Left Hand Valley Courier - All Local, All The Time

By Vicky Dorvee
Editorial@lhvc.com 

Left Hand Laurel – Dale Peterson

 

September 29, 2018

Vicky Dorvee

Because he has inspired children to make a difference in the world and has fostered cross-cultural caring and assistance as founder and director of the Mwebaza Foundation, Dale Peterson is being recognized with a Left Hand Laurel.

There’s a school in Kyengera, Uganda named Mwebaza. Two hundred students and six teachers spend their days learning and teaching there. More than 8,000 miles away, at Niwot Elementary School (NES), 450 students and 18 teachers spend their days doing the same thing. Dale Peterson is one of NES’s teachers and he has helped bring together the hearts, minds, and souls of the people of Mwebaza and NES.

Peterson began his career as an educator 23 years ago as a student teacher at NES. As part of a writing exercise, his first graders were matched with students at Mwebaza to participate in what is probably one of the oldest social networking methods around – pen pals.

“I have always been interested in Africa, ever since I was a young child, and when I started teaching first grade, the continent that grade was studying was Africa. I started looking at the materials and almost all of them were about animals,” Peterson said. ”I love animals, kids love animals, but there’s so much more to Africa than animals. I thought, I want to expand this for my students, how can I do this. So I got pen pals for them. “

Peterson thought the interaction through letters would take place once every few weeks, but the kids enjoyed it so much, it became almost a daily activity. The miles between the friends seemed to really shrink when words became images with the exchange of photos.

The palpable level of poverty in the images from Mwebaza touched NES students and their families, so Peterson empowered them to take action. The students chose a way to raise money that all kids can relate to – selling stuff to their neighbors.

Most people don’t hold a garage sale or set up a lemonade stand during a snowstorm, but this day couldn’t have gone better even if it had been a sunny one. Several thousands of dollars were raised and subsequent media coverage of the inspirational event helped to promote their efforts. The kindness displayed that day mushroomed into offers from more donors. “Pretty soon we had tens of thousands of dollars,” Peterson said.

With the momentum growing to improve lives in Kyengera, Peterson established the Mwebaza Foundation. That was ten years ago.

Replacing the school’s dirt floor with cement was the initial project, but the money raised was enough to construct a whole new school building. Peterson has gone to Kyengera every other year since establishing the foundation. On his first visit, Miss Namatovu, the headmistress of Mwebaza, and her students welcomed Peterson and others from the foundation with eight hours of song and dance to express their appreciation.

Seeing firsthand the huge impact that had been made with the dollars provided and knowing the desire of people here to help, Peterson said he realized a potential to expand on NES’s relationship with Mwebaza.

The foundation now includes a partnering of a Ugandan educational institution with Ridge Elementary School in Broomfield, Coronado Hills Elementary School in Thornton, and Eagle Crest Elementary School in Longmont. The foundation has also expanded as the younger students have gone on to high school and beyond. Sunset Middle School, Niwot High School, and Career Development Center students are all committed to the foundation’s mission.

In order to construct schools, provide transportation and supplies, run food programs, ensure access to clean water and the resources needed for students and schools to reach self-sufficiency, Peterson’s efforts revolve around meetings, presentations, grant applications, donation requests and lately, his time is spent organizing a large project to bring shipping container buildings to Uganda which will be used as classroom space.

Peterson grew up in Durango and, after getting a master’s degree in public administration, he was hired by the City of Longmont as an intern in the city manager’s office. But there was a tug in an unexpected direction. Outside of his work hours, Peterson had been volunteering at The Inn Between and as a children’s choir director. It dawned on him that switching his full time work for his part time activities would be a gratifying move, so he took education classes and earned his teaching license.

Peterson and his wife Jennifer have been married for 26 years and have three children: 18-year-old Ethan, who just started at Compass College, 15-year-old Lily who attends Skyline High School, and 12-year-old Paul, a 7th grader at Trailridge Middle School.

Peterson is happily consumed by the time he puts into teaching and the Mwebaza Foundation and he also enjoys playing the piano, especially jazz and classical music, traveling, and cooking.

Asked why he gives so much of himself to Mwebaza Foundation, Peterson said, “I don’t see how the world is going to get better if we don’t all make an effort to help where we can.”

For more information on Mwebaza Foundation, visit http://www.Mwebaza.org.

There’s a school in Kyengera, Uganda named Mwebaza. Two hundred students and six teachers spend their days learning and teaching there. More than 8,000 miles away, at Niwot Elementary School (NES), 450 students and 18 teachers spend their days doing the same thing. Dale Peterson is one of NES’s teachers and he has helped bring together the hearts, minds, and souls of the people of Mwebaza and NES.

 

Peterson began his career as an educator 23 years ago as a student teacher at NES.  As part of a writing exercise, his first graders were matched with students at Mwebaza to participate in what is probably one of the oldest social networking methods around – pen pals.

 

“I have always been interested in Africa, ever since I was a young child, and when I started teaching first grade, the continent that grade was studying was Africa. I started looking at the materials and almost all of them were about animals,” Peterson said. ”I love animals, kids love animals, but there’s so much more to Africa than animals. I thought, I want to expand this for my students, how can I do this. So I got pen pals for them. “

 

Peterson thought the interaction through letters would take place once every few weeks, but the kids enjoyed it so much, it became almost a daily activity. The miles between the friends seemed to really shrink when words became images with the exchange of photos.

 

The palpable level of poverty in the images from Mwebaza touched NES students and their families, so Peterson empowered them to take action. The students chose a way to raise money that all kids can relate to – selling stuff to their neighbors.

 

Most people don’t hold a garage sale or set up a lemonade stand during a snowstorm, but this day couldn’t have gone better even if it had been a sunny one.  Several thousands of dollars were raised and subsequent media coverage of the inspirational event helped to promote their efforts. The kindness displayed that day mushroomed into offers from more donors. “Pretty soon we had tens of thousands of dollars,” Peterson said.

 

With the momentum growing to improve lives in Kyengera, Peterson established the Mwebaza Foundation. That was ten years ago.

 

Replacing the school’s dirt floor with cement was the initial project, but the money raised was enough to construct a whole new school building. Peterson has gone to Kyengera every other year since establishing the foundation. On his first visit, Miss Namatovu, the headmistress of Mwebaza, and her students welcomed Peterson and others from the foundation with eight hours of song and dance to express their appreciation.

 

Seeing firsthand the huge impact that had been made with the dollars provided and knowing the desire of people here to help, Peterson said he realized a potential to expand on NES’s relationship with Mwebaza.

 

The foundation now includes a partnering of a Ugandan educational institution with Ridge Elementary School in Broomfield, Coronado Hills Elementary School in Thornton, and Eagle Crest Elementary School in Longmont. The foundation has also expanded as the younger students have gone on to high school and beyond. Sunset Middle School, Niwot High School, and Career Development Center students are all committed to the foundation’s mission.

 

In order to construct schools, provide transportation and supplies, run food programs, ensure access to clean water and the resources needed for students and schools to reach self-sufficiency, Peterson’s efforts revolve around meetings, presentations, grant applications, donation requests and lately, his time is spent organizing a large project to bring shipping container buildings to Uganda which will be used as classroom space.

 

Peterson grew up in Durango and, after getting a master’s degree in public administration, he was hired by the City of Longmont as an intern in the city manager’s office. But there was a tug in an unexpected direction. Outside of his work hours, Peterson had been volunteering at The Inn Between and as a children’s choir director. It dawned on him that switching his full time work for his part time activities would be a gratifying move, so he took education classes and earned his teaching license.

 

Peterson and his wife Jennifer have been married for 26 years and have three children: 18-year-old Ethan, who just started at Compass College, 15-year-old Lily who attends Skyline High School, and 12-year-old Paul, a 7th grader at Trailridge Middle School.

 

Peterson is happily consumed by the time he puts into teaching and the Mwebaza Foundation and he also enjoys playing the piano, especially jazz and classical music, traveling, and cooking.

 

Asked why he gives so much of himself to Mwebaza Foundation, Peterson said, “I don’t see how the world is going to get better if we don’t all make an effort to help where we can.”

 

For more information on Mwebaza Foundation, visit www.Mwebaza.org.

 

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