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With N.Y. youth’s help, Uganda activists boost education

Frank Mugisha (right) with teachers at a Nsangi – Wakiso District school that received school supplies donated by Sexual Minorities Uganda. (Photo courtesy of SMUG)
Frank Mugisha (right) with teachers at a Nsangi – Wakiso District school. On behalf of Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), Mugisha donated 2,000 pencils to the school. (Photo courtesy of SMUG)
Robert Connolly and Frank Mugisha (Photo courtesy of Riverdale County School)
Robert Connolly and Frank Mugisha (Photo courtesy of Riverdale County School)

With help from a New York high school student, Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG) last month donated 2,000 pencils to a community school in central Uganda.

Dr. Frank Mugisha, executive director of SMUG, and Richard Lusimbo, the group’s research and documentation manager, presented the school supplies during an Oct. 16 visit to the school in the Nsangi-Wakiso District, about 25 kilometers west of Kampala, Uganda’s capital.

The donation was made possible by Robert Connolly, a high school student at Riverdale County School in the Bronx, New York.

Connolly’s contact with Mugisha began last year, when Connolly wrote an essay nominating Mugisha for an award that Riverdale County School presents each year to an outstanding humanitarian.  Mugisha was selected as the 2015 recipient of the school’s Jolli Humanitarian Award — one of several honors he has received for his LGBTI rights work, including the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award in 2011.

The youth said his interest in Mugisha and LGBTI rights in African countries was sparked by an encounter that his older brother had on a school-sponsored trip to Botswana, where he met members of an organization that helps young gay Botswanans who are a risk of anti-gay violence. “He was really moved by that,” Connolly said.

Robert Connolly poses in front of the Frank Mugisha building (Photo courtesy of Riverdale County School)
Robert Connolly poses in front of the Frank Mugisha building (Photo courtesy of Riverdale County School)

Mugisha accepted the humanitarian award during a visit to the school in March, where he also saw a classroom building that this year is named the Frank Mugisha building in his honor.

During this visit to the school, Mugisha praised Connolly’s efforts.

“This kind of gesture gives us hope,” Mugisha said. “It is very important when someone is struggling to know they have someone on their side.”

“Most of the LGBT persons cannot speak for themselves and that is why they need your voice,” he said. “They are very afraid. When you stand up for one person, you are the hero for one person. Robert Connolly is the hero today for the LGBT movement.”

After Mugisha’s visit, Connolly made preparations for the donation of the pencils.

Founded in 2004, SMUG works to protect and promote human rights for LGBTI Ugandans.  In addition, it supports efforts to improve society in other ways, the organization said. In a news article about the Oct. 16 donation, SMUG stated:

“While Dr Frank and Richard continue to advance for the rights of LGBTI persons in Uganda, they hold the plight of children and community at heart. They have been engaging in different societal causes aimed at creating change.

“They are planning activities that will be aimed at creating change in society like access to better learning equipment and a better environment for children to study. Handing over these pencils showed that even small things could create a big impact to the lives of children. Let us work towards building an enabling environment for children through better structures, playing space and materials for studying.”

Mugisha thanked Connolly for his work on the project and expressed his delight at the experience of visiting the Ugandan school. SMUG quoted Mugisha’s words on social media about the experience:

“Spent the afternoon with these angels, I am so amazed at how fast they can learn and read. [The donation] put a smile on their faces.”

Written by Colin Stewart

Colin Stewart is a 45-year journalism veteran living in Southern California. After his retirement from paid newspaper work in 2011, he launched Erasing 76 Crimes and helped with the Spirit of 76 campaign that assembled a multi-national team of 26 LGBTI rights activists to advocate for change during the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., in July 2012. He is the president of the St. Paul’s Foundation for International Reconciliation, which supports LGBTQ+ rights advocacy journalism, including the Erasing 76 Crimes news site and the African Human Rights Media Network. Contact him via Twitter @76crimes or by email at Mailing address: 21 Marseille, Laguna Niguel CA 92677 USA.


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