Uganda for the first time in 2006, I remember people laughing when I told them that I had played football for most of my life. Girls playing strenuous competitive sports was just not part of their culture. Seven years later, when I met Norah for the first time, I loved hearing her boast of her football successes and how it has helped make her feel like she belongs. Norah went on to play on her university’s women’s football team and found that it was a great way for her to make friends in a new environment. She also played on a local non-university affiliated team, so will continue to have football in her life even after she graduates this week.

    2016 Photo of Norah

  3. In addition to her physical strength, Norah has incredible emotional strength. Norah is the youngest child in her family, but will be the first to graduate from a university. Norah has overcome challenge after challenge in her life, but in talking to her, I have always been struck by her gratitude and the incredible perspective she maintains. In the video clip below, you’ll hear her talk about how lucky she was to only live on the streets for 3-4 months. Norah’s tenacity will continue to serve her well as she seeks employment and continues to navigate her career path.

Norah is an incredible young woman– articulate, thoughtful, focused and hard working. She has thrived at Kampala University, participating in sports, excelling in academics, volunteering at several different community organizations and completing internships in local finance offices. One aspect of the CROSO scholarship that I continue to be amazed by is how it allows for our Scholars to finally find that equal playing field with their peers. If you meet Norah, you too would be impressed by her and would not be able to tell that she ever had to live on the streets. In fact, that reminds me of something Norah said during my most recent visit to Uganda last June. Norah told me that some of her classmates thought she came from a wealthy background because her school fees were always paid on time and she never had to miss a semester. CROSO is grateful to have been able to provide that consistency to Norah’s academic experience and we can’t wait to see what she will do next!

2013 visit to Norah’s home in Namatala where she lived with her aunt.

If you have the time, please take a couple minutes and watch this unedited video from 2013. Norah shares her own story of what caused her to live on the streets and what amazing support she received from different organizations like World Vision and our partner organization, C.R.O. I love hearing her describe the love she received from the staff and other children at C.R.O.! She ends by talking about her next steps. Only days before this video was taken, she had learned that she’d been selected for the CROSO scholarship. You’ll pick up on some hints of disbelief still, but you’ll also see how very hopeful she was as she looked ahead to the possibility of university.

Scholarships that Transform Lives

A reflection by Molly MacCready, CROSO Founder and Executive Director, after visiting Uganda in June 2016.

After spending time in Uganda last month with CROSO Board Member Sally Ryan, I am filled with stories and scenes that make my heart feel so full. Everything Sally and I witnessed affirmed the work CROSO has done for the past nine years and at the same time emphasized how much more work there still is to do. I could write pages and pages, but for now I’ll try to stick with one story.

At the end of our first day visiting our partner organization (C.R.O.), Sally and I were tired. It was the end of a full day after a VERY long weekend of travel and both Sally and I were ready to be back in our hotel where we could relax. Instead, we found ourselves in a long conversation with Stella and Carol, two of the C.R.O. social workers who I have known since my first trip to Uganda ten years ago! Sally and I sat in chairs along the wall of their small, poorly lit office which somehow managed to hold three full-size desks and seven chairs, with just barely enough room for anyone to walk in or out.

Near the beginning of the conversation, Stella made a comment about how the CROSO scholarship is a transformational opportunity that enables our Scholars to become self-reliant and productive citizens in Uganda. Carol then quickly jumped in to share examples of what our CROSO graduates are up to now. Carol shared that Lokorio Mary (CROSO Scholar from 2009-2012) continues to work as a health educator for an NGO in Moroto district. As Carol described Mary’s success in that field, her face glowed with pride. She said CROSO has really created “powerful people.”

Our feelings of exhaustion ebbed as Sally and I listened with rapt attention as Carol went on to list the successes of other CROSO graduates.

  • Okolis John Bosco (CROSO Scholar from 2010-2013) was promoted to branch manager for the micro-credit bank where he works in Pallisa town.
  • Namasobo Lydia (CROSO Scholar from 2010-2012) lives in Mbale, is married with a one year old child and works part-time for BRAC, a development organization with the goal of alleviating poverty by empowering the poor. (Lydia and Molly are pictured above.)
  • Nafuna Margaret (CROSO Scholar from 2012-2015) is a manager for a business based in Uganda’s capital city, Kampala.
  • Walufu Titus (CROSO Scholar from 2013-2015) is working as a civil engineer for a company based in Kampala that is involved in road construction.

With each story shared, Carol’s eyes grew brighter and brighter. Having worked at C.R.O. for over ten years, she’s known many of these young adults for nearly half their lives. She and Stella (and all the C.R.O. staff) were instrumental in their upbringing and now, just like proud parents, the C.R.O. staff tell these triumphant stories of realized potential. While we already knew some of those updates, some were completely new to us.

When there was a pause in Carol’s stories, I asked if either of them had heard about Edweo Sam’s success and they both shook their heads no. I was excited to contribute to their enthusiastic reports and shared that Sam (CROSO Scholar in 2009) has been working in Lira with a solar panel company for several years now. Last October, I received an email from him informing me that he’d been promoted to lead branch manager for the company! Carol and Stella were thrilled for him.

Thinking back on that meeting with Carol and Stella, I am struck by what a beautiful moment of camaraderie that was for all of us. Within the first day of being there, we were able to see that we all shared a common investment in these Scholars. I don’t just mean financial or even time invested, but genuine emotional investment and hope that these scholars will be able to work for a better future for themselves.

When we created CROSO, we believed that these young people had far greater potential and, with access to higher education, they would be able to have huge positive impacts on their communities. Nine years later, we can comfortably say that our Scholars have proven that ten-fold. Each time we invest in a new scholar, we are opening the door for them to have a brighter future. At the sight of that open door, our scholars are not merely walking through, they are sprinting! Through their hard work and commitment to their coursework, our Scholars have been able to break the cycle of poverty that has held them hostage for so many years. Their new freedom has had a ripple effect and improved the lives of their families and their communities, especially as they step into more and more leadership positions.

Stella was right—our CROSO scholarship program truly is transforming lives!

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

    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.

Awali

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

     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.