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Fundraiser Supports A Promise To Ugandan Preschoolers

Published: June 22, 2019 at 07:00 am

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REDDING — Grace’s Promise Inc, a nonprofit based in Sandy Hook that grew out of a Girl Scout Gold Award project, held its first official fundraiser on June 8 at Maple Hill Farm in Redding to benefit underprivileged preschool children living in the rural Nakaseke District in Uganda.

Grace Anne Herrick — now a student at the University of Connecticut-Storrs — began Grace’s Promise as her Girl Scout Gold Award project in 2016. After visiting Uganda at the age of 16, Grace was inspired to develop a preschool program with retired early childhood educator Joan Bybee for the Nakaseke district in Uganda, as previously reported in The Newtown Bee. Grace is a graduate of The Gunnery, a college preparatory school in Washington, Conn. In December 2017, the first preschool class graduated from the program, which is operating out of the African Community Center for Social Sustainability (ACCESS) nursing school.

Since then, Grace’s Promise has grown, and Grace’s sister, Catherine Herrick — a 2019 graduate of Sacred Heart Academy, a college preparatory Catholic high school for girls in Hamden — has added her own Girl Scout Gold Award project to the effort.

Roughly 80 people attended the June 8 event, and among the attendees were Managing Director of ACCESS Estherloy Katali and her husband and ACCESS Founder and Executive Director Dr Robert Kalyesubula.

“We were really lucky,” Grace said, adding that the Young family of Redding offered to host the fundraiser at their Maple Hill Farm after Cathy Young and her daughter, Sam Kane, visited Uganda last summer. “Sam was kind enough to implement a music program at the preschool program, and they love it there.”

The June 8 fundraiser was the result of brainstorming with the Youngs, Grace said.

Catherine created an income generating activity program for Grace’s Promise for her Girl Scout Gold Award, which she recently completed. She described the program as a way to allow mothers and caregivers to pay for school fees after the preschoolers leave Grace’s Promise and graduate to kindergarten.

“School fees in Uganda kind of impair the parents and caregivers from being able to send their children to school. Education is free in Uganda, but because of school fees, it doesn’t allow them to actually go to school,” said Catherine. Her program awards microloans of about $300 to families, “and they pay it back in small amounts. [And] they have enough to pay for their child’s education. That gives opportunity for the next group of parents to do the same.

“So not only do they get to pay for their children’s education, but they also have the opportunity to lift themselves out of poverty,” Catherine said, adding that her program encourages families to follow empowering ways to make money, like one mom who became a hairdresser. “... It’s really what they want to do and what they feel they can accomplish themselves.”

Social workers support the families, and as the managing director of the preschool program, Ms Katali also oversees Catherine’s new program for Grace’s Promise.

There are 90 children in the Grace’s Promise program, according to Catherine, and there are about 500 on the waiting list.

Since she was younger, Grace said her parents, Dr Charles Herrick and Ana Christina Herrick, have been her biggest advocates.

“Not many parents would be willing to even let their kids go to Africa in the first place when they were 16 and start this journey itself,” said Grace, now 20. “So, I am so lucky to have them.”

Grace is studying in the UConn Honor’s program in an individualized major of global health. Catherine, who serves as vice president of sustainability of Grace’s Promise, will join her sister at UConn this fall, and she plans to study philosophy. Both girls are on the premedical track.

Uganda, Grace said, has roughly 53 percent of its population below the age of 15.

“And 80 percent of the population lives in rural areas and villages... The primary school dropout rate is about 78 percent and that is before kids even reach the seventh grade,” said Grace, adding that children who drop out of school become victims of child labor and prostitution. “The primary root cause of all these issues really comes down to parents not being able to afford the school fees, and most parents even say that their kids have dropped out of school or that they have never been enrolled in school because of the financial hardships they are facing.”

School fees can include things like uniforms, “and the burden is just so overwhelming,” Grace shared. Preschool programs in rural areas practically “don’t exist” in Uganda, adding to the strain of students not being prepared for kindergarten and feeding into the rate of grade repetition, further burdening parents to pay again and again.

“It’s just a vicious cycle,” Grace said.

The sisters worked together on June 8 to set up the fundraiser. People registered and mingled, participated in a silent auction, and had the opportunity to sponsor a child, which funds a child to be in the preschool program and beyond.

The total raised is still being calculated, and fundraising is continuing through the program’s website, gracespromise.com/donate.

Following the fundraiser, Ms Katali said in an e-mail, “The fundraiser was a total success in my opinion; although we did not raise all that we need to start building and complete the preschool, the people showed us a lot of love when they honored their invitations.”

There are plans for the program’s future.

“We plan to create partnerships with individuals who believe in our vision, and with their support, we will begin building the preschool structure and start having the babies come to school five days in the week, instead of the single time in the week,” Ms Katali wrote. “The program has been designed to interest both the children and parents in the community in the values of education. In my opinion, I believe that the preschool program will ensure a firm foundation for the rural children, which will in the end boost the level of development retrospectively,” Ms Katali said.

Ms Katali, Dr Kalyesubula, Catherine, and Grace all spoke at the fundraising event. Grace said Ms Katali and Dr Kalyesubula have “become like family.”

“Grace has demonstrated to me and many of the community members that anything is possible if only we worked hard to get it and that whatever vulnerability someone has, they can be of help within the community. Grace was only 16 years when she saw the need in the community,” wrote Ms Katali.

Mr Katali reflected, “It takes someone with such a big heart like Grace and Cate to reach out to those without the privilege. The girls’ family is so supportive of their initiatives: God bless them always.”

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