Close your eyes for a moment and imagine: you’re in your childhood home and you wake up on a Monday morning. Maybe your mom or dad is calling for you, or you’re walking down the hall, quickly pulling on clothes and rubbing the sleep out of your eyes. Instead of stopping at the bathroom to grab a drink or brush your teeth, however, you put on your shoes and begin a nearly two mile journey for water, where you will wait hours in line and hand carry gallons of the stuff back to your home....Read More
When we opened our first school, Global Leaders Primary School (GLP) in Namasale, Uganda just last March, we *thought* we'd accomplished our biggest, wildest dream.
After a crazy-successful first year of operation teaching grades Pre-K through P.5 and adding two P.6 teachers next month (learn how you can be a part of supporting our P.6 class through OperationTEACH ) we were challenged to dream even BIGGER. To continue to think further about how we can impact our students and their families even after they graduate from GLP after they take their P.7 high-school entry exams. To expand our vision and imagine our students graduating from GLP and moving on to their next adventure--high school.
It was around this time that we were approached by Jaclyn Collins of Schools for Girls.
Aside from the fact that she shares the same name with our Uganda Country Director(Collins...Collines, weird right?!), we immediately felt like our meeting was somehow divinely planned. Jaclyn had been referred to Far Away Friends by a mutual friend and emailed us asking if we could meet up and share ideas about supporting girls' education in Northern Uganda and possibly building a high school someday. Ironically enough, Collines happened to be IN DENVER at the time and had brought with her drafts and plans for building a Global Leaders Senior Secondary School. We had hoped to present the plans at our year-end board meeting so that in two years time, our first graduating P.7 class would have the opportunity to seamlessly move into a high school with the same emphasis on global citizenship, empathy and equality in learning.
When we met Jaclyn for coffee and talked though each other's ideas were literally all speechless. What were the odds that our next big dream for Far Away Friends and our students at GLP would coincide with Schools For Girls' plans to launch a high school with emphasis on global citizenship, empathy and equality in learning in Northern Uganda. he Universe works in the most mysterious ways, people.
After only a few meetings, we knew that a joint partnership between Far Away Friends and Schools for Girls would not only provide students in Namasale with an incredibly high quality high school education, but could help totally transform the standard of education in this community as a whole.
In 2016 we opened our first primary school--and that was just the beginning. 2017 is going to be UNBELIEVABLE. We're ready. Join us.
The opportunities for positive impact on some of the world's most remote communities are endless when we work together.
Learn more ur partnership and about our impact by visiting the Schools for Girls website right here.
Far Away Friends Executive Director Jayme Ward Nominated for Denver Business Journal’s 2017 “40 under 40”
The Denver Business Journal announced today that Far Away Friends Executive Director and Co-Founder Jayme Ward has been nominated for its 2017 “40 under 40” award. The 2017 program highlights the best in business that metro Denver has to offer, recognizing 40 outstanding local professionals under age 40 for their business success and community contributions. The winners will be announced in the Feb. 3 issue of the DBJ and online at DenverBusinessJournal.com, honored at an event on March 16, and profiled in a special report publishing March 17. Congratulations, Jayme!
This is why I do what I do. This is why I work three jobs and eighteen hour days and stay up nights and push myself harder and harder -- because the teachers at Global Leaders Primary School have as much a right to a fair wage as I do.Read More
I was 19 when I visited Uganda for the first time. Before then, the furthest I'd ever travelled away from home by myself was to attend a conference in San Diego for a few days. I was a kid and I'd never left American soil, so I think some of the idiotic things I did can be forgiven, right? Bueller?
It wasn't really until I'd travelled to Uganda again two years later and spent more time with my Ugandan friends that I realized just how stereotypically "Mzungu" I'd looked and acted during my first 2-week "volunteer" trip.
Now, several years and trips to the Pearl of Africa later, I am sharing these embarrassing stories and photos with the hope that you don't make the same mistakes as I once did and the world can be spared of another American idiot (not a Green Day pun) traveling thousands of miles for 2 weeks to "work" in Uganda.
1. DON'T TAKE SELFIES WITH OTHER PEOPLE'S KIDS WITHOUT PERMISSION.
If I walked into a primary school here in the US and crouched down next to (OR WORSE, PICKED UP AND HELD) a random kid and took a selfie, then proceeded to plaster that selfie all over my social media with the caption, "My new best friend! #Volunteering #WorkingHard #ThesePoorKids" I WOULD GET SUED BY THEIR PARENTS. So what makes international "volunteers" at a primary school in Uganda think its alright to do the same thing there? Because this child's parents *probably* won't sue you? Because they *probably* will never see it since they don't have access to Facebook in their village? Because in Uganda it's somehow OK to hold another person's child without their consent? NO. NO. NO, PLEASE GOD NO.
When we take a group out to visit our primary school, Global Leaders, in northern Uganda, we make it very explicit to our team that you are NOT to take photos of or pick up/hug ANY child unless A) You've met and talked to their parents in person B) You know their name and can ensure that we have photograph permission from a guardian to take pictures with/of that kid.
Next time a friend of yours travels to Africa, or any developing country for that matter, and takes photos with a group of kids, ask them to name every child in that photo. Ask them if they know those kids' guardians. I guarantee they don't. Just don't be a creep and take photos of kids you don't know. It's beyond uncool.
2. DON'T MAKE PROMISES YOU CAN'T KEEP.
Everyone that travels to Uganda for the first time will meet someone or have an experience that changes your life. I'm sure of it. I always tell my family once you see Uganda, you're going to WANT to go again and again and again. But that doesn't mean you will be back next year. In fact, you might not be back for several years.
Before you go "work" at an "orphanage" or with children in any capacity in Uganda, try to consider how building a strong relationship with a child might affect them when you never come back to visit them again. Many children in this country have been abandoned, neglected, or lost both of their parents. As a result of that kind of trauma, its not okay for you to spend time with a kid and tell them, "I am going to send you letters every month/sponsor your school fees/come back next summer and see you" unless you're ready to commit your life to building a friendship (in our case, a school) or becoming a mentor to that person.
During my first trip, I took a photo of a girl I didn't know from the neighborhood because her pink dress and the rubble she was seated among made for an interesting photo. I learned from my volunteer coordinator that she was being raised by her grandma and not able to afford school fees. I told her I would help her go to school. And then a year passed and I'd done nothing. I made a promise that I'd forgotten about when I got caught up in my life at home, meanwhile, Tracy was thinking, "What happened to the American who took my photo and said she'd help me with school?"
When I finally realized how damaging what I'd done was, I started sponsoring Tracy to go to one of the best boarding schools in the area and I visit her in person once a year because I am able to thanks to what I do for work. Sometimes its really a financial struggle for me to scrape together her school fees every three months, but I made a promise to her several years ago and I intend to be less of an idiot abroad and keep the promises I make,
3. THINK FIRST: DO YOU ACTUALLY HAVE THE SKILLS THAT THIS COMMUNITY IS IN NEED OF?
When I went to Uganda my first time, I spent my first week hanging out with my friend and visiting her village and my second "teaching" a first grade class at a local private primary school. I was supposed to be teaching math. If you know me, you know that I am neither good at math (I still can't do simple multiplication in my head) OR a trained teacher. In fact, I was only in my first year of college when I went to Uganda. Why I thought I would be qualified to teach MATH of all things at an elementary school is one of the greatest questions in my life.
I'll never forget the teacher who actually taught that P.1 math class (now a close personal friend) sitting at the back of the room trying to hold in laughter when I couldn't get control of the ten giggling first graders I was trying to "teach" because they were too distracted by the fact that a MZUNGU (foreigner) was teaching their class.
Before you go and build a fence, or dig a well, or even worse, teach a class, ask yourself, "Do I have experience in construction? Am I an engineer that can offer advice on digging a well? Am I a teacher? Do I have the skills and experience that this job requires?" If the answer is "No" to your questions, then you probably shouldn't be volunteering in that capacity.
In my opinion, the MOST HELPFUL way you can assist the community you choose to work in is to spend your entire time learning about its needs and considering ways you can use your voice to partner with that community to get those needs met. Your own voice and the way you use it to educate others about what you've discovered is the most powerful way to make an impact. At Far Away Friends, we saw a need for well-paid, motivated primary school teachers. Instead of bringing them from the US as volunteers, we hired local professionals through our program, OperationTEACH.
4. DON'T GET UPSET WHEN YOU PEE ON YOUR FEET.
In case its news to you--there isn't going to be an abundance of porcelain thrones in the village. At least not where I've been. So that leaves you with the good ol' squatty potty. In some places with running water, the squatty potty is going to be a beautiful ceramic bowl in the floor equipped with a chain to flush away forever the scary S%#@ that just came out of you (thanks Imodium). Other times, usually in the village, you are going to be using the pit latrine.
On my first trip as the idiot abroad, I didn't use the pit latrine because I was too nervous that I would "miss" and pee on my feet or that it would be smelly in there or something (because God forbid if it doesn't smell like a Bath and Body Works). My friend told me, "go in the bushes at night, because you're not going to like the latrine..." so that's what I did. Peed in the bushes. (WTF WAS I THINKING?! I PROBABLY PEED ON SOMEONES CROPS).
No, pit latrines don't smell like your bathroom at home--bring some lysol if your nose is too sensitive. Yes, you WILL pee on your feet the first time you use a pit latrine (unless you're a guy or a girl that just SLAYS AT LIFE and can pee standing up, too). It's okay to not be used to using a toilet that doesn't flush. Let it bother you a little, it should. Because this is how life is lived in most of the world--without flushing toilets. You are the minority when six out of ten people in the world don't have access to the kind of potty you grew up with. So wash the pee off your feet and laugh about it.
5. FOR GOD'S SAKE LEAVE THOSE SAFARI PANTS (OR elephant pants) AT HOME. OR BETTER YET, IN THE TRASHCAN.
As I was doing my research for my first trip, I read on a blog somewhere that you should "leave your 'good clothes' at home and bring only loose clothing and things you could do without since the red soil will stain everything you own," So, the idiot 19 year old I was literally went out and bought a PACKAGE OF HANES WHITE TEE SHIRTS and KHAKI LINEN PANTS/MAXI SKIRTS to wear the whole duration of my trip.
Okay, so you probably don't want to wear booty-shorts and a spaghetti strap top to your friend's grandma's home in the village because that's not culturally appropriate (you probably shouldn't wear that outfit to any Grandma's house, generally), but you certainly do not have to restrict yourself to frumpy tops and Elephant-print maxi skirts (unless you feel most comfortable that way then all the power to you). That outfit does not make you look like an experienced traveller, it makes you look like a sloppy American. There is nothing more embarrassing then sitting at your gate in the Entebbe airport with 30 other young, western strangers who look just like you in their printed harem pants, wrinkled oversized tee shirt, proudly donning their new corn-rows that they got while on their "volunteer mission".
Always bring your normal clothes. Always. Because some day you're going to be showing someone your photo from your trip of you standing next to your Ugandan friend whose outfit is on point and professional, thinking WHY THE HELL DID I WEAR THAT?! (See photo above).
* * * * *
Thankfully, the model of sending young American kids to "the third world" (which is btw a pejorative term and an idiot thing to say--'developing country' is slightly less offensive) is starting to change for the better. We are learning together. Even after several years, I STILL make idiotic mistakes and fly home thinking, "that was really stupid of me to say/think/do", but there's hope for us Mzungus and room to grow. More and more organizations are now inviting supporters and volunteers to come visit their projects and learn from their partners on the ground rather than try to "teach". The NGO community is slowly realizing bringing 19 year old kids like me to Uganda for cultural immersion and education is *surprisingly* much more impactful than asking an unskilled teenager to play teacher for a week (wow can you believe it?!).
So before you sign up for that "mission" to Uganda and board the plane, heed my advice--leave your plans to "change a kid's life" and your harem pants at home and don't be the idiot I was. You're welcome.
This past summer, our US Executive team had the privilege of taking three incredible volunteers from Lakewood High School on a 3-week Volunteer Immersion Trip to Uganda. Jessie Jennett, Siena Tornillo and Dakota Kisling joined us for their first trip to the African continent to work alongside us at our new primary school, Global Leaders.
Over the 3-week trip, we traveled nearly the entire length of the country -- from Kampala to Namasale all the way to Murchison Falls, with the goal of immersing ourselves in Ugandan culture, to learn about impactful community-driven projects on the ground, understand the power of cross-cultural partnerships and think critically about best practices in serving our global community. We also *might* have spent a fair amount of time introducing Siena as an American pop-star and teaching everyone in the compound how to roast the perfect marshmallow for S'mores.
This trip was not only special because it was the first time we've taken volunteers out with us, but it was also our Development Director for FAF, Kaitlyn's first time to Uganda after nearly eight years of studying African issues! You can read about her experience on our trip on CSU's blog right here.
We upon returning home, we interviewed Dakota (17) Siena (18) and Jessie (18) about their experience on our first Volunteer Immersion Trip.
What made you want to go Uganda?
SIENA: I wanted to go to Uganda because I wanted to be part of something bigger than myself, and Far Away Friends provided me with that opportunity. I needed a new perspective on my life, and I got that in the most unique way possible.
How do you feel Far Away Friends' Immersion Trip was different than other volunteer organizations you could have traveled with?
JESSIE: Because I am so interested in traveling I have looked at many travel/volunteer organizations whether it was for a language immersion or a school trip, and in order to convince my parents I had to dive deep and know everything about the organization and the trip. Compared to the three groups I looked into previously, Far Away Friends had the best communication. Through the application process, the waiting period, and even with our parents through the trip, Jayme and Chris really made sure that everyone was on the same page and no question was left unanswered. Regarding the trip itself, I cant compare it to any other organization's trips, however I think because of the strong connections that Far Away Friends has within multiple communities in Uganda, that we received a more intimate and deeper experience than most people on trips like that do.
How did traveling with Far Away Friends changed the way you look at the developing world?
SIENA: Traveling to Uganda I had no idea what to expect, but when we got there my mind was blown. Generally Africa has a stereotype of being “unsafe” or “dirty,” but that couldn’t be further from the truth. The country of Uganda itself was beautiful the people were just beyond amazing. Although it’s developing, Ugandans are the most kind-hearted people I have ever met, and everyone welcomed us with open arms. Everyone that I met was so happy and so grateful for everything that they had.
In what way do you feel that you had the biggest impact?
JESSIE: I think that visiting Global leaders primary school, playing with the students, interacting with the teachers and staff, has definitely evolved my ability to spread the word at home. I felt that the more I learned about Far Away Friends, and the more I got to see first hand, the more I believed in what they stand for. I feel as if FAF is really one of a kind and that the work they do is genuine and across the board to benefit the world as a whole. They take the name Global Leaders seriously and I think they do a phenomenal job of working together with their staff and community towards a common goal of providing quality education and connections to those future global citizens.
Did you have any particularly special moments on this trip? Explain that experience
DAKOTA: I met so many people that changed my life, but two stand out to me the most. They are Mercy and Sam (two students at Global Leaders). From the moment I met Mercy I was in awe. She is so smart and loves school unconditionally. She made me realize how much school can mean to someone, and how much it should for everyone. We take it for granted here, but Mercy understands how important the value of schooling is for her future and for generations to come. Sam also touched my heart. Although he has Down Syndrome [in a community with little support for children with special needs], he has an unlimited capacity to love. He made me realize how much someone could mean to someone else. He made me realize how lacking our country is of true connection. I want to carry his love here [in Colorado] and show others 1/100th of what he showed me...THAT is how much he inspired me.
JESSIE: I felt most connected when we all went to Mama Cissy's, where we met Aunt Stella and Atat (Grandma), along with all of the children under mama Cissy's care, most of whom attend Global Leaders. We learned that grandmothers are the same even on the other side of the world, by being welcomed with soda and cookies. The children were so fun and full of energy, we were taking pictures, laughing, and talking to each other. We started showing pictured of our pets, then our families, and as I swiped through pictures of my parents and sisters, I felt like I was a part of their family and that I couldn't wait to show my parents and sisters pictures of my family in Namasale.
Who did you meet on your trip that had an impact on you and why?
SIENA: Everyone that I met on my trip was amazing. There was one little girl named Fiona (also known as Baby Fiona) who touched my heart in such a special way. She came to the school a few days after we arrived and although she is only three years old I saw the kindness in her heart. Another person who had an impact on me was one of Global Leaders’ older girls name Cece. As we were walking home from her mom’s house one night she was holding my hand and we were talking. I was telling her about how Uganda and America are very different; she was amazed at the fact that we think dogs say “woof.” She explained to me why she thinks being educated is so important and why she wants to continue going to school. This moment was so special because even though she is only in P5 (fifth grade) she knows how important education is and she inspired me to push myself harder in my educational goals.
What was one of your biggest challenges in Uganda and how were you able to overcome that?
DAKOTA: One of my biggest challenges was not the bugs, the squatty potties, the bucket showers, or the hotness. It was seeing how much people who did not have much give you everything they had, whether it be food or something else. It was hard for me because it made me realize how backward our own country is. We only care about ourselves and the very few people who surround us. Every person we met in Uganda embraced us as if we were their own child. We literally came from around the world and they loved us like they had known us forever. I know that does not seem like a challenge, but it really opened my eyes to something that I had never seen before, and I did not like that reality.
How has this experience changed you?
JESSIE: If not for this trip and experience with Far Away Friends, I don't know if I would have truly found my passion. The constant feeling I had being there with the FAF team, the friends and family made there, and witnessing the impact of an education. I also feel like I have learned a lot about traveling and looking beyond what I hear in the media and stereotypes.
What would you say to someone who is considering volunteering with Far Away Friends?
JESSIE: I would highly recommend volunteering with Far Away Friends, I think that everyone should receive the opportunity to meet the wonderful people of Namasale town and the students at Global leaders. Its an experiene of a life time and I genuinely thing that Far Away Friends provides a unique and unforgettable experience that not many people will ever go through.
SIENA: To anyone who is considering volunteering with Far Away Friends do it. It will be the BEST experience of your life. Before we left Jayme told me that during this experience you will be: the saddest, most afraid, most uncomfortable, yet the most insanely happy you have ever been in your entire life. This was 100 percent true. There were challenging moments were I thought I was going to scream or cry, but at the same time I was so happy. Jayme, Chris, and Collines were the most amazing team leaders. I felt so prepared and safe everyday I was there. Far Away Friends will give you the most unique experience of Uganda. I wouldn’t trade my experience for anything in the world, and now that I have met the students and teachers of Global Leaders I know how important my voice is so that this amazing place that I call home can and will succeed.
DAKOTA: I would say DO IT!!!!! It was by far the best experience of my life and even though it is hard to see some of the things we saw in Uganda, it is worth it. You will come back a changed person and have an amazing perspective of the world because of that. DO IT!!!!!!!!!!!
To learn more about our trips to Uganda,
visit our "Work With Us" page right here
When I was in high school, I was...well...I blended. Into the wall. Under the radar. I wasn't popular or highly involved in sports or music or art. To this day I'm sure 90% of my graduating class still wouldn't remember going to school with me.
Until late in my Sophomore year, I never really had a "thing" that set me apart from anyone else. And then Invisible Children came along and ruined my life in the best way possible.
When I was 16 I saw a film called "The Rescue" about the Lord's Resistance Army and the plight of children in Northern Uganda. I was floored. For the first time in my life, I felt like my eyes had been opened to a world that needed my voice for a cause bigger than myself. Flash forward to my Senior year, when I invited the Invisible Children Roadies to my school, Lakewood High School, to screen a film called "Tony" to the student body. With them came a Ugandan Roadie affected by the war in Northern Uganda--a 22 year old girl named Collines Angwech.
I often think back to this moment and wonder what I would've said if someone told me, "You and Collines will build a school in her home village in 5 years...and Lakewood High School is going to help you do that," Considering the know-it-all 17 year old I was, I probably would have rolled my eyes and laughed. A crazy idea of that caliber was not only financially inconceivable but practically impossible.
But guess what? It happened.
People who don't know about the crazy-amazing phenomenon that comes out of Lakewood High School must have lived in a cave for the past few years. In case you're one of those people, let me enlighten you. In 2013 LHS won a nation-wide "lip-dub" (lip syncing to a song) competition on Good Morning America in which the entire school (over 2,000 kids) created a music video to Katy Perry's "Roar". Their reward was a school-wide private concert by the pop queen herself and huge donations flowing in from all over the nation. ALL of the money they raised LHS donated to Colorado flood victims. That was just the beginning.
In 2014, the student body rallied around a little boy named Liam from the Lakewood community with a rare genetic disorder called FOP which slowly turns muscle to bone. During their first annual "ROAR Week" the students held a 5 day fundraiser for FOP research, raising over $10,000 in total.
A few months ago I got an email from the Senior Class President at Lakewood High--Jessie--who asked if Far Away Friends might be interested in being the 2015 ROAR Week charity and helping us raise $10,000 to finish building our school in Namasale, Uganda, which would become LHS' "sister school".
At this time, our team was racking our brain to figure out how we were going to come up with the funds to finish our building. The Universe must have heard the anxious thoughts bouncing in my head. For a brief moment reading her message, I think my heart must have stopped. I read the message again. And then once more. And again for good measure. And then I refreshed my page and read it several more times over to make sure I wasn't dreaming it up. . I think the only thing my shaking fingers could type out was, "YES."
I will admit, I was nervous at first. As incredible as LHS students are, I was a little doubtful that we could make it to $10,000. TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS is a LOT OF MONEY. Spelled out its even a lot of letters I mean, come on! Nobody could raise that money in 5 days. In our first year as an fledgling NPO, we have never made over $8,000 in a single fundraiser. And here were this group of the bravest high schoolers I've ever met in LHS' Student Senate telling me "Really, Jayme, it'll be easy!"
Together with Student Senate and the LHS Administration we planned presentations, events, after school movie nights and volleyball games, packed up our merch table, bought tee shirts and buttons and stickers, planned out a school wide pep assembly at the end of the week, crossed our fingers and hoped for the best.
It's funny how life can surprise you when you least expect it to. The very first day of ROAR Week we planned on presenting to a few classes about the history of Northern Uganda and access to Education in Namasale. Honestly, we expected maybe a couple classes of kids yawning through our speech and looking down at their phones hoping they'd be released from class early as soon as we were done talking.
What we didn't expect was teachers to bring ALL of their classes down and fill the Lecture Center with HUNDREDS OF STUDENTS AT A TIME, at least half of them crying and ready to jump on a plane to Uganda. We also didn't expect nearly 200+ kids visiting our merch table every day, or over 120 kids showing up to our Volleyball Tournament fundraiser that Wednesday decked out in spandex shorts and hot pink uniforms. We didn't expect the Drama Department to donate all of their ticket sales from their first student-devised production to Far Away Friends.
We didn't expect a kid to be willing to cut off his epic mullet if his friend raised $500 "for their sister school in Uganda".
We didn't expect the student body to band together at the pep assembly and raise $4,500 in ONE MINUTE. Yeah. They raised $4,500 in one minute by passing buckets through the crowd. Ridiculous.
We didn't expect 2,000 kids to storm the floor in a impromptu dance party when we brought out Logo Ligi, a drumming group from Ghana for a celebratory performance.
We didn't expect to raise $10,000 in 5 days.
But guess what? That happened too.
Not only did it happen. Together we raised more. About $3,000 more. A total of THIRTEEN THOUSAND DOLLARS.
To say that Roar Week wasn't one of the most magical, insane, emotional and surreal weeks of my life would be an understatement. The dream for Far Away Friends was born in the halls of Lakewood High School, where I first met Collines Angwech. It continued to grow all the way to Namasale, Northern Uganda where it became tangible. And it returned home to LHS when 2,000 roaring "Tigers" stood beside us and said that they too believe that distance means so little when someone means so much.
And on the anniversary of our first year as an NPO, we finished the first chapter of our story. At the assembly, I told the students at Lakewood something a mentor of mine once said, "Your life is bigger than your best dream for it," and we're the proof. No matter how inconceivable your dream may seem, its still not big enough. We dreamt big. Impossibly big. And in our 11th hour, Lakewood High School made the dream come to fruition. Now, its time to Roar louder and dream even bigger.
Lakewood, we love you. Always.
When I was a kid, my favorite book was Rainbow Fish.
Either that, or anything on the subject of Witches. I got lucky having such amazing teachers and supportive parents throughout my childhood who helped me develop a love for reading. I never struggled at sounding out words or stringing together sentences which made trips to the library with my friend and her mom an exciting experience. We'd sit on the floor at the base of a huge bookshelf in the SciFi/Fantasy section and spend hours choosing an adventure we wanted to become immersed in.
For many of my friends who grew up in rural Northern Uganda, their experience with reading is probably much different. With little access to quality literacy programs at school or teachers trained in guiding students with reading difficulty, so many children in areas like Amolatar District, Uganda, may never develop a love for reading, let alone learn to read at all.
According to Jeffery A. Smith of the Institute for Social Research, "only 44.5% of children pass basic literacy tests," in Uganda. The number in Northern Uganda is likely even lower.
Literacy rates are a paramount factor in the socio-economic development for places like Namasale Sub-County. An illiterate farmer may never be able to access resources that could help him develop a business plan and support his family more sustainably. He will never be able to help his children with their homework, or read them a bedtime story. He won't be able to read directions for administering medication to his wife if she falls ill.
At Far Away Friends, we believe so strongly in the power of literacy to transform lives. Once our school begins in Namasale, we hope to provide evening and weekend adult literacy classes for the parents of our students so that they may be able to support the learning needs of their children, and support themselves, to a higher degree.
Join us today, on International Literacy Day, in joining together to make a promise to the community of Namasale, Northern Uganda, that we support their desire to improve the quality of education for the next generation of leaders.
Join us in finishing our school.
Hello, FAF supporters, Kaitlyn here!
Just a short update from up here in Fort Collins: These past few weeks, I’ve been working to implement Far Away Friends’ first university club at Colorado State University, and while I wait for all the paperwork to be finalized and first official meetings to be planned, I thought I would introduce you guys to the officer team we’ve established so far!
First we have Hannah Drennen, who will serve as our Vice President, and whose responsibilities mainly include getting our social media started, and giving the FAF club more of a presence on campus. Next is Colton Myhre, our Fundraising Officer and Secretary; he’ll be recording meetings and documenting minutes as well as finding the best way to implement all our fundraising ideas/ helping to come up with new and innovative ways to fundraise for Far Away Friends in Fort Collins.
This small team has a lot of big ideas, and we can’t wait to implement them and keep you all updated on the progress. As CSU’s Far Away Friends club expands, I’ll be posting updates here every so often to let you know what were doing, how it’s going, and how this club will continue to do its best to promote the Far Away Friends mission.
Hope to have an update for you all soon!
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
It’s a question many of us hear between the ages of 5 and 25, and the answer to it -- for me, at least -- seems to change as often as it’s asked. When I was five it was a princess, then at six it was one of the PowderPuff girls, and until I was ten I swore up and down I was going to be a PowerRanger.
Though I never got to be a PowerRanger or a princess, I did have many amazing opportunities to learn and explore and discover, and by my freshmen year of high school I found an organization called Invisible Children, a nonprofit that works to end the use of child soldiers in central Africa; this is where I found compassion and kindness and purpose, and this is where I met Collines.
I met Collines the way many people met Collines between the year of 2007 and 2013: after the screening of an Invisible Children film, after hearing her story and her mission, and (of course) with tears in my eyes. She, along with many of the people I’ve met in the Invisible Children community, inspired me to find what I thought was wrong with the world and do my best to work towards a solution.
I met Jayme in much the same way, at a conference held by IC in 2013 that we both attended. We were both passionate about education and our hearts went out to the plight of those in Uganda, an area we worked closely with through IC, and a place that many of our now close friends call home. I remember her talking about Far Away Friends then, just a dream built and believed in by two best friends on different sides of the world who believed that where you live should not determine whether you live, and that every child has the right to an education.
Fast forward to 2015 and it is amazing to see what these two have accomplished. In the summer of this year, I applied to be Far Away Friends’ Development Intern for two reasons: 1) because I saw (and see) so much potential in this organization to do so much good, and was willing to take any and every opportunity to be a part of creating that, and 2) since discovering IC, working at a nonprofit like FAF had become my answer to the “dream job” question. I was ecstatic when Jayme, Collines, and Chris agreed to take me on as an intern, and absolutely over-the-moon when they asked me to join the team permanently as the Development Officer this fall.
As the Development Officer for Far Away Friends, I work to inform more people about what we do as well as encourage them to get involved in sustainable ways. As an undergrad studying English Education at Colorado State University, I’m currently working to implement the first Far Away Friends club on campus, including holding weekly meetings, planning fundraising campaigns, and organizing events to raise awareness.
In my spare time I read and write a lot: something that’s kind of unavoidable as an English major. Some of my favorite authors are the ones who instilled in me a desire to help people, and a desire to teach: Toni Morrison, Chimamanda Adichie, and Junot Diaz. I’m a lover of coffee and green tea, spoken word poetry, and road trips. I have a twin brother who attends my rival university, my favorite novel is A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, and I currently pay the bills by assistant teaching in a preschool classroom and working nights as a barista (hence the aforementioned coffee addiction).
Most importantly, I am thankful to be working for such an incredible organization and with such an amazing team. Not many people ever get to work their dream jobs, and I feel so fortunate to have found such great passion and purpose here at Far Away Friends.
On a recent photo assignment for Far Away Friends, I had the chance to visit a cozy little fishing town in Uganda, called Namasale. It’s nestled along several small natural harbors on Lake Kyoga, where colorful fishing canoes embellish the shores and the water echoes the sky with perfect reflections. It’s tranquil and serene and has all the breathtaking views of a waterfront resort, but it’s not a common travel destination. In fact, there are so few foreigners passing through, I even had one lady hand me her screaming, terrified child as she tried to explain that the white man was only a human!
Had this town been in a more developed country, or closer to the city, there would likely be lakefront restaurants and beach bum hotels with hammocks in the courtyard, kayaks for rent and brochures full of half-day excursions. But businesses like that need start-up funds, and educated businesspeople to run them. There’s a shortage of both in Namasale, but of all things the town lacks, potential is not one.
When I first arrived in Namasale, there was clan meeting among my hosts due to a recent death. As is custom, the adults of the clan gathered to discuss the division of assets and to bring up any other issues relevant to the clan. Since the adults remained occupied for the better part of the day, I resigned my self to wandering with children and checking out the school Far Away Friends is building. As a large brick structure, it’s much larger and sturdier than the current school where student are meeting in small tin rooms.
Eventually I went to the main town, and when kids noticed I was taking pictures, I quickly developed a huge following! At one point I had a crowd of about forty kids charging me to try and get their pictures taken! An even bigger crowd of adults had gathered behind me to watch and laugh as I tried to make sure no one was getting trampled. After the tireless kids had thoroughly worn me out, I asked a fisherman if I could accompany him out on the water for views of the town at sunset. He seemed to enjoy having a guest as much as I enjoyed being there!
The next day, as I was walking through the town, a young kid relayed a request from an old woman in the village. She had never had her picture taken and wanted me to come by. I walked carefully through forest of huts to avoid stepping on blankets of small fish spread throughout the village to dry. When I arrived, she was sitting on a mat outside of her hut and greeted me in my own language. I asked where she had learned English and she explained that back in the 70’s she had managed to attend a university in a larger town, but after unsuccessfully looking for work, she eventually returned to the village to farm.
The woman seemed resigned to her fate, and not bitter, but it highlighted for me a sense that, among all the beautiful landscapes, friendly people and delicious fresh fish, there was an underlying sense frustration at the lack of opportunities. It’s not apparent in the smiles of laughing children, or the excited greetings of people asking for photos, but it is visible in the eyes of older youth, who are quickly realizing they have few options in life besides becoming fishermen or farmers. And you can hear it the tone of older adults who talk of big ideas and dreams for their children, but know they have no means to make them happen.
During the rest of my time there, I met dozens of people who heard why I was in town and welcomed me into their homes, their schools and their places of work, just to show a stranger how they live. By the end of my trip, I was fully enchanted, and though progress is a long road, I was encouraged the people’s desire to improve their lives and those of their children and I’m glad Far Away Friends has chosen to work along side friends in Namasale.
I’ve been in love with this photo from the moment I took it last July in Northern Uganda. There was something about the girl in the blue dress that I couldn’t turn away from. This was a girl, probably no older than thirteen, who lifted a 40-pound jerry can of water onto her head with such ease and grace that would shock many adults here in the US. As she balanced the jerry can and began to make her way back home, I caught her slowing her pace and letting her eyes wander to the field of elephant grass that broke down the middle, carrying a footpath that would bring her back to her evening chores undoubtedly awaiting her back at her family’s compound.
When I took this shot, I wondered whether this girl who carried so much weight on her shoulders (literally and figuratively) had ever been lucky enough to attend school. Had her family been able to provide her with the opportunity to have her mind opened to all the wonders of the world, which she’d definitely heard other uniform-clad students from her village discuss? Had she been told that someone believed she could become a doctor or a lawyer or an artist? Did anyone ever encourage her to dream about the impossible? Did she realize her power to change the world?
I thought back to our school in Namasale. The same wonder and consideration that was present in the eyes of the girl in the blue dress was also present in so many of the children we’d met in Namasale. I tried to imagine these same children sitting at a desk, feeling proud of their new uniforms and knowing that they’d been given a chance at creating a future that was entirely free of boundaries. It gives me chills to think about what these kids will become twenty years from now. The students at our Leadership Academy may become the next President of Uganda or a biochemical engineer who creates a pill to cure HIV or maybe even the next Chinua Achebe or a war-stopping activist like Leymah Gbowee. Their potential is infinite—if only they are given the tools to unlock it.
I look at this girl’s photo all the time. Her photo has inspired so many considerations in my mind and filled my own eyes with wonder just as hers were. I hope with so much of my heart the Universe allows for me to cross paths with the girl in the blue dress again someday. I hope that I’ll be able to speak with her and learn her name and tell her how much she’s inspired me. But more than anything, I hope that instead of carrying a heavy jerry can, she’s carrying school books, pencils and lightness in her step, proud of the bright future that awaits her at the end of path through the elephant grass all the way to school.
Today, after months of thinking, brainstorming, designing, scrapping ideas and re-designing, we’re so excited to finally release our new logo. For the past six months since we decided we wanted to design a logo that better reflected our mission and our brand, we’ve consulted with professionals and friends to try to imagine what this new icon would look like. As more time passed, our ideas became increasingly more complicated and abstract until we were looking at a logo that we couldn’t connect with at all.
During this process, we kept thinking back to a tee-shirt design that we’d created while we were still in Africa. The design was simple, created using one of our favorite photos from our trip of a boy that intrigued us named Emmanuel. After so many months of redesigning and brainstorming, we revisited this tee-shirt design and realized that the image we were searching for had been right in front of us all along.
Our new logo is simple, but iconic, just like our vision. Education is timeless, but always a vital part of revolutionary change.
Emmanuel’s smile struck us from the moment we met him. Here is a kid who is so young but whose life experiences and responsibilities have made him wise beyond his years. This is a child whose great potential, so evident in his smile, could be limitless with access to quality education. Like so many other children we met in Namasale, if only equipped with the right tools, their impact on the world would be extraordinary.
Our new logo is more than a photo of a child, it represents the future of a community. The joy that results from the transformative power of education. A bright light sparked in a dim room. Our mission to educated leaders, to empower communities, and most importantly, to build dreams.
Keep your eyes out for our new logo to be featured on our
social media platforms, literature, and website in the coming days!
With Tenacious Hope,
I met Katie Hutt in 2011 as I was on my way to Invisible Children’s first Fourth Estate Leadership Summit. It was my first time traveling by myself and I was totally terrified. Even though I was only flying to San Diego, being alone at the airport without the slightest idea of what to expect or who I’d meet when I got to the other side rattled by brain a bit.
When I arrived at my gate, I noticed a girl who was also by herself, wearing and Invisible Children tee shirt. I breathed a sigh of relief and approached my newfound friend for the journey. What I didn’t anticipate was making a friend with the kindest smile and a larger-than-life personality who would become one of our first monthly donors and a constant Far Away Friends supporter since the beginning.
I recently got the opportunity to interview Katie about her experience as one of our monthly donors.
Katie, what do you do for a living?
I’m a production artist for a small newspaper in Denver and an artist. I love anything creative including art, sewing, fashion, blogging and design. I also have huge passion for women and development.
What makes you passionate about our mission to encourage global citizenship?
After working with Invisible Children and then living in Uganda I learned a lot about Global Citizenship. I’ve come to see community as not limited by borders but by limited to our own understandings. I have made some amazing friends all over the world and they have introduced me to knew view points and ways of thinking that have forever changed the way I view the world. Being a global citizen empowers democracy by opening you up to ideas you would have never thought of. It doesn’t mean you have to always agree with them, but it means that you still love the person who has those ideas.
What motivated you to become a monthly donor?
Through my studies of development I’ve learned that there is a correct way to do charity. Researching the organization that you are giving to and making sure that they have locals on the ground running the programs is essential. Another important thing is that the community you are helping is invested in the programs as well, making sure that they hold a stake in what is being developed. These are few of the things I consider before donating. The most important part is that non-profits can’t make financial plans for the year unless they know where their money is coming from. One time donations don’t allow for organizations to pre-plan their programs which is why it is always better to choose an organization you believe in and researched and then continually donate to that organization.
What advice would you give to our supporters considering becoming a monthly donor?
If Far Away Friends is an organization that you fully support and believe in, then for them to truly strive they need more monthly donors in order to be able to plan and develop programs in Uganda and anywhere else they hope to build schools. Become a monthly donor like Katie by signing up here!
Four years ago, two friends dreamed together about a day when we would build a school together. Collines and I talked on the phone for countless hours (racking up an impressive long-distance phone bill) about the passion we both had for educating and empowering the next generation of global citizens. At the time, the dream felt so big–almost impossible and certainly very, very far away in the distant future. What we couldn’t have imagined then was how fast it would all be realized.
2014 has brought with it so many incredible moments as our first year as an official organization. From the moment we decided to take the leap to become “Far Away Friends” over a year ago to now, ending 2014 with our first school built in Northern Uganda, our journey so far has been crazy, scary, exhilarating and absolutely unforgettable.
As 2014 comes to a close, we wanted to share with you some of our favorite memories and milestones of the past 12 months.
MARCH: We held our first successful fundraising event, the Far Away Friends Mardi Gras Masquerade for Education
APRIL/MAY: We partnered with Little Man Ice Cream’s incredible Scoop for Scoop Program which allowed us to feed students at our partner school, Faith Children’s Foundation, for three months, light their dormitories and fix a leaking classroom roof!
JUNE/JULY: We spent six weeks on the ground in Uganda, traveling between Bulenga in Wakiso District, where our pen-pal program is located, and Namasale in Amolatar District, where we are building our first school, the Leadership Academy of Namasale. This trip allowed us to further develop our programs on the ground in Uganda and understand in what ways we can improve and grow with our partners in development in the field. Some of our favorite memories from our trip include spending time at the building site of our school, hanging out with students at Faith Children’s Foundation and having crazy encounters with some African elephants on the Arua highway near Murchison Falls!
AUGUST: We created the Roof Our School Campaign and held our second fundraising event in Denver at Epernay Lounge.
NOVEMBER: We received our 501 (c) 3 Nonprofit Status (WOO!) AND launched our first online Built by Beads shop via Etsy just in time for the holidays!
DECEMBER: We received photos from our team in Uganda of the Leadership Academy of Namasale with our new roof, almost ready for students!
This has been such a crazy and incredible year for us, but we couldn’t have done it without YOU. All of our progress is a direct result of the generosity we’ve received from all of our supporters. Four years ago, Collines and I could have never imagined that we would be where we are today–ready to begin educating and empowering the next generation of global citizens. Together, we are building bigger dreams than ever before.
Thank you for believing in us and with us. We love you.
With Tenacious Hope,
Co-Founder & Executive Director, Far Away Friends