By Ania Bessonov
Preparing for high school, spending time with friends and avoiding homework are the typical concerns of an eighth-grader. However, for one student, Grade 8 was the year when the roots of what would later become a successful international initiative began to grow.
Andy Tan, a fourth-year nursing student, established the Run 4 Righteousness (R4R) grassroots organization in 2015 to help allocate resources to communities in Uganda affected by social injustices and inequity.
Every year, the organization hosts a run at High Park to fundraise money to address the needs of specific areas, including the Pader District of Northern Uganda.
“It happens too often where, as Canadians, we have a paternalistic view and we impose our power on others but in this case I didn’t want that. I wanted them to tell us what they need so that we can help them out,” said Tan.
The student-led initiative is made up of six other fourth-year nursing students: Jinal Patel, Karen Owusu, Jovana Miholjcic, Rachel Wong, Megan Lin and Niko Francis.
In the first year of the initiative in 2015, forty people participated in their fundraiser. That number nearly doubled last year to nearly 80 people.
The organization surpassed their 2016 goal and raised a total of $2,000. In order to ensure the money raised is being used responsibly, Tan sends the funds to Emmanuel International Canada, a non-profit, evangelical, Christian relief organization that assists local churches in developing countries.
In 2015, they raised enough funds to purchase a projector for the Lagwai Cseed Secondary School in Pader, Uganda.
“At that moment in time, they lacked a resource so that they could share knowledge with a large group of … maybe 50 to 70 students, and all they were using was a board, so it was hard to teach,” said Tan.
With the donation of the projector, teachers at Lagwai Cseed Secondary were able to effectively reach more students in the classroom. The portability of the projector also allowed the public to utilize the equipment in church services and other local institutions outside.
R4R also provided access to reusable pads and underwear to over 400 girls as a sustainable means of managing their menstrual hygiene.
Tan reaches out to Mike and Marianne Godden, teachers at the school and workers for Emmanuel International Canada, who send pictures from Pader as evidence of the resources R4R provides.
All of this started when Tan’s eighth-grade teacher, Kevin Sebastian, exposed his students to some of the social injustices that exist in Uganda.
“My teacher introduced the conflicts that were occurring in Uganda with the civil war between the [Lord’s Resistance Army] and the government and that was just really tough to learn at such a young age,” said Tan.
According to Invisible Children, an advocacy organization, the Lord’s Resistance Army began as a rebellion against Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and his oppression of Northern Uganda. However, as the movement lost support, it turned into a rebel group, led by Joseph Koney, who abducted children for its army.
Tan said this was a story he could never forget because he kept thinking about the kids his age who were being abducted as child soldiers.
“I felt as if their childhood was taken,” he said.
Tan said he used his privilege to act on his social responsibility to help children affected in the region.
He is aiming to raise $2,500-$3,000 in 2018. He said he hopes to inspire other students to start their own initiative and make a global impact.
“I think that people are fearful of taking on such big projects and … issues within our global community but I want to set an example for them that it is possible,” he said. “We are able to take the right steps in [creating] the future that we want to see.”
With files from Nicole Brumley.