Visitor from Uganda helps connect students around the world

Ronnie stands in front of class talking to students.
“In terms of love, these are kids coming from a background of no love, no hope, nothing. So when students share some things that they may have in common, playing soccer, reading books, playing in the rain, all those kinds of things; it shows that someone in the world cares about them.”

Growing up on the streets of Uganda may seem like a completely different world for students at A.W. Becker. But on Sept. 27, A.W. Becker fifth-graders learned that, while kids halfway around the world may grow up in different circumstances, there are many similarities to kids in New York.

Ronnie Sseruyange, a former orphan living on the streets of Kampala, Uganda, visited the school in hopes of giving students an understanding of life in Africa and encouraging empathy among the students.

“I realize that when I talk to kids, they get a sense of what is life between here and Africa and they get a sense of respecting the life they live here,” Sseruyange said.

Sseruyange’s life was changed when Diane Reiner from Cohoes, NY met him 12 years ago. Sseruyange guided Reiner through Ugandan slums as she documented children living on the streets and the two developed a strong bond. Their shared concern for the lives of homeless children led to the formal creation of Jajja’s Kids, a nonprofit, all volunteer organization that supports a home and education for former street children in Kampala. Sseruyange leads the children’s home in Uganda and travels to create connections with kids around the world to create cultural awareness and increase understanding of commonalities and differences.

“We keep sharing, it’s the way to go,” Sseruyange said. “We learn a lot, the more we keep sharing.”

Sseruyange and Reiner try to connect the kids from across the world through something as simple as hand written letters, to technology-based methods such as Skype. Reiner says when students start sharing their life experience, they start to see things they have in common.

“To have that shared understanding of the commonalities and the differences, to me that is what it is for all of us,” Reiner said. “That’s the bottom line for me.”

When a student asked how they could help kids in Uganda, Sseruyange’s answer was simple. Write letters.

“When kids back home in my program get a letter from here, that develops a sense of trusted life, that there are kids of their age that care about them,” Sseruyange said. “In terms of love, these are kids coming from a background of no love, no hope, nothing. So when students share some things that they may have in common, playing soccer, reading books, playing in the rain, all those kinds of things; it shows that someone in the world cares about them.”

As part of their STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math) class, the A.W. Becker students will collaborate to create a book about American culture that Sseruyange will take back to the children in the Jajja’s Kids house. They will also try to hold Skype sessions with the kids in Kampala and create public service announcements that will teach others about the Jajja’s Kids program.