La Jolla students raise school funds for Uganda orphans

Muirlands Middle School student Savannah Wells knocked on the doors of all the houses in her block to raise $180 for a school campaign that helps children in Uganda. “I thought that they should get an education just like us,” she said.

Wells was one of the top fundraisers this year, and she received a prize during a thank you pizza party Friday, June 10 in the school auditorium. As a whole, Muirlands raised $4,377 for Universal Technology Outreach Community Hubs (U-Touch), while students from La Jolla High also participated in the effort to raise $2,000.

Since 2007, U-Touch funds have put 26 Ugandan students through school. The San Diego-based non-profit works to help orphans from the civil war in that country complete their education.

Deborah Plotkin, U-Touch’s founder, told the students a story about one of their protégés, Sebastian. She first met in him in 2009, when he was 11 and lived in a small village with his cousins and his grandmother. “All the parents had died in the war,” Plotkin said. At that time, he wasn’t attending school.

“Sebastian said to me, ‘Can I show you something?’ And he took me over to a very small hut. Inside, sitting on a little concrete bench was his cousin Julius. I looked on the floor and there were some scraps of books, pieces of paper, anything he could find to read. Do you know what they had built? They built a reading hut. They were out of school, but they felt that education was so important that they were going to do anything they could to read,” Plotkin said.

U-Touch staff in Africa, maintains a digital center, where students can go and learn, do their homework and access technology.

One of these technologies is Skype, and Plotkin organizes video calls between students in La Jolla and Uganda at 7:30 in the morning. “The teachers who are interested in helping gather students in the classrooms and I coordinate with the students in Uganda and we are able to Skype with them,” she said.

To make this possible, U-Touch counts on volunteers like Nora Wilcox and Talouoa Nichols, who chose this project in their philanthropy class, and have been helping out with key chains, invitations to events and planning. “We made key chains to let teachers know that they should help next year,” said Wilcox, adding how much planning it took to hold the thank you ceremony.

“We really think that’s a great opportunity to help people in need,” Nichols added.

Plotkin said she goes to Uganda for four to eight weeks every summer to connect with the students, the staff there and to make sure the program runs smoothly. “These kids would not be in school if it wasn’t for La Jolla High School and Muirlands,” she said.

Before working in Uganda, her family had helped build three schools in Nepal. After that, Plotkin and her daughter, then a sophomore at La Jolla High, met Sister Pauline at USD and traveled to Uganda to visit some of the displacement camps. “We began the fundraising to sponsor orphans in Uganda that would not be able to go to school otherwise,” she said.

For more information, visit u-touch.org

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