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Building’ founder describes education goals

Becky Hogan | Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Millennium Development Goals Awareness Week is in full swing, working to educate the campus community on the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDG).

To get the week’s events started, Building Tomorrow founder George Srour spoke to students Monday about how they can get involved in making universal primary education a reality.

“One of the things we are focusing our efforts on is increasing the number of kids who have access to primary school [education],” Srour said.

Srour first became involved in the issue when he spearheaded an effort at the College of William and Mary to help build a school in Kampala, Uganda. Building Tomorrow is a non-profit organization that works to get young people involved in raising awareness and funds to build schools for children in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Building Tomorrow initially targeted college students, and it now has established chapters at 10 college campuses in the United States. The organization has also partnered with Key Club International, a high school service organization.

Building Tomorrow has focused its energies in Uganda since it started in 2005. And while the organization has made strides to raise funds for building schools, Srour said that the work is not easy because it is “much harder for development groups and organizations to work with rural populations.”

To determine the status of primary education in various regions of Uganda, Srour said, Building Tomorrow looks at three indicators – net enrollment of students, proportion of students in first grade to students who reach fifth grade and the literacy rate of 15-24 year olds.

Srour said $80 will pay a primary school teacher in Uganda for one month, but the problem isn’t finding teachers – it’s finding adequate faculties where teachers can instruct their students.

“There is enough money [in Uganda] to pay for primary school teachers … but not enough money to provide infrastructure,” he said.

In order to make primary education possible in rural areas in Uganda, Building Tomorrow establishes ties with local governments.

“We go to a community and say, ‘We will work with you to put up a new school if you will help us with 25 percent of cost,'” Srour explained.

Srour said Building Tomorrow enlists the aid of members of the community to help sew uniforms for students and to help manage the school once it is up and running.

To build a school in Uganda, which holds 300 to 350 students, costs approximately $35,000 – and this is where young people come in.

“All of our funding to build schools comes from people like yourselves,” Srour said. “If you got everyone on this campus to pay three dollars, you could build a school.”

Boston University and the University of Virginia are among the schools involved in Building Tomorrow’s goal to build three schools this year. Freshman Jenna Knapp said he is working to establish a Building Tomorrow chapter at Notre Dame, which should begin next fall.

Srour said what makes this model for establishing education unique is that it works with local governments and is sustainable over time.

With about 50 percent of its inhabitants under the age of 18, “Uganda is a very young country,” Srour said. He explained that these age demographics put great strains on the educational system in Uganda because there are so many young people who do not have access to education.

Another factor affecting Uganda’s inadequate education system is the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which runs rampant through the African continent.

Srour said 63 percent of HIV/AIDS cases worldwide occur in Sub-Saharan Africa. What is worse is that many of Uganda’s young have been forced to grow up quickly because their parents have died from the virus, he said.

The organization has also teamed up with other non-governmental organizations, including the World Food Program, to provide desks, books, and furniture in schools.

Srour said Building Together hopes to start working on providing secondary education in Uganda in the next few years, as well as expanding their efforts throughout Sub-Saharan Africa.