New Central Illinois nonprofit brings Education Opportunities to Uganda

By | April 5, 2022

St. Patrick Nursery and Primary School in Uganda is far from Central Illinois, but the school’s existence and growth has deep roots in the Bloomington-Normal and Peoria areas.

St. Patrick was founded by the Rev. Julius Turyatoranwa, a Roman Catholic priest from Uganda who holds master’s and doctorate degrees in Educational Administration from Illinois State University. The school is supported by nonprofit Building Hope in Kids – Uganda (BHIKU), which is led by people from Central Illinois.

Providing high-quality educational opportunities for the children in Isingiro District in Uganda is important to help them build intergenerational wealth, said John Grillot, the nonprofit’s president.

“If something doesn’t happen, these children will live the same lives as their parents, their grandparents and their great-grandparents,” he said.

Fundraising for the school started in 2016, Grillot said. At the time, Turyatoranwa was studying for his doctorate at ISU while also serving as a priest in Central Illinois. In his time in the U.S., he served parishes in Bloomington, Morton and Washington. He continues to serve parishes in Uganda now, Grillot said, along with working with the school.

BHIKU’s financial records show the vast majority of the funds donated are passed on to St. Patrick, with around $11,300 going to administrative costs in 2020, out of the $672,000 donated. The support for the school includes more than 200 full scholarships, which are around $600 a year.

This is possible because the nonprofit administration does not rent office space and is made up of volunteers, Grillot said. The main administrative expense is accounting services.

BHIKU has raised more than $2 million, from around 1,300 individual donors, he said.

Turyatoranwa returned to Uganda at the end of 2017 and over the next thirteen months, got St. Patrick off the ground. There were a little over 300 students at the start of 2019, and with the dorms still under construction, they slept in the classroom building, Grillot said. The Ugandan school year starts in February.

The Ugandan government closed all schools in the country in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That second year, more than 520 students were enrolled, but they had to return home, along with the teachers.

Many private schools in Uganda are dependent on tuition and ended up closing over the pandemic, Grillot said. BHIKU was able to support St. Patrick and not only make sure it had the funds to reopen but to support the teachers during the pandemic as well.

“It was the right thing to do; they’re our teachers, they’re part of the family,” Grillot said.

When schools were allowed to reopen in January this year, the board was not sure what would happen.

“We didn’t know what we could expect,” Grillot said.

The school had to turn students away this year, enrolling 800 students, he said.

The students have also been successful, building the reputation of the school. In its district of more than 100 schools, it is ranked second based on student test scores. Its first graduating class of 25 students had 20 students score in the top 10% of students nationwide, with the others not far behind.

St. Patrick has also been growing physically. There are girls and boys dormitories now, along with residence buildings for the teachers. The latest construction was the 1,000-seat St. Francis Auditorium, which serves as both an event space and a place for the school to celebrate Mass.

The school is now in the process of buying some adjoining land, which it plans to use for sports fields.

Illinois Wesleyan University senior Alessia Girardin has been helping BHIKU since last fall.

She got involved through a public relations class that required her to work with a nonprofit and help with their communications, she said.

She heard Turyatoranwa speak at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Bloomington when he was in the U.S. to visit last summer and fall.

“I was immediately captivated,” she said.

Girardin organized an event on the IWU campus last fall and is planning one for ISU later this month. She hopes these events can at least help the students know more about the nonprofit and school, even if it does not always lead them to donate or get involved.

“Start with awareness and then action is what we’re hoping to get once we raise enough awareness,” she said.