Kristopher Anthony Klein ’12, of El Paso, Texas, has been awarded funding for the Kathryn Wasserman Davis 100 Projects for Peace program for his project to build classrooms for children in Uganda.
“HIV/AIDS. Malaria. Starvation. Malnutrition. Abduction. These words are synonymous with the Acholi experience,” says Klein, referring to an ethnic group in Northern Uganda, an area commonly referred to as Acholiland.
Klein speaks from experience. He spent a summer in the area’s Gulu district in 2009 to help teach English and promote HIV/AIDS awareness to young children on a Preston Public Interest Career Fund Grant coordinated through Bowdoin Career Planning.
“When I first arrived, I witnessed an enduring perseverance for hope and a tolerance to live life in harsh conditions,” says Klein. “For the ten weeks I worked as a teacher, my students were not afforded chairs, proper desks, clean floors or roofs in their classrooms.”
Klein was volunteering at Youth Vision Uganda, a nonprofit founded in 2007 by Pat Robert Larubi, who was abducted at age 12 by the Lord’s Resistance Army, according to Klein. Larubi was able to escape 18 months later, and now as a young man runs Youth Vision Uganda to provide early education to impoverished children, many of whom have been orphaned by the war or AIDS, or who have been born infected with HIV, another war casualty.
Dighton Spooner, associate director of career planning at Bowdoin, advised Klein during the grant-writing process. He pointed out how remarkable Klein’s continuing relationship with Youth Vision has been. “Kris has held the project and the people very close,” Spooner says. “With the Davis grant, he can take his work there to a new level.”
Since leaving Uganda in September 2009, Klein has stayed in touch with Larubi and also coordinated volunteers for Youth Vision from abroad. Beyond that, Klein says he has held onto the ultimate goal of gathering enough funds to build functional classrooms — places where the children could learn and thrive.
“Classrooms are the earliest places of sanctuary for students to communicate ideas and learn about the world beyond their eyes,” says Klein.
Currently the students go to school in classrooms with no roof or floor, and with flimsy walls of brick and cement that fall apart quickly, Klein says. The hot sun beats down on them, and heavy rains force them to shelter in the corners. And when they kneel on the ground to take their tests, their knees become scraped and raw.
But even these conditions at Youth Vision’s school are better than the ones at home, Klein says, where some students may not get enough to eat or are treated as burdens by the family members who are still alive and well enough to take care of them.
“The lives of my students and their parents have been transformed due to the effects of a three-decade war,” says Klein. “This project is symbolic in its mission to shelter, promote and continue peace through education, as classrooms are integral to the educational experience.”
Klein will use roughly half of the $10,000 Davis grant to build a four-room school with help from a local Ugandan contractor, and put any leftover funds into a scholarship to pay for school tuition for bright students.
After he finishes the project in Uganda, Klein says he will attend graduate school. “My hope is to continue learning about the role of education in the rehabilitation of identity and health and carry those experiences into grad school next year where I will begin to pursue a Ph.D. in borderland history,” he says. Klein in his sophomore year received a two-year Mellon Mays undergraduate fellowship, which supports promising future scholars who can broaden the intellectual and cultural diversity of university and college faculties.
Philanthropist Kathryn Wasserman Davis, on the occasion of her 100th birthday, established the Davis Projects for Peace grants with a donation of one million dollars so that each of the projects will receive $10,000. Its objective is to encourage and support motivated youth to create and implement their ideas for building peace throughout the world in the 21st century.
Since 2007, eight Bowdoin students have received the grant, helping them accomplish projects in China, Ghana, Peru and Pakistan.