BULA: Gifts That Create A School for Ugandan Kids

Last Christmas, my sweet little cousin Lucie gave me a brightly colored, beaded bracelet with matching earrings.The earrings were hanging on a jewelry tree, and the entire gift was captivating. No wrapping necessary, just Lucie’s smiling face holding a tree adorned with this unique beaded jewelry. It was so beautiful, so organic and very special. I would soon realize that the pieces of jewelry had so much more meaning to them than met my eyes. My Aunt’s purchase of the jewelry, on behalf of little Lucie, gave back in more ways than one. A portion of the profits went to a charming non-profit called BULA. I’d also eventually meet its founder, Melissa Fricke, an inspiring young woman whom I now call my friend.

BULA (Better Understanding Life in Africa) secures brighter futures for African children living in poverty. Melissa and her organization build educational facilities and improve materials and training, with the ultimate goal of creating more opportunities for the children. Since its inception, BULA has successfully completed the construction of St. Kizito Primary School in Uganda, and it continues to support the school with structural and material needs. The BULA team is already well underway with its next project, a school located just a few kilometers away from the first project. The plans are currently being developed by Tom Harrison and a team of students at London Metropolitan University.

BULA has been Melissa’s baby from the get-go, and the young gal’s accomplished quite a lot for her age. She just turned 26! Melissa conceived the idea while she was working as a volunteer in an orphanage in Uganda shortly after college graduation. One day, Melissa walked past what seemed to be an abandoned building held together with scraps of wood and a leaky roof. The dirt floors turned muddy when it rained and there was no running water, electricity, windows or doors. Melissa later found out that it was the local school.

The Old School

Melissa witnessed the children carrying benches back and forth on their heads from a nearby church each day just so they could sit during school. Suffice to say, there were no desks or books. And when it rained, the young children huddled inside the school in certain areas to try to avoid the water falling through the roof. Reading this is enough to get anyone choked up, but witnessing this first-hand, inspired Melissa to change the lives of these children.

Ugandan schools aren’t rebuilt in a day, though, and Melissa, along with her supportive family and friends, have worked tirelessly over the past few years to raise enough money to fund these projects and bring her idea to fruition. I’m not talking about gala and black-tie fundraisers in Manhattan, by the way. I’m talking about really cool grassroots, community-focused fund-raising in Melissa’s hometown of Bayport-Blue Point, Long Island. BULA’s past fundraisers include backyard cocktail parties, 5K benefit runs at the Blue Point Brewery, cookbook sales, yard sales and even dodgeball tournaments.

When you speak with Melissa, she’s quick to attribute BULA’s success to her loyal and loving supporters. Her graciousness and her warmth are disarming, and when you meet her, you know that she’s the sort of person you want to befriend and help.

Now, just like Lucie, you can help BULA continue to better the lives of impoverished children in Uganda and give a meaningful gift to a loved one. BULA has teamed up with Ki Kati, a fair-trade, recycled- bag and paper-bead jewelry company made by industrious Ugandan women. With every purchase on BULA’s site, 30 percent of sales go right back to BULA.

The Ugandan women who hand-make the jewelry and bags are given an opportunity to make a fair, livable wage and provide for their families. The vibrantly colored bags are made with fabric, linings, zip and buttons from markets in Kampala, Uganda to further support the local economy. They’re bold and beautiful but casual enough to wear as an everyday bag. They also could easily be used for the beach, gym or even a reusable shopping bag. The jewelry is strikingly unique and eco-sound, as well. Each necklace, bracelet and pair of earrings is created with strips of colorful, re-used magazine paper. These gorgeous pieces would be a perfect stocking stuffer, or you could even use your BULA bag as gift wrapping and fill it with BULA jewelry and other thoughtful gifts for your loved ones.

BULA gift ideas don’t end there. You can give the gift of education — along with your jewelry and bag or as a stand-alone gift — this holiday season and make a donation in honor of a friend, family member or colleague. BULA will be glad to send the card directly to you or to the recipient, per your request. Just $20 will help BULA purchase 100 bricks to build the aforementioned new school, while $50 equates to an entire year of Primary School for a Ugandan child and $100 will purchase 5 desks for their new school! You could even make a donation yourself, and let all of the people receiving your holiday cards this season know that you’ve made a donation to BULA in their behalf.

It can be easy to forget just how fortunate we are. Our everyday concerns, petty arguments and struggles can consume us on a daily basis. But if we can step away and look at the bigger picture, we might see that they’re merely trivial matters. We shower and drink with clean water. We send our children to schools with cement floors, desks and electricity. We sleep in cozy beds, read news on personal computers and have the opportunity to eat three meals a day. Maybe life isn’t so tough, after all.

So, during this beautiful holiday season and time of great excess, I ask that you give some more thought into your holiday gifts and purchase a gift from BULA that will keep on giving.

Please “like” BULA’s fan page on Facebook. There you can keep abreast on all of BULA’s great work.

Lindsay has spent her career at the intersection of media and social change. In her role at Eco-Chick, Lindsay has established partnerships and campaigns with some of the world’s most-recognized companies committed to sustainability and CSR. She co-created the popular interview series “Heroines for the Planet” that features groundbreaking women who share courage and a deep passion for protecting people and the Earth. Lindsay is the Marketing and Sustainability Manager at Health-Ade Kombucha and previously served as Director of Communications at the social enterprise CBS EcoMedia. There she directed corporate advertising dollars to the nation’s most effective non-profits tackling urgent social issues in local communities and was awarded CBS Corporation’s prestigious Share-the-Vision award. She has written for Whole Living Magazine, Edible, Cottages & Gardens, From The Grapevine, EarthHour.org, Eco-Age.com, and for environmentalists Laura Turner Seydel and Susan Rockefeller. Lindsay holds a BS in Global Business Studies and Marketing from Manhattan College, and received the 2012 Honors Award at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.