All she wants for Christmas is school

Jenny Benson is the president of The Aninga Project, an organization based in Halifax that helps girls in Uganda. Benson took some time over the weekend to put together the post below about how to support The Aninga Project this holiday season.

Special thanks to Benson and The Aninga Project for investing in this piece below. Most importantly, thanks to them for investing in education for all.

Happy holidays!

Do you remember what it was like to REALLY want something that you could not give yourself? For your birthday, for Christmas, for Hanukkah or any occasion where there is anticipation of receiving a special gift? That amazing toy, or game, or jeans, or those shoes that you had been eyeing for months? You wanted it so badly that you had begged your parents, wrote to Santa and perhaps even consulted with a higher power. By the time the eve of the big day arrived, you could hardly control yourself!

Can you imagine if that thing you wanted so badly was to be able to go to school? There are so many girls around the world who wish to go to school not just on special occasions, but always. It is their everyday longing. It is those wishes that The Aninga Project would like to grant for girls living in Uganda.

The Aninga Project is a non-profit educational initiative that supports and encourages the education of girls in Uganda by paying for school fees and other related expenses. We are a registered Canadian charity and Ugandan NGO. We are also proof that it is possible for a few passionate individuals to take an idea and, through hard work, make a significant difference in the world.

Aninga and I from the first time we met in 2009. Courtesy of Jenny Benson.
Aninga and I from the first time we met in 2009. Courtesy of Jenny Benson.

Our organization is rooted in friendship. In 2006, my family became friends with a young Zimbabwean woman whom we met through her participation in the 2006 International AIDS Conference in Toronto. When our friend, Constance, settled in Uganda with her Ugandan husband, Dr. Asiki, we asked if we could work together at a grass roots level to create educational opportunities for young women.

As a result, we began supporting Aninga. We sent money from Canada to be disbursed by Constance for school fees and other necessities. Aninga’s village in northern Uganda is close to both Sudan and The Democratic Republic of Congo; a dangerous area with little infrastructure. Educational opportunities are scarce; for females, virtually non-existent.

To maintain Aninga in a safer location we paid for school fees, transportation, boarding fees, uniforms, school supplies and other daily necessities. Having grown up in North Toronto it was hard for me to believe that all these expenses totalled only $35 CAD per month.

When I finished my Master’s Degree in Social Anthropology at Dalhousie University in 2009, I travelled to Uganda to visit with Constance and Dr. Asiki and meet Aninga. For a country plagued with so many problems – from Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) to a generation missing as a result of HIV/AIDS – I was taken aback by the beauty of the country and the people that I met.

The few days that I got to spend with Aninga were so informative. Our conversations lead me to believe that we had found a way to make a difference in a place where life is extremely difficult and hope is hard to come by. I came back to Canada with a renewed sense of determination and a strong belief that funding education for females was a right thing to do.

I returned from Uganda at the end of August, 2009 and by that Christmas I had raised enough money to send five girls to school and, with the help of the law firm of McInnes Cooper, filed our paperwork for incorporation. Over the next two years we raised enough money to provide ongoing support to seven girls in school and we became a registered Canadian charity. In June 2011, I returned to Uganda. Our Ugandan Marketing and Communication Director, Edron, and I went on a gruelling cross-country road trip which allowed us to visit with all seven girls whom we were supporting at that time, and their teachers, at their five different schools.

Aninga with her little sister who she sends to school with the pocket money we provide her. Courtesy of Jenny Benson.
Aninga with her little sister who she sends to school with the pocket money we provide her. Courtesy of Jenny Benson.

These visits taught me so much. I learned things such things as Aninga had been using the small amount of pocket money we provided her each term to send her younger sister to school. It was also brought to my attention that while most of the girls who we support are the first in their families to attend high school, their younger siblings subsequently were attending school.

I also conducted a series of ethnographic interviews with principals, teachers, community leaders and District Commissioners providing insight into the remarkable impact of our work.

The Ugandans I interviewed believe that The Aninga Project is doing meaningful work and that our educating females contributes to attaining objectives for change in their society: Reduction of poverty, lower rates of HIV/AIDS and a higher quality of life in general. They emphasized that our support and its impact change the way that communities think about the importance of education, particularly when it comes to girls.

That trip provided further motivation and inspiration. The Aninga Project became a registered Ugandan NGO and we took our fundraising game to the next level. For the 2014 school year, we are proud and excited to say that we are supporting 13 girls. Eleven girls are in grade school, while Aninga and her best friend Viola are in their second year at university, studying to become teachers.

Me with some of the girls we send to school in Koboko District. Courtesy of Jenny Benson.

Over the holidays, the girls whom we support will be back in their villages for a few weeks, taking care of younger siblings and tending to crops. Some will have to cross borders into Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo to fulfill familial obligations. Many will be worried about finding enough food for their families. Without the support and generosity of our donors, this would be life for them on a good day. They would also face the daily risks of rape and kidnapping and would be considered ready for marriage shortly after their ninth birthday.

Since our first Holiday Hope Campaign in 2009, this annual campaign has raised over $15,000 to ensure that girls in Northern Uganda have the opportunity to go to school and the support needed for success. We have also been changing the perception of girls in Northern Uganda from commodities to intelligent individuals who can contribute more to their families and communities if they go to school. Any contribution to our Holiday Hope Campaign makes a positive difference; it helps a girl’s everyday longing become reality.

By: Jenny Benson.

For more information about The Aninga Project and how to give or get involved, visit their website, e-mail Benson or call the organization at 902-446-6974. Interested in making a donation right now? Click here. Donations in the name of loved ones always make great last minute gifts.


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