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Students work with Uganda schools

Molly Madden | Thursday, January 29, 2009

About a dozen upper-level architecture students have teamed up with non-profit organization, Building Tomorrow and are designing and raising money to build a school in Uganda.

“With this project we’re acting on two fronts,” said Elijah Pearce, a fifth-year architecture student and proponent of the university’s involvement with the project. “We’re trying to fundraise for a school in an underserved area of Uganda, and we’re also looking, as architects, to see if we can improve the school’s design.”

The project was conceived last year when Pearce found out about Building Tomorrow’s efforts to raise money for another school in Uganda. Pearce attended a talk where the president of the organization, George Srour, spoke about how the group had raised enough money to fund past projects in Uganda.

“I went up after the talk and spoke with George about possibly teaming up with the architecture program,” Pearce said. “George said he thought that it would be a good idea.”

After talking to Srour, Pearce started working on the project first semester, he said.

“Everything really got underway around September last semester,” Pearce said. “George and I spoke over the summer and then things really got off the ground.”

On the architecture end of the project, the group of student architects are working on designing a school that will be both practical and comfortable for the Ugandans.

“We’re looking at any and every way to improve the school design,” Pearce said. “There’s very simple things that can be done in order to make the school more comfortable.”

They’ve spent months learning about the country of Uganda and its climate, he said.

“We’ve done a lot of research on the climate in Uganda and have been gathering data along the lines of where the sun shines brightest in that particular area. This aids us in our design as to where the windows face, things like that,” he said.

However, the school cannot be built without proper funding and this all comes from money raised by people involved in the project as well as others.

“The organization won’t even pick a site until all the money, which is about $40,000, is raised. This makes designing the school very difficult because we have to make sure our design is adaptable,” he said. “Luckily, we’ve been very fortunate to have had a dedicated group of students who have been very committed to the fundraising effort, but it’s always great when more students get involved with the project.”

The group’s main organized fundraised is the Best Gift Campaign, which allows people to donate money for specific items that will be used in the school.

“Instead of donating just to the school, the campaign makes the donation more tangible for those donating. Someone can give five dollars for a brick, or fifty dollars for a desk. It’s been very successful,” Pearce said.

There is even a Web site through Building Tomorrow that allows people to purchase these items and even entire classrooms for the school.

Once the total sum is raised and a site has been selected, it only takes a couple of months of construction until the school is completed. One of the reasons for this short amount of time is the support that the contractors receive from the community in Uganda.

“One of the key aspects to Building Tomorrow is community support,” Pearce said. “Members of the community come in and perform the unskilled labor voluntarily. They do it because the school is their community’s school.”

Working on the project has taught the students a great deal about Uganda as a country, said Pearce.

“This project has been a great educating experience for all of us,” he said. “In our research, we studied the political structure of Uganda and how this affects the school system; it’s been a real eye-opener.”

The students have also been given a more realistic view of what life is like for themselves in comparison to students living in Uganda, he said.

“In working on this project, it’s impossible not to see the huge gaps in disparity between where you and I went to school and where these Ugandans go to school. We didn’t have to walk three hours to get to school,” Pearce said.