News / USA

Educator Links Students in Minnesota and Uganda

US kids raise money, collect goods for their East African pen pals

A Ugandan student reads a letter from her American pen pal.
A Ugandan student reads a letter from her American pen pal.


Jan Sluizer

Diane Kroska never really thought about Uganda until a parent — who was a former missionary in the village of Budimo — came to volunteer at her school. Kroska is the Media Specialist at Dayton Elementary School in Dayton, Minnesota.

She says the stories she heard about the widespread and enormous needs in Uganda pulled at her heartstrings, and she wanted to do something to help.

Forging a personal connection

She asked her school's principal if she and her students could reach out to children in the East African country.

"We teach character education in our schools, which is compassion, responsibility, kindness, and things like that," she explains, "and I wanted to put it into action."

Diane Kroska visits a student in Gulu, Uganda.
Diane Kroska visits a student in Gulu, Uganda.

The principal encouraged her to try. That was five years ago, and since then, Kroska and her students have sent about $22,000 to Uganda.

Not just about fundraising

Diane Kroska has also set up a pen pal program between fifth graders at Dayton Elementary and Ugandan students at Tochi and Coopil primary schools in the town of Gulu.

On her visits there, Kroska says she sees how important communicating with American children has become to the Ugandans.

"The kids take their pen pal letters and read them four hundred times. They'll take their letters out when they're herding the cattle and sit and read their letters," say Kroska. "They have them pinned up in their huts. It's about having a friend that's in the United States and that someone cares about them."

Dayton fifth graders held their first GuluWalk fundraiser in Minnesota on Oct. 24, 2009.
Dayton fifth graders held their first GuluWalk fundraiser in Minnesota on Oct. 24, 2009.

Kroska says having a friend in Uganda has been an eye-opening experience for the Dayton youngsters, as they come to realize that not everyone is as fortunate as they are.

"They can wake up in the morning, and turn on the faucet and they can wash their face and brush their teeth. And they can go downstairs for breakfast and have a good breakfast. They have shelter over their heads that doesn't leak. They know where their next meal is coming from. And they've realized that some things are more important than fingernail polish and hair gel for the kids in Uganda and one of the things they have learned is that for getting out of poverty, you need to have education, and that's important to them, too."

Child Reach Uganda

For the first few years, Kroska's project didn't have a name. It was just kids at Dayton Elementary helping kids in Uganda. Last year, the project became a non-profit, non-governmental organization. It also got a name: Child Reach Uganda.

Today, Kroska has two people in Uganda helping her.

Oweli, 27, is the first person from his village to graduate from college. Kroska met him when he showed her around Uganda. One of his projects is to make sure medicine is available for free or at reduced cost for the people in the Southern Ugandan village of Nagabita.

Diane Kroska shared stories about Minnesota winters with children at Nagabita Primary School in Uganda.
Diane Kroska shared stories about Minnesota winters with children at Nagabita Primary School in Uganda.

Jeffrey, 28, works in Gulu in Northern Uganda. The project closest to his heart is helping children who were orphaned and traumatized by Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army, which waged a brutal two-decade long rebellion in Central Africa.

"They are my hands and my eyes and my ears and my feet and we discuss different projects that they're doing and what the need is and I try to get them the funds to do it. I'm not the person that says, 'yes, no.' I trust them and I believe that they know what's best."

To raise money for those projects, the Dayton children make crafts to sell in the school cafeteria, along with T-shirts. Kroska says they try to think of fun ways to bring in money.

"One day a week, it's penny day, and the kids can bring pennies and put them in a big water bottle. And the next day it will be nickels, and dimes and quarters. And then we had dollar day. Kids realize that if they give up some of their money for lunchroom treats, maybe once or twice a week, they can contribute fifty cents to a dollar and that goes such a long way."

Helping hand

This year's fifth-graders raised $3,600 for their friends in Uganda.

"That will send over 100 kids to school for next year," says Kroska. And that includes their uniform because they have to have uniform which is a dollar and a half. Their tuition fees are $24 for the year and the rest goes for their school supplies and books."

Diane Kroska (center) on a visit to Uganda
Diane Kroska (center) on a visit to Uganda

Kroska visited Uganda this spring with seven suitcases filled with gifts from her students for their Ugandan pen pals. Each fifth-grader had been given a big plastic bag to stuff with school supplies, toys, and whatever else they thought their penpal would need, or want.

Kroska says she's only just beginning in Uganda. Her future projects include building a community center in Gulu, as well as a library, and nursery schools. She has also been told there is still a great need for access to fresh water, and she wants to help Ugandan women start bead businesses to make money.

Kroska says younger students at Dayton Elementary tell her they can't wait to be in fifth grade so that they, too, can be part of Child Reach Uganda.

You May Like

Video Americans, Tourists, Reflect on Meaning of Thanksgiving

VOA garnered opinions from several people soon after November 13 Paris attacks, which colored many of their thoughts

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

In northern Thailand, the annual tradition of constructing floating baskets to carry away the year’s bad spirits highlights the Loy Krathong festival

Video Tree Houses - A Branch of American Dream

Workshops aimed at teaching people how to build tree houses have become widely popular in America in recent years

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syriai
November 26, 2015 5:21 AM
Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs