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La Jolla High club helps Ugandan children

Residents of Northern Uganda have been involved in a 20-year war. According to BBC reports, the Northern Ugandan government began peace talks with the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in 2006.

“In Northern Uganda, people had to move into (Internally Displaced People’s) camps,” Melia Plotkin said. Plotkin is a senior and is the president of La Jolla High School’s Sister Schools Club of San Diego. She founded the club in her sophomore year. The club is currently fund-raising for the Uganda Education Project.

“The (Ugandan) government tried to protect their people by moving them into camps away from their land and homes,” Plotkin said. “But they (the people) became affected by disease and starvation.”

Today, 20,000 children are orphaned and cannot afford to go to school.

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Plotkin became involved in the Uganda Education Project, when Sister Pauline Acayo, who lives in Northern Uganda, visited San Diego and told a story about orphaned children begging to go to school. Acayo found herself financially unable to help the children. Schooling in Uganda costs $300 a year per child. The orphaned children did what they could to make money to attend school.

They began digging in the mud, setting the mud and making bricks. They would sell the bricks for change. Then, they would go to the school and ask how much time they could spend in the classroom with their money. Sometimes they got a couple of hours. Average, Plotkin said, they would attend school two days a week.

Plotkin credits her parents for being such “go-getters” and encouraging her by inviting Acayo to their home.

After Plotkin heard Acayo speak about the hardships, she thought it would be a great project for the Sister School Club to take on. The effort became known as the Uganda Education Project.

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“The first year we had pictures, but I didn’t know who they (the children) were,” Plotkin said. This past summer Plotkin, her family and a fellow student traveled to Uganda.

“After the trip I knew them. I could tell stories. It wasn’t just a biography on paper anymore. …These are my friends,” she said.

Shira Abramowitz, vice president of the club and a fellow senior became interested the first year Plotkin began the club.

“We can help them (the Ugandan children) by giving them the money now and in the future they can have careers,” she said. “Then, they can generate their own income.”

The students involved in the Sister School Club started by educating teachers about the Uganda Education Project. They gave out packets of which Ugandan children they could sponsor. Packets included a biography, pictures and other pertinent information. Handouts were also made available for students to take home to their parents. Signs were put up at school and commercials made for announcements at school.

Last year during the same fund-raiser, the club raised $6,500 and sent about 30 Ugandan children to school. This year, they have a goal of $10,000. The official fund-raiser ends tomorrow (Friday, March 7), but contributions can be made year round by contacting Plotkin at africa@sisterschoolsofsandiego.org. More information about the club can be found at www.sisterschoolsofsandiego.org.

A fund-raiser at Muirlands Middle School has been going on for two weeks, as well, and ends tomorrow.

Students at La Jolla High School who are interested can join the club every week on Tuesday during lunch in Mr. Rosenberg’s room 302.

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“It feels amazing to see my school do something so important,” Plotkin said.

After the fund-raiser last year, Plotkin was able to visit the children who received the money and check up on their progress.

“We work with very trustworthy organizations,” she said.

Plotkin also looks forward to this summer’s trip, so she can see her friends again.

“It’s hard to grasp and emotionally overwhelming,” she said about visiting the camps. “I would like to work in a place, maybe Africa, where there’s been a lot of hardship. …I want to work with people who really need it.”

“Being involved (with the club) has inspired me to work in the non-profit world in the future,” Abramowitz said. “I’ve learned how to connect with people internationally and have learned how to make personal connections.”

Plotkin and Abramowitz said they have interested underclassman who plan to continue the work of the Sister Schools Club. Plotkin also plans to continue her mission in college.

“We are in this all together. …We’re all human beings. …We’re all brothers and sisters. …We should do all that we can,” Plotkin said.

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