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SK students meet with Ugandan VP

Click here to see a slideshow of SKHS's trip to Uganda.

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Hidden away from from the lime-light, away from television news and the state of Washington’s highest VIPs, a small group of people met with Ugandan Vice President Gilbert Balibaseka Bukenya at the offices of Laplink in Bellevue.

The governor wasn’t there, neither were any other local officials. But a number of South Kitsap High School students and educators were, including instructors Chance Gower, Sean and Cathy Duttry, and SK alum Janice Laureano.

They were just a few of the South Kitsap residents who have taken several trips across the Atlantic Ocean to install computers in Ugandan public and private schools, through a program called Computers for Uganda.

The reception was scheduled so the local organizations that help with Computers for Uganda, including Laplink, Microsoft and the schools, can socialize with Bukenya and other Ugandan dignitaries away from his busy political schedule.

The program connects high school technology students from South Kitsap, Forest Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bellevue, and Mount Si High School in Snoqualmie, with educators and students in Uganda who need computers.

The students collect donated computers through local agencies, such as the Rotary Club and Kiwanis International, refurbish the computers and then ship them to Uganda. Students then fly out to the country to help install the computers, and train the students and teachers that use them.

Since the organization’s first trek to Uganda in 2003, the high schoolers have brought 400 computers to 30 secondary and primary schools, according to the groups Web site, www.computersforuganda.org.

The Washington students upped the ante this year, designing a refurbishing center in Uganda. The new facility helps provide even more computers to the country and creates technical jobs for those with computer skills.

Bukenya addressed the group informally, standing in the middle of Laplink’s lobby, surrounded on all sides by students and adults from the two countries, and lauded the technological achievements in American schools.

“They no longer need text books, they no longer need paper,” Bukenya said of American students.

Uganda is gaining ground with its efforts, thanks in part to the students in Washington.

“We have embarked on a very ambitious program ... the computers have changed what the teachers used to do,” he said. “My kids have moved away from nothing to something dramatic.”

SK alum Laureano, 18, now living in Milton and studying at Devry University in Federal Way, said knowing the vice president, and having met him now several times over, is an honor.

The visit to Uganda is life changing for everyone involved, from Laureano to the adult educators overseeing the trip.

Laureano noted the vast differences in poverty between the United States and Uganda, citing what she called “poverty that we can’t even know.”

Director of Career and Technical Education Dr. Thomas Mosby noted with pride the influence and impact South Kitsap students and educators have on a country more than 8,000 miles away.

“They’ve impacted a country,” he said. “I don’t think people understand the magnitude of the impact these students have on that country.”

Gower and Mosby are still working out South Kitsap’s future involvement with the program.

The computer program in Uganda is now self-sustaining with a brand-new facility to collect, refurbish and distribute computers to area schools.

“I think much of that mission we’ve accomplished,” Mosby said.

South Kitsap could stay involved by providing computer training to Ugandan educators, Gower said, or could look into other areas of the world in need of support.

Whatever happens, Gower said this continuing program is and indicator of South Kitsap’s technology education.

“South Kitsap produces a lot of kids with great skill sets,” Gower said. “We try to put it on a national level and international level.”

For more information on the program, visit www.computersforuganda.org.

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