Seventeen years old and full of passion, Katie Reed grew up in a highly educated, globally aware community in the state of Oregon, in America's Pacific Northwest. The high school she attends offers students what is known as an "International Baccalaureate Program." That means the curriculum was designed to be acceptable to any university around the world.
But Katie Reed says she did not think the curriculum, by itself, was enough to give students an international perspective. That is why she started a "sister school" program between her high school and the St. Andrew's School in Uganda.
"(My) school says they're an international community, but there really was no bridge that was linking us with any other place in the world," she says. "Being an IB school, with international baccalaureate programs, we're supposed to be so international. I felt like something was really lacking there."
Students at Southridge High School in Beaverton, Oregon, now correspond regularly with students at the St. Andrew's School in Matale - through letters and, increasingly, through e-mails. Katie Reed chose the St. Andrew's School, because a businessman she knows in Beaverton named Thomas Lwebuga graduated from the school.
"Thomas was not able to afford to go to high school - (he) had been sponsored," she says. "And then an AmeriCorp volunteer came through the village, you know, some years ago, and told him that he should go to the University of Oregon, all the way on the other side of the world. So he applied and got a full scholarship, got a degree in accounting, and now works at Nike."
Katie Reed says Lwebuga's story inspired her to provide the St. Andrew's School with more students like him, children who are bright and eager to learn, but cannot afford to pay the tuition often because their families have been devastated by the AIDS pandemic in Africa.
It costs just $200 a year to send a child to St. Andrew's, and so Katie Reed set out to raise as much money has she could. In less than a year, she collected $4,600 from people and businesses in her community. And now 23 new children - most of them girls - are at the school. "I didn't want it to be just another fundraising thing. I didn't want to have another bake sale or something like that," she says. "I really wanted to team up people who were passionate about the project, as I was, and who were committed to sponsoring kids not only this year, but years in the future, too."
Katie's fundraising did not stop there. She and the students at her high school whom she has inspired have managed to raise more than $13,000 to be used for classroom renovations at the St. Andrew's School. They have also sent several old, but perfectly usable computers to the school. The computers have enabled the students at St. Andrew's to email the students at Southridge High School.
"I've never even gone there, but I feel like I know the people already," Katie says. "I know all these kids so well - I know all their names. It's a school with 300 kids there, and I feel a really intimate connection with the community."
Katie Reed hopes to go to Uganda some day - but right now, she is more interested in pouring any money she raises directly into the school. In the mean time, she says, she is happy just to have the new perspective that the students in Matale have been able to give her.
"Here, we take education for granted. I don't have to pay to go to school. I live a block away. I get a ride in the morning. It's so easy, and I'm so supported," she says. "There, these kids struggle so much. Every pencil, every piece of paper, all their school supplies, they just cherish. We just did a calculator drive, and a single calculator can make such a difference there in a kid's life. It's so easy, I feel, to make a difference."
And Katie Reed believes she and the other students she works with have made a difference not just in Matale, Uganda, but in her hometown of Beaverton, Oregon, as well.
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