Vail reaches out to Africa |

Vail reaches out to Africa

Nathan Rodriguez
Vail, CO Colorado
Special to the Daily

VAIL, Colorado “Last year, Vail Mountain School student Harper Kaufman went over to her friend’s house to watch a movie.

By the time she left, Kaufman was resolved to do something to stem the tide of violence she saw in “Invisible Children,” a documentary about Uganda.

“The overall feeling I got from the movie is what really propelled me to act,” Kaufman said, adding that she had worked with several nonprofits in the past, but this would be her first time in a leadership role.

“One scene in the movie that was particularly powerful was when the three filmmakers interviewed one of the children who began to cry and asked that we as viewers do not forget him.”

Uganda has been surrounded by misery for decades. Its neighbor to the north, Sudan, received attention over the last couple years for the atrocities committed in the Darfur region. To the west, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, civil war has claimed the lives of an unknown number of people, while 250,000 people have fled their homes since fighting erupted in August. The Los Angeles Times reported that 13,000 refugees from Congo crossed the border into Uganda in a 48-hour period last week.

In addition to conflict in Darfur and Congo, Uganda has had its own set of problems, with the brutal rule of Idi Amin catalogued in the movie, “The Last King of Scotland.” In recent years, a rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army, has massacred tens of thousands of civilians in northern Uganda, abducted about 20,000 children, and displaced about 1.6 million people.

Peace agreements have faltered, with the BBC reporting yesterday that a rebel leader refused to sign a peace agreement, arguing that doing so would endanger his own life.

Progress toward peace has been slow moving in Uganda, but back in Vail, Kaufman and a group of high school students have been doing their part to get things back on track.

She arranged for a free screening of “Invisible Children” for the entire school last February, and shortly after, Vail Mountain School became involved with the Schools for Schools program, which connects students in the United States with schools in northern Uganda, with the goal of raising funds and supplies to help rebuild schools ravaged by war.

Soon after, Battle Mountain High School was brought in to help. Last year, the school started a fundraiser to combat genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan, and students wanted to continue a similar effort this year. Sage Nelson, Student Council sponsor at Battle Mountain, said the connection between Darfur and Uganda was already there because many of the refugees from Sudan have resettled in Uganda.

Kaufman says the partnership will boost the effort.

“Working with Battle Mountain is great because it brings even more students together to unite over working toward education in Uganda,” she said. “I feel strongly that the youth of the valley will have a strong impact overseas and can make a difference in the lives of students just like us.”

Funds raised by Vail Mountain and Battle Mountain High Schools go to help rebuild Gulu High School in northern Uganda. Last March, with the help of 146 schools including Vail Mountain, Gulu was able to finish a dormitory for girls at the school. The group is now raising funds to improve the water and sanitation at the school, and have a little less than half of the nearly $80,000 needed.

Kaufman said the goal of Vail Mountain School is to raise $3,000 and 1,500 books for the cause. Along the way, she hopes to raise more than just money.

“Our mission not only includes raising funds and collecting books, but to raise awareness around the valley. We hope that our fundraisers will inspire people to learn more about the situation in Africa and its history and how to help.”

Kaufman said anyone who would like to donate books for Gulu’s library may drop off all gently used books at the Vail Library, the Frisco Library or at Vail Mountain School, and the Avon and Gypsum Libraries will soon have drop boxes as well.

Matt Earle, communications specialist for Eagle County schools, said that now the schools have selected the Gulu High School, it is up to the Vail students to come up with the money.

“It’s a great thing to see kids getting involved, and that they’re aware about what’s going on in the world,” he said. “It’s great to see them pull together and help those who are less fortunate.

Kaufman said more than two-dozen students are actively involved in Schools for Schools at Vail Mountain School, and to date, the group has raised over $2,000 and collected 500 books. She said the act of caring and getting involved benefits children in Uganda while enriching the lives of students in Vail.

“I’ve seen peers step up to take leadership roles that I believe they would not have otherwise taken,” she said. “Having an ongoing fundraiser like Schools for Schools empowers the student body to actively work to change the world and inspires them to think beyond our valley.”

Nathan Rodriguez may be reached at 970.748.2955 or at

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