Srour ('05) attends first day of school in Uganda

It has been a while since George Srour (’05) has had a first day of school, but he could not resist seeing his friends in Uganda one more time before heading home.

Just a few days before, Srour and his non-profit organization Building Tomorrow helped open a new three-story Learning Centre at Meeting Point Kampala, an orphanage in one of the poorest areas in Uganda’s largest city. For the past year and a half, Srour, with the help of the William and Mary community, spearheaded the effort to build the new school for the orphans, many of whom lost both parents to AIDS and are infected themselves.

“As you can imagine, they were really excited to get into their new classrooms,” Srour wrote by e-mail before flying home to the United States. Attached to the e-mail was a photo of dozens of smiling, young Ugandan faces waving to the camera. Behind the students, a blackboard displays the message, “Thank You William & Mary!”

“We can not believe this day has come,” Meeting Point Kampala Director Noelina Namukisa told an audience, which included United States Ambassador to Uganda Steven Browning, as well as the Vatican's representative to Uganda, during a celebration April 29. “This was once just a dream, and now it is a reality, right in front of us.”

The dream started 16 months earlier when Srour and his William and Mary classmates surprised the orphanage with a check for $45,000 they had raised to build a new school and provide its nearly 700 students with new school supplies. Srour first met the children in 2004 during an internship with the United Nations World Food Programme. Many of the Meeting Point children come from northern Uganda, where they were able to escape abduction by gorilla groups; others were just left on the streets.

During that initial visit in the summer of 2004, the schoolmaster told Srour that they wanted to raise about $8,000 to replace the current school, a one-room building made mostly of bamboo. Srour returned to William and Mary that fall and started “Christmas in Kampala,” a fund-raiser for a new school. The project took off and, within six weeks, the William and Mary students had raised four times the amount needed for a new school.

During the opening celebration last week, Browning, the U.S. ambassador, told a crowd of more than 450 people that the new school building is a strong example of how people in the United States are connected to the people of Uganda.

“I am delighted to know that American college students saved money and devoted their time and energies to this worthwhile cause,” Browning said.

In addition to the 700 students, Srour said, Meeting Point Kampala serves approximately 4,000 individuals in the Namuwongo area with programs in microfinance, AIDS awareness and outreach, and home-based counseling. The new school provides the children with several classrooms and a community hall for performances.

Srour said his work in Uganda is not over with the opening of the new school. Since Srour graduated a year ago, Christmas in Kampala has blossomed into Building Tomorrow, a national nonprofit organization based in his hometown of Indianapolis. The organization is starting student chapters at college campuses across the United States in an effort to raise awareness and funds to support the educational system and the vulnerable children who live in and around Kampala, Srour said.

“Building Tomorrow is now a student group on the William and Mary campus, and they’ve embarked on raising money to build our second school,” Srour said. “Thus far, their efforts have been met with considerable success.”