Schools for Schools program changes the lives of Ugandans and Danville students

San Ramon Valley High club raises more than $20,000 for Invisible Children

Sunee Washom has crossed oceans, sold jewelry and gone nights without sleep to hike through the Ugandan bush, brandishing a machete against foe weeds in what she deems the greatest experience of her life.

The high school senior also had to help raise more than $30,000. But for the mile-a-minute talking Sunee, not raising the money wasn't an option.

"In the spring of my sophomore year Invisible Children came to our high school and did a presentation of the documentary and it completely hit a chord with me," she said "And not becoming involved just wasn't an option."

So, in 2009, Sunee started the Generation for Change club at San Ramon Valley High and began raising money for Invisible Children's Schools for Schools (S4S) program, which focuses on rebuilding and strengthening 11 of the most promising secondary schools in war-torn northern Uganda.

"More than two decades of war have devastated the standard of education in northern Uganda," said Adam Fink, Invisible Children's mission director. "Before this conflict, at least five of Uganda's top 10 schools were located in the north. Today there's not a single school from the north in the top 100."

In 2009, Sunee and her friends raised over $10,000 -- the most in the Northern Calif. region -- and went on a two-week trip to Uganda to see the results of IC's work.

"The trip to northern Uganda totally rocked my world. My eyes were opened in ways I didn't expect," she said. "The way they're creating sustainable peace and really empowering the people is really breathtaking."

After last summer's trip, which included visits to all 11 schools and a safari, Sunee and Generation for Change decided to raise money for S4S again. This time they raised $20,472 for Keyo Secondary School and placed third in the country-wide competition.

Keyo are the only school in the Amuru district not to have a laboratory and their students are unable to conduct practical classes in any of the sciences. Once the lab block is complete, S4S can begin work on the first of many needed teachers' houses.

"We live in an area where we're so lucky and so privileged to have everything that we do, I was almost angry that I hadn't heard about any of what was going on in the rest of the world. (IC has become) something I'm really passionate about," said Kenny Allen, a SRVHS senior and Generation for Change's de-facto events coordinator.

Over the course of the 100-day competition, Generation for Change held a fine arts benefit show complete with dancers, instrumental music, performances by drama students and a silent auction. The group also held a benefit concert dubbed "Jamming For Justice" featuring solo performer A Moveable West.

On the last night of competition, Kenny planned a caroling excursion to gather last minute funds. When rain nixed the plan, 15 club members held an informal phone drive and raised the last $10,000 of the competition.

"We thought we'd make $100," Kenny said. "But at the end of the night we had an anonymous donor who said he'd match whatever we made in the last week. I felt like the whole community came together to help us."

After Generation for Change learned they placed third in the country during a live telecast on Friday, Sunee and Kenny decided to put together an essay application to determine who will get to go on the Uganda trip this summer. They expect to have a candidate by the second week of Jan.

"I'm so excited that someone else is going to be able to go," Sunee said, noting that the trip was the best two weeks of her life.

Fortunately for the club's 50 active members, IC is offering another reward. Schools that raised more than $5,000 can send three people to the San Diego Summer Summit, which gives stateside students a more in-depth look at IC's programs.

In total, S4S raised $1,077,226.53 for construction, water and sanitation, scholastic materials, teacher development and new technology in Uganda, but it has also seriously impacted students locally.

Kenny, who is fairly new to the club, said he now wants to pursue social activism in college.

"I want to major in social change for an actor and use the art form I like best to create change in the world," he said.

According to Sunee, participation in the club and S4S has not only impacted her future, but also changed the trajectory of her entire high school career.

"I came from a really small Christian school to my high school and I never thought I'd be a leader on my campus," she said. "This has launched me into a different path."

Sunee plans on taking a break between high school and college for IC's roadie internship, where she will spend five months traveling around the country as "a mouthpiece for change and peace."

When she does go to school, Sunee plans to study global justice or peace and conflict studies. Activism isn't just a hobby, she said, it's truly the direction her life is meant to go.

"It's so crucial for us to look beyond ourselves and it's been amazing to see (activism) transform students and friends," Sunee said. "I really believe that that's something we're all searching for. Whatever it is, we all want to be a part of something beyond ourselves."

Since IC debuted the documentary "Invisible Children" in 2003, night commuting (children who walk many miles each night to avoid abduction by the rebel Lord's Resistance Army [LRA) has ended for the children of northern Uganda.

According to IC's website, the LRA and the Government of Uganda (GoU) engaged in a series of peace talks between June 2006 and March 2008 in order to end the conflict. These peace talks, supported by special envoys from the United States and other nations, allowed for the longest period of peace in northern Uganda's 23-year war.

"The war in northern Uganda has been called the most neglected humanitarian emergency in the world today," said IC.

The LRA and the GoU have been waging a war that that has left nearly two million innocent civilians, including innumerable child soldiers, caught in the middle. The GoU's attempt to protect its citizens from this rebel militia has largely failed, resulting in an entire generation of youth that has never known peace.

For more information on Invisible Children's programs, including Schools for Schools, visit their website.


Like this comment
Posted by Diane
a resident of San Ramon Valley High School
on Dec 28, 2010 at 4:43 pm

Congratulations Sunee, Kenny, and everyone else involved in this wonderful project! Compassion and motivation are without borders and it's great to see such a tremendous effort from kids that live right here in our town.

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