A Thanksgiving Reflection

Today’s blog post is written by Elsa VanHove, one of CROSO’s Board Members.

Around this time each year, I – like many people – try to step back and reflect on the things I am thankful for. Especially this year, as our country reconciles with a divisive presidential election and as I face uncertainties in my own life, I recognize the need more than ever to reflect on blessings and focus forward.

One thing I am hugely thankful for is my civic life. The relationships I have developed with CROSO volunteers have become an unexpected place to find support and belonging. The larger CROSO community continues to grow as well, and as I think back to September’s annual benefit dinner, I am so taken by the open hearts and generous spirits of our attendees and donors. It is amazing to think about the impact this group of people has on our Scholars, many of whom have felt disenfranchised in their own communities. CROSO is one source of strength for our Scholars, and that reminds us of the value in continuing this project.

I am also thankful for my own education. My university experience allowed me to travel abroad and learn of the larger world and the ways in which people are similar. CROSO allows us to share the gift of higher education with our Scholars who also place the same value on learning and self-development, though they may not have access to the same financial resources many of us did.

Education does not end with school, however, and through interaction with our Scholars I have learned about new cultures, challenges, and opportunities. I have found common ground with Scholars who also hope to travel the world someday, who want to use their education to build successful businesses, and who love reading novels, playing sports and even volunteering in their hometowns. Our Scholars lead by example, and they set the pace with their perseverance, creativity, and determination to improve not only their own lives but the lives of those in their communities.

Thank you to everyone who has participated in CROSO this year through time, money, prayers, and all the myriad of other ways. This work provides purpose both to the Scholars it helps fund and to the people who support the organization. As you reflect on your year, I hope that CROSO – and the other organizations you support – can also be counted among the things for which you are thankful.

9th Annual CROSO Benefit!

Join us on September 22nd for our 9th Annual CROSO Benefit!

This is a chance to celebrate the many achievements of our CROSO Scholars in Uganda and of our organization based in the Chicago-area. Over the past nine years, we have directly supported over 30 former street children as they have attended post-secondary institutions in Uganda! We have seen 14 of our Scholars graduate and are now getting to see the fruits of their labor as they find employment. It’s incredible to think that as a result of our scholarship program, there is a growing group of professionals who are leading their communities and are able to approach their jobs from the rare perspective of having lived on the streets as children.

As an organization, we are also proud to share our work here in the Chicago-area. This year, for the first time, we have a paid employee working part-time for CROSO! Having a dedicated staff member has allowed us to be organized, to communicate with our Scholars and partner organization more regularly and to share more stories with all of you, our donors!

We hope you will join us on the 22nd to hear stories, see photos, participate in our raffle, silent auction and paddle raise, and enjoy dinner with an amazing community of people who are supporting CROSO Scholars from afar.

Tickets must be purchased by Friday, September 16th! You can reserve them online and either pay online or pay by check. Purchase your tickets today: http://www.croso.org/events/9th-annual-croso-benefit-event/

Thursday, September 22, 2016
6:00 – 9:30pm

Monastero’s Ristorante
3935 W. Devon, Chicago

Ticket Price: $75
Host a Table of Ten: $700

Ticket price includes: hors d’oeurves, salad, dinner, dessert and coffee/tea.
Cash bar available.

Tickets must be purchased in advance.
Please book your tickets by September 16th.

If you have any questions about this event, please contact Molly at Molly@CROSO.org.

An Unexpected Gift

photoToday’s blog post is written by Christine Ng, one of CROSO’s newest committee members. Christine shares her experience of participating on CROSO’s Scholar Selection Committee.

Two months ago, I received a wonderful, most unexpected gift, wrapped in the form of an email. My dear friend Sally Ryan, a CROSO board member, invited me to join the scholar selection committee. The timing was perfect; I had closed the chapter on another school year and was looking forward to the possibilities of summer. With a simple “yes,” I unknowingly began a four-week journey of renewal.

I’m a teacher. I’ve been teaching for almost 25 years and I simply love my work. It’s more than my job, it’s my vocation. And yet, two months ago, I felt quite ready for summer. I had mismanaged the work/life balance during the last months of school. Tired to the bone aptly described my state of being.

Shortly after I said goodbye to my students, I sat down at my dining room table with a thick stack of CROSO scholarship applications. The quietness of my home at this early morning hour allowed for total immersion in each applicant’s story. I began to read the first application and was immediately moved by the young man’s narrative – the unfathomable hardship, injustice, and struggle, and yet the palpable faith, perseverance, and hope. The next application, submitted by a young woman,  painted a similar picture of steadfast determination despite lacking basic needs like food, shelter, and family. After reading the second story, I put the stack of applications away for the day and sat stunned as I reflected on these two students’ lives.

For the next two weeks, I started each morning by reading through one or two applications. Each voice stirred something in me. I spread the reading out, focusing on one or perhaps two young men or women each day to honor each story, to keep each person clearly defined in my head and in my heart. Tears welled up in my eyes. I could hear myself sighing for their struggles.

Civil war. Famine. Parents who died from AIDS. Children abandoned by parents. Picking food from the garbage. Sweeping floors to collect grains of rice to eat or to sell. Begging on the streets. Nowhere to sleep.

Yet the students also wrote about how their life experiences motivated them to pursue education at a university, college, or technical institution to change the situation for themselves and most especially for others in their communities. A vision and an optimism for a better future ran throughout each narrative. It was very hard to select my top five scholarship candidates, as I’d been assigned to do. Every single applicant gave evidence of courage and strength of character, demonstrated dedication to his or her community through volunteer work, and expressed a strong desire to continue education in order to give back to the community.

From the beginning of this process, these stories were gifts of hope that refreshed my tired spirit until it was overflowing with a new optimism and a resolve to do more. My simple “yes” allowed me to absorb these precious stories of restoration that, in turn, brought renewal to my soul.



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!

Changed Forever

A reflection by Sally Ryan, CROSO Board Member since 2010, after visiting Uganda in June 2016.


Sharing a week in Mbale, Uganda with Molly MacCready, the Director of CROSO, has altered my mind significantly.

We had enlightening visits with present and former CROSO scholars who were forced to live on the street at one time, but now are current university students and graduates as a result of our CROSO scholarships. We were also invited into the network of our partner organization C.R.O., Child Restoration Outreach. C.R.O. is an organization that rehabilitates and cares for the street children in Mbale and has supported all of the CROSO Scholars through the end of secondary school. I have previously thought and read about many realities related to the struggles of such developing societies, but those concepts now have taken on a new heartfelt personal and profound reality inside me. It is easier to understand and care about such challenges conceptually, but to have this new and deeper knowing has changed me.  

Do I regret this deep inner change?  Was it more comfortable not to live in this altered sense of reality?  In some ways, I was definitely more comfortable before my visit; it was easier and I liked that comfort zone.  Can I ever go back to my old self? Revert to my old mind and relieve this intensity and sense of connection?

Maybe I could “go back” to that old reality of myself….

  • IF I had not felt the physical touches and emotional attachments of little children on the CRO playground like Matanda Derrick who needed to perform his raps for me, from Nuri Gloria who wanted me to sing her name each day, and Wasua who was just off the street and needed encouragement from me each day to connect and get help from the CRO staff….
  • IF I had not walked the streets with profoundly dedicated CRO social workers and seen these wise workers advise, counsel, and invite several children to rehabilitate at CRO. Maybe I would not be so altered if I had not seen the looks on these children’s faces showing fear or resistance or hope in these street corner encounters, or walked with the young boy who accepted the social workers’ invitation and walked back with us to CRO, possibly leaving the streets for good….
  • Maybe I could “go back to my old self” if visiting our CROSO scholars at their Universities had not revealed rave reviews from professors regarding our scholars’ leadership, discipline, and academic success, making it clear how much is possible for young adults whose early lives were lived begging on the street…
  • IF in interviewing our present scholars they did not express such hope, resilience and gratitude for CROSO and the future possibilities that these scholarships gave them and their families….
  • Optimized-DSC_6331

    Current CROSO Scholar Stella (on the left) welcomed Sally to her home.

    Maybe I could revert to my old comfort zone if when I walked through the area where many of our scholars live in bare subsistence housing, I had not felt the warm welcome of the scholars and the honor that they expressed to us due to our visiting them in their humble homes and poverty challenged neighborhood….


  • IF I had not heard the deep concern of some of the graduates and near graduates about the weak Uganda economy and lack of jobs, their fear that the CROSO scholarship ending at graduation could mean a struggle to fulfill their dreams and lift themselves and their family members to a new level of comfort….
  • Maybe if I was just touring, not sharing with so many people in my own language, English, one of their three of four languages with English being the one they learn in formal education, I could have stayed on the OUTSIDE of this community, just peaking in, not communicating in full shared discourse, victories and struggles of their lives in the past and as their life is unfolding today….

But these experiences were the reality of my journey with Molly into the needs and aspirations of former and present children on the streets of Mbale.  I really did hear over and over with the CROSO scholars their gratitude and hope that their CROSO scholarship gave them.  Yes, I saw it all…I felt the desperation and the hope…I experienced one by one, the beautiful resilient spirits of these Ugandan people, young and old…and now, my heart and mind are changed forever.