The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

January 27, 2008

Not just classwork: Students help to feed orphans in Uganda

By Courtney Anderson

SHARON — Students in a Sharon high school English class were so moved by the stories of children in a Ugandan orphanage that they decided to do something to help.

“A lot of kids sit and say something needs to be done but don’t do it,” Ed Gill said.

That wasn’t the case for the 33 seniors in Maria Rodenbaugh’s reading and writing classes.

They started a campaign collecting change at lunch and ended up with $551, which Students for Charity voted to match. So the Kyasira Home of Hope orphanage in Uganda received $1,100 from Sharon high school — enough to feed 44 orphans lunch every day for a year.

Mrs. Rodenbaugh signed up with the Peace Corps’ Crossing Cultures program and hooked up with her Westminster College roommate Hope Latiak, who is a Peace Corps volunteer at the orphanage.

Through Ms. Latiak’s e-mails, classwork and their own research, the students learned about the conditions the children lived in. Many lost their parents to AIDS, food and clean water is scarce and the orphanage sits on Lake Victoria, which is home to deadly crocodiles.

“The pictures we saw were horrible,” said Mary C. Smith.

When hearing about such atrocities, Antonio Johnson said it’s always in the back of people’s minds that “nothing’s ever that bad.”

But when you see it first hand, Antonio said, you realize just how much worse it is in Africa than in America.

“We have ways you can get stuff. They have no hope,” he said.

Ms. Smith said people here complain about having little, but “over there they have nothing at all.”

“It made me realize how fortunate we are here,” said Ryan Mathieson. “We have it so good.”

The Sharon students learned about how the orphans eat porridge for breakfast every day ($25 buys a six months supply) and how they have to pay for their school uniforms, books, supplies and even the teacher’s salary ($125 per year per child). When women give birth in Uganda, they’ve got to pay for everything down to the gloves the doctors use, they learned.

Peterson said that hearing about specific children they could put names and faces to made it more personal for the class.

Mathieson said that if they’d just read about what was happening in a book, it wouldn’t have been as effective.

“I thought it was a better experience getting involved than just seeing it on TV,” Helana Headley said.

When the youth learned that the orphanage was losing its food assistance from the World Food Program about the same time a fisherman stole what food was in their garden, the Sharon kids decided they had to do something, Mrs. Rodenbaugh said.

At first, she said, the kids wanted to send food and clothing to Uganda, but it’s too expensive to ship things there.

So the fundraiser was born and Regina Hutchinson, Kayla Pinch and Adrianna Surano went to the principals to get permission. Members of Mrs. Rodenbaugh’s two classes made posters and spent a week collecting money from their classmates and teachers.

The students had to educate other people in the school, said Brian Hiple, who explained the project to many, sometimes soliciting money in exchange for hugs.

Chad Peterson said they often laid a guilt trip on the other kids.

“It works, though” Hiple said.

And people weren’t just giving their leftover change, Peterson said.

Tatiana Rosser counted 600 pennies brought in by one student. And Melissa Owens was so intent on helping she approached her employer Kentucky Fried Chicken about putting out a donation can. She raised another $60 for the cause.

Mrs. Rodenbaugh said the orphans had asked her to send pictures of the Sharon students so they can see who helped them.

The semester-long course has a new set of students now and Mrs. Rodenbaugh said they’ll be taking up the cause, as well.

“They need to challenge us,” said Mathieson, encouraging the new section of the class to raise even more money.

When the class was asked if there was anything else they wanted to say to The Herald readers about the project, Headley offered two words: “Thank you.”

To donate online, visit and designate “Kyasira Home of Hope” in the designation field.