Children growing up in the war-torn African nation of Uganda often face a perilous existence. Throughout 20 years of civil war, during which time thousands of Ugandan children as young as eight years old were abducted by rebel factions and forced either into military service or sexual servitude, the outlook for a peaceful and prosperous life was bleak.
While that civil war for the most part ended in 2006, illiteracy in Uganda remains rampant and government funding for education is miniscule. But halfway around the globe, a group of seniors at Bellmont High School is attempting to play a role in assisting students in the African nation on their path toward literacy.
And while the long-term benefits to young Ugandans of a global humanitarian effort being undertaken by a group of BHS students may never be fully known, the effects of the project on those local students have been immediate and profound.
Students in Tia Franks' English 12 class at Bellmont High School currently are creating e-books — comprised wholly of vocabulary words — to be shipped later this year to Uganda as part of the international Books of Hope service learning program. As part of the not-for-profit organization's mission, schools in the U.S.A. select a sister school in Uganda and create books to meet the African students' needs.
The program is in keeping with what Franks, a first-year teacher at BHS, called "Social Justice" literature.
"My goal is to teach my students what's going on in the world, and to empower them to know they can make a difference," said Franks. "The students have been reading about the history of Africa — the 20-year civil war and child soldiers — and then have discussed what they read in small study groups."
As part of the service project, each of the approximately 100 senior English students at Bellmont High School is required to create a book of vocabulary words. While following certain guidelines, the students are encouraged to be creative in their individual presentations. Included as part of each book will be nine specialized learning activities, as well as a "message of hope."
"Each Bellmont student will create a book that goes to one Ugandan student," said Franks. "And at the end of the book they have to include a "message of hope" to their student, so they (Ugandans) know someone else is out there and that we're trying to do what we can to help."
Once the books are completed, they will be burned to compact discs and mailed to Africa. Because of the cost involved, the Bellmont students were encouraged to undertake fundraising efforts.
BHS senior Karmen Bulmahn took the challenge seriously by singlehandedly raising $123.
"It's cool," Bulmahn said of the class project. "I was not aware of what has been going on in Uganda. And, really, there's no one person who can stop it. But what we're doing does have an affect."
Senior Matt Stidam said the class is among the most satisfying he's ever experienced.
"To take things you've learned and help someone else ... it's special," Stidam said. "I knew there was poverty going on in Africa, but I had no idea the type of stuff that was going on. It's a great feeling to help others."
Franks, who taught at schools near Chicago and Indianapolis before coming to Bellmont, said her students have taken the lead on the humanitarian project through their enthusiasm.
"They are doing an amazing job," she said.