A late night at Boatwright Memorial Library usually means snuggling on couches with lattes and laptops, but for the members of Givology Spiders it means planning how to raise funds to keep a child in Uganda in school.
Givology Spiders, a new student organization, works directly with the Circle of Peace School in a suburb of Kampala and was founded by University of Richmond graduate student and library night manager, Joanita Senoga. The group hosts fundraisers throughout the year to raise money for students at the Circle of Peace School, all of whom are too impoverished to have access to education otherwise.
"It was my way to introduce the school to the world, so they know that the world is interested in them and they are not alone," said Senoga. "They're very excited to have someone who cares about them."
Senoga founded the Circle of Peace School in 1993, after she left her job at a different school in Uganda. At her former school, the headmaster would often come in and expel the students who could not pay their school fees. The children would leave the classroom crying, or often beg to clean bathrooms or wash dishes to stay in class. Senoga started hiding the students in bathrooms or closets until she was eventually caught.
"I didn't even wait for them to fire me," Senoga said. "And so I started to teach students from my parent's porch. So that's when I began teaching them, and then the classroom grew up to 25 and became a school."
Senoga left the country in 1996, entrusting the school to her sister and family, and leaving behind her two daughters in search of a better life for them. She found herself in Richmond in 1996, making money by cleaning a University of Richmond professor's house. He helped her return to school and she enrolled in the School of Continuing Studies, but she continued to invest her financial and emotional support in the Circle of Peace School.
Richmond professor's house. He helped her return to school and she enrolled in the School of Continuing Studies, but she continued to invest her financial and emotional support in the Circle of Peace School.
"I worked two jobs and I had to save money for me," Senoga said, "but I also had to send money for the school. They lived with what they could. Parents who were able to would give us stuff. So the school ran on basically love."
In 2001, Senoga was reunited with her two daughters - Jemi, who is 15, and Josie, who is 20 and a sophomore at Richmond. Joanita's work with Givology, and her continued dedication to the Circle of Peace School were inspired by her own parents, who prized education.
"My parents never really bought us presents," Senoga said. "But the one thing they said they will always do was pay for our school fees because education is not free in Uganda. They said that that's the gift they're giving us for life."
Senoga said she hoped to give the same gift of education to the children at the Circle of Peace School, which has expanded to 250 students in kindergarten through 8th grade. She and other members of the group enlisted the help of Givology - an online donation marketplace - and other students in order to raise awareness about the school.
Givology allows charitable organizations dedicated to education to market their causes directly to donors, providing them with fundraising ideas, blogs for volunteers and even $200 to get started. Visitors to the Web site can read short biographies about students at the Circle of Peace School and donate directly to a specific student, or even become their pen pals.
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"It's a good way to get active in fighting for education, which really is a fighting cause," said Eunice Kim, president of Givology Spiders. "And what's a better place to do it than at a well-funded, well-educated campus like Richmond?"
Givology Spiders has organized several fundraisers in past semesters, including a bake sale in the Tyler Haynes Commons and a banquet at which authentic Ugandan food was served, raising $600.
The group's next project is its biggest yet: raising $10,000 to relocate the school and build a new permanent structure for it. The members also hope to eventually expand the facilities with new classrooms, a library, a health clinic and more.
Thirty of the students are orphans, some of whose parents have died of AIDS, and the school currently houses them, two to a bed, in a dormitory. Givology Spiders hopes to raise enough funds to provide better housing, as well as continue to feed and care for the children.
Other groups on campus have also been inspired by the passion for education that Senoga and other Givology members share.
"Joanita came and spoke at a WILL meeting," said senior Abbe Horswill, "and we were all so touched by what she was doing that we donated $100."
Jenny Boylan, Mary Cate Walker, Missy Mendez and Laurie Guilmartin, all alumnae of Givology Spiders, visited the Circle of Peace School in Uganda in the summer of 2009, bringing books, clothing and school supplies, all of which are expensive and of poor quality if purchased in Uganda. Sarah Gordon, Westhampton College'08, will visit the school in March to work with students and staff as a liaison and volunteer.
Other members of Givology Spiders will spend the semester planning a variety of fundraisers, including a diamond raffle. A local jewelry store will donate a few items of jewelry, and tickets will be sold in the Tyler Haynes Commons until March 20.
Kim said they were always on the lookout for new members.
"The first step is to care," Kim said. "Just showing interest and spreading the word can do so much. Or saying, 'Hey, I'm going to donate this $20 that I made babysitting.' And to them, that's a lot."
Contact staff writer Maria Ribas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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