By Melanie Petrucci, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – The mission of St. Mary School in Shrewsbury is to “strive to be a community, united with God, dedicated to continuing growth in knowledge and faith, giving witness to Christ through love, worship, education and service…..We shall reach out to peoples within and beyond our faith community.” Since 2013, students in Ellen Ethier’s fifth-grade class have embodied this mission with their work to raise funds to sponsor students at an orphanage in Uganda.
Over the course of the year, the students raised $920, which was sent to Raising Up Hope for Uganda (RUHU), an organization that helps orphaned, abandoned, homeless and vulnerable children by providing shelter, clothing, medical, educational resources and spiritual guidance.
The students were inspired after hearing a presentation by Cecile Cote, former St. Mary media center specialist. Cecile’s daughter, Catherine, a St. Mary School alumna and Smith College student, volunteered at RUHU in 2012 through a study abroad program. Since then, it has become a Cote family passion.
According to Mary Cote, Catherine’s sister and St. Mary preschool teacher, “Catherine was
interested in researching the lives of street children in Kampala, Uganda. Due the nature of RUHU and their outreach, Catherine was paired with Patrick SSenyonjo, RUHU’s founder and director, and this blossoming project. During her four months abroad, Catherine bonded with the young men Patrick had taken in, learned more about life in Kampala, fell further in love with the culture, and returned home with every hope to return.”
Catherine had been to visit St. Mary School, Mary added, and presented the students with a slideshow of her experiences. Inspired, Ethier set to work on an ongoing class service project to sponsor the education of two RUHU children.
As part of the St. Mary’s commitment to service, students agreed to raise money for this organization as part of their class service project. Students raised funds by doing extra chores at home, giving up privileges, and participating in fundraisers including the making and selling of crafts. The funds helped to sponsor two students, Gavin, 10, and Aisha, 6, providing them with food, water and shelter as well as access to school to fulfill their education and spiritual needs.
“I want my students to know that even though Gavin and Aisha live in an orphanage without electricity and running water, they are happy children,” Ethier said. “They are Christians and they know that God loves them as does Patrick, their caregivers and sponsors. Gavin and Aisha always have a smile on their faces.”
In January 2014, Catherine again journeyed to Kampala, this time with her parents, Cecile and Jerry. They developed a close relationship with RUHU that included coordinating sponsorships and running the Etsy site where RUHU sells handmade beaded jewelry.
Last September, the Cote family brought Ssenyonjo to the U.S. where he spoke to St. Mary fifth-graders about the students they sponsor and life in Uganda. He thanked the students for their generous donations and shared stories detailing basic living conditions and simple meals of rice and beans, daily trips to the well for water and a classroom with a dirt floor and minimal supplies.
“I am so happy we can help the children who have so little, while we have so much,” said one student.”
This past summer, the whole Cote family (including Mary and family friends and fellow St. Mary parishioners) traveled to Uganda and Ssenyonjo will again visit St. Mary School in November.
To learn more about Raising up Hope for Uganda, visit www.raisinguphope.org.