Red Bank sisters begin non-profit to help build school for children in Uganda
We all need to hear stories of hope and inspiration and good news, not just in 2020, but every year because it reminds us of what it means to be human, to be a beacon of hope and be symbol of change and inspiration.
Two sisters from Red Bank, Alexandra Cruz and Kristina Rems, are pouring their hearts into helping school age children in Uganda and in raising awareness of what's going on there and raise funds, about $150,000, to help build them a primary school.
WOE came to be following a medical mission trip Alexandra, who is also a pharmacist, took in 2018 to Uganda with eight other volunteers with Waves of Health and learned so much over there, that she wanted to find a way to help.
"When we got to Uganda, it was just a different experience and such a different place than I've ever seen before," Alexandra tells Townsquare Media Jersey Shore News.
The group of volunteers were hosted by their now in-country partner, the Little Sisters of St. Francis who Alexandra says organized everything including the patients who were coming in for health screenings.
They were providing primary medical care and treatment to anyone who came out.
That's where Alexandra met a 6-year old girl named Ndagire Kevin.
"She came to us, didn't speak any English, she had ringworm in her head, she was malnourished and you could tell her clothes were a little bit tattered but she was the cutest little thing," Alexandra said.
The two of them sat together on the bus ride to Kavule, had some laughs while taking selfies and started to get to know each other.
When they arrived though, the conditions were eye opening.
"For the first time in my life I really saw what it really means to have nothing, these people were living in...I don't even know that you can call them homes, they're these one room huts, families are being crowded in them, there's boys wearing girls clothing, some have pants on and no shirt," Alexandra said. "Just seeing how little these people had and they had excitement for anything we were providing whether it was the medical care and we brought stickers with us and the kids were taking whatever was left and putting them on their face (she laughed) which was something different they didn't have before then."
Meanwhile, she continued to bond with the little girl Kevin, mostly through non-verbal communication due to the language difference.
One of the Little Sisters of St. Francis then informed Alexandra that this girl had come from the village, her father was a 75-year old alcoholic, her mom left her when she was just 1-year old and when the father drank he would bring his daughter with him and then pass out on the side of the road with Kevin just sitting there waiting for him to sober up.
The Sister, who is also a social worker, came to Kevin's aid after being informed by a villager what was going on in her life.
The girl was put into foster care but when Alexandra and her team arrived, Kevin said her dad was beating her.
"She's telling me this story and how she wants to get her into boarding school so I just asked her 'what's the cost going to be to send her to boarding school? I want to help this child' and she said 'the cost is 1-million schillings'," Alexandra said.
Alexandra explains that the cost turns out to be about the price of a small coffee.
When the medical mission trip had concluded and Alexandra returned home, she shared what she had learned in Uganda with her sister Kristina who immediately joined her in wanting to help these children.
"When Alex came home, I've never seen her more passionate about something in my life and I mean that in the best way possible," Kristina tells Townsquare Media Jersey Shore News. "Something just changed when she came back and I think seeing that it made me want to become involved and I'm also a teacher so I do know how much education can really impact someone's life. I think that so many of the children in developing countries have parents concerned with making sure that they have enough food on the table or being able to care for their siblings so they don't really have those people who can foster them and care for them and believe in them and empower them."
Alexandra and Kristina tried to get sponsors together and then came up with the idea of doing something more and went to Waves of Health in forming a partnership with the focus here being on education.
They've been donating money to help these children go to school to this point.
"They have trimesters in Uganda so we pay every trimester for the students to go to school and the price depends if the student is going to boarding school of if they're going to a day school," Kristina said.
There is constant communication with them and the Little Sisters of St. Francis and for different reasons with the children so everyone is on the same page and knows what's going on and when.
Alexandra tries to go twice a year to meet with 6-year old Kevin and last year Kristina joined her on the trip to Uganda.
"I got to meet the girl who I sponsor as well as some of the other sponsored children and it was such an eye opening experience. We were in a village and brought flip-flops for kids and you would never think that flip-flops are a big deal...but I just remember giving a child a pair of flip-flops and he literally got down on the ground and started bowing to me and that was just so overwhelming on so many levels," Kristina said. "It made me appreciate all that I have but also awful because for a child to be that appreciative for something so small that we take for granted, I just knew that something more needed to be done."
There are a number of goals Kristina and Alexandra have for these children in Uganda focused on education but also teaching them valuable life lessons.
"Our overall goal is empowerment, we want to be able to empower a community to be self-sustainable and self-sufficient so they learn how to do things on their own and how to provide for themselves," Kristina said. "In building a primary school, it's giving these children a chance to do that. We want to develop the primary school and after that we would like to build a secondary school. A lot of these children don't have access to an education. We want to give them a chance with education teaching them simple math, reading and literacy skills."
"These people in the villages are trapped in this cycle of poverty and there's really no avenue for escape and we see education as an opportunity for these people to escape relentless cycle," Alexandra said. "In Uganda, they technically do have universal free primary education, so the government does provide it, however, there are a few issues with it with one being that although it's free there are still fees attached with uniforms and school materials so sometimes even those $3.00 fees per trimester are too much for a family to handle."
She adds that there's also not enough schools in the area and there's an issue with the government not paying the teachers on time.
As they raise funds and awareness to build a school and help build education within the community, there are things that the Jersey Shore community can do to help with this cause and Waves of Education.
"The biggest thing we're looking for right now is to get the word out there and raising awareness is really key right now," Alexandra said.
If you are able to and wish to donate to Waves of Education or learn more about their mission, you can visit them on their website.
You can learn more about Waves of Education from Alexandra and Kristina here: