A chance meeting brought Laura Schreck and Robert Serunjogi together to build schools for children in Uganda.
ON A RAINY EVENING in the spring of 2015, 19-year-old Laura Schreck found herself waiting. She’d had a late lab in the CSU engineering building and was outside looking around for her ride. But instead she encountered Robert Serunjogi, a custodian who was taking out the trash. Stopping for a moment to say hello, he told her a little about himself; that he was originally from a village in Uganda and was trying to raise money to bring back books and supplies, and ultimately build schools, for children who’d been orphaned due to years of civil wars and AIDS.
“Have you heard of GoFundMe?” Schreck asked.
Serunjogi shook his head.
She jotted her name on a sticky and told him to contact her. “I can help set it up for you.”
Serunjogi didn’t hesitate, and they quickly initiated a campaign called Robert’s Orphanage, which Schreck said was “really easy” for her. Not that she was particularly versed in crowd funding, but as an American teen raised in Louisville, the internet was a familiar landscape for her, and his story compelled her to take action. “I mean, it hurt to hear it,” she says. “I realized I could go home and feel sad, or I could put in some work. It was such a small act: me sitting in my comfy bed starting a GoFundMe while he’s working as a custodian at night. How could I not do that?”
Their success came as quickly as it all began. Within three months, Robert’s Orphanage had raised far more than they imagined possible: $9,000. It was enough to fly Serunjogi to Uganda
with supplies and to begin work on a school building. Although Schreck didn’t know it at first, Serunjogi had been laying the groundwork for the project for more than a year, talking to people in the engineering department, sharing his goals, and collecting clothing and other supplies. So the online campaign was really the last piece of the puzzle. His contacts began making gifts—many as small as $5, but they really added up—and people posted about it on Facebook, which meant it started trickling out to the larger Fort Collins community. “All it took was the platform, and then everyone else built it up,” says Schreck.
Education for a child in Uganda can mean the difference between life and death. Serunjogi explains that when the civil war came through his village the first time in the 1980s, when he was 12 years old, people with an education were able to leave and look for work elsewhere. But those left behind had only their land, leaving them vulnerable. This cycle of tumult is ongoing.
As a man who’s had to overcome his own obstacles, including the loss of mobility from polio and the loss of his father in the civil war, Serunjogi plans to use the education he’s earned at CSU—a bachelor’s in political science and a forthcoming master’s in education—to return to his village, where he’ll continue to expand educational efforts. And it’s looking like he’ll have plenty of work to do. Over the last three years, Robert’s Orphanage has raised more than $41,000, which has resulted in the building of three schools that serve about 200 students in grades K-7. Children flock to classes; some walk five miles each day from neighboring villages to attend. In order to make the most efficient use of funds, the school buildings also contain dormitories for orphaned children, and they house clinics that provide immunizations and other essential health services. The community effort has mobilized men in the village to provide manual labor in exchange for meals, and women chip in by cooking.
As for Schreck’s long-term role in the project, she’s busy getting her master’s degree in health and exercise science, with plans to go to medical school. But even so, she allots about 10 hours per week for Robert’s Orphanage, and she plans to visit Uganda this summer for the first time, where she’ll bring out some supplies. So who knows? When a chance meeting leads to thousands of dollars in raised funds and three schools, it’s hard to predict what other doors might open. “Maybe I’ll help apply for 501(c)(3) status?” she says, shrugging. “If I can get through the mound of paperwork.”
To help, you can donate at gofundme.com/robertssecondphase.