Left Hand Valley Courier - All Local, All The Time

By Aurelia Pollard

Mwebaza Foundation holds fundraiser for schools in Africa


August 31, 2016

Photo by Devaki Douillard The Pop Ups performed at The Mwebaza Foundation's children's concert fundraiser at Whistle Stop Park on August 28.

The Mwebaza Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes cross-cultural exchange between schools in Africa and Colorado, held a children’s concert fundraiser on Sunday, August 28 in Niwot.

The event, which took place at Whistle Stop Park Sunday afternoon, featured The Pop Ups, a Grammy nominated children’s music group, along with other activities for kids. With the support of the community and the event’s sponsors, Founder Dale Peterson was hoping for a better turnout.

“We think the kids that came here had a blast,” Peterson said of the event. “We were honestly a little disappointed with the turnout, we thought we would get more. We think it’s because we’re competing with a sunny, summer day and the mountains, sports and all of that.”

But the nonprofit was aiming to hold a different type of event than it usually does. “We had done more adult centered charity concerts before,” Executive Manager Devaki Douillard said. “We’re working with schools [and] the kids know us, so we figured why not try and do something that targets the kids.”

Peterson, who is also a first grade teacher at Niwot Elementary School, said he wanted to show kids that there was more to the world than just Niwot. “I just wanted to open their eyes to the rest of the world,” Peterson said of why he started the foundation.

His first steps, which started around nine years ago, included getting penpals from Uganda for his class and sending cameras overseas to get a better picture of their lives. Peterson and his students were deeply moved by what they saw, “it was like looking at National Geographic, it was so moving.”

Peterson’s students decided to hold a lemonade stand as the first fundraiser, which only led to more fundraising, and Peterson was surprised by how much they could do for the school in Uganda.

“We were planning on just putting concrete floors in this mud hut they were using,” he explained. “And we raised enough money we were able to build an entire new school building.”

The Mwebaza Foundation now has four partner schools in Africa, three in Uganda and one in Kenya, and four partners schools in Colorado, including Niwot Elementary School, Eagle Crest Elementary School in Longmont, Coyote Ridge Elementary School in Broomfield, and Coronado Hills Elementary School in Thornton.

The foundation is currently working on the completion of its first middle school and ways to help the schools become self-sustaining.

“We just completed a middle school for the kids at our original school that graduated,” Peterson said. “We’ve been able to do a sustainable lunch program where they’re raising chickens, feeding the eggs to the children and selling extra eggs to help sustain the program.”

In addition to larger fundraisers, such as the children’s concert, the organization also holds a book drive and a jog-a-thon at Niwot Elementary. Douillard explained how the children at the schools in Colorado benefit just as much as the children in Africa.

“We also do a lot of cross cultural education in the schools,” Douillard said. “One of my favorite days is Mwebaza Day where the students skype with their penpals.

“They’re getting a much more global worldview through this program,” she added.

Even though Peterson wants to open the eyes of the children in Colorado, his intentions are never to make them feel bad for the lifestyle they’re able to have in the United States.

“I’ve never wanted to make kids feel guilty because of where they live,” Peterson explained, “but we don’t want them feeling sorry for the kids over there because the kids over there aren’t feeling sorry for themselves. But we have advantages and privileges here that those kids don’t. Most of our students aren’t struggling for food or because they don’t have a mom or dad.”

Peterson said kids who are now in middle school and high school often come back to fundraisers and events because they feel a connection to the foundation. They also remember their pen pals and some are even still communicating years later.

“That’s what we hope to instill in kids—a passion for helping others whether that’s in Africa or whether that’s right here in Africa,” Peterson said.

Peterson and Douillard are grateful for the support from the Niwot and Longmont communities, who have been helping the foundation reach its goals for the past eight years.

“I just send thank yous to the Niwot community, it’s been super supportive over the years,” Peterson said. “And this kind of thing has been possible because we have this supportive community.”

For people interested in The Mwebaza Foundation or wanting to volunteer, visit mwebaza.org.


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