For 15-year-old Brian Hickey, the best birthday gift is not a new video game, DVD or even cash. In fact, the only birthday presents he wanted this year were school supplies for children in Uganda.
Hickey asked his more than 15 guests to each bring a school supply to his Loudonville home during his Mardi Gras themed murder mystery birthday party on Saturday, Feb. 28.
According to his mother, Elaine Pers Hickey, the party, and the gifts were his idea, and in addition to the school supplies donation, Brian Hickey will also donate $100 of his own money to sponsor an Ugandan child as part of the Engeye program, which helps children in Uganda attend school.
Pers Hickey serves as co-coordinator for the Engeye Scholars Program, a program that she became involved with last year, in which sponsors give money to help fund the education of students in the African country of Uganda.
Theresa Weinman, administrative coordinator for the Department of Family and Community Medicine at Albany Medical College and a member of Engeye of Glenmont, said Engeye began with Susan Nabukenya, an Ugandan girl who suffered from burn damage that covered most of her body.
Weinman said the burns had come from an accident when Nabukenya had spilled kerosene on her dress while helping her mother cook.
A medical team that Weinman knows through work sponsored a project to bring Nabukenya to the United States in May 18 and have doctors in Albany treat her burns.
After Nabukenya was treated, the group decided to take their efforts one step further.
She had not gone to school, said Weinman. `We didn’t want to send her back to Africa healed, but really with no future.`
So, the group began asking for donations to help fund Nabukenya’s education. They needed $800 per year to send Nabukenya to school and began asking people to help.
Weinman said the group asked for $100 donations, with only eight people needed to make up the amount, but many more came forward, asking how they could help.
`Even in these economic times, I had 25 people who wanted to help send people to school,` she said.
It was then that Engeye grew, continuing to sponsor many children living in the same village as Nabukenya.
Weinman said the program has successfully sponsored seven children this year.
The group of children being sponsored in Uganda are part of what Engeye calls a `scholar team,` and are hand-picked by Engeye’s members when the members visit Uganda and decide which children most need an education.
While Weinman said she never expected the program to grow as big as it already has, what is most surprising about the sponsors in the program is where they come from, and how old they are.
Robert Weinman, Theresa’s 16-year-old son, sponsors a 5-year-old in Uganda.
`He came to me and said, ‘I want to sponsor a child,’ and that was really amazing,` said Weinman, who said that it is great that her teenage son, who is saving money for `a lot of other things,` could sponsor a child in Uganda for $100 a year.
According to Pers Hickey, Weinman’s son inspired her two sons, Brian, and Greg, 13, to sponsor children in Uganda with their own money. But Brian, a Shaker High School student, took his involvement one step further, she said.
`Brian Hickey developed a Web site for the running programs at Shaker,` Hickey said. `So, he’s been doing that Web site, and we were talking about this scholar team and he said, ‘Well, I’ll put up a Web site for you.’` For information about becoming a sponsor, visit www.engeye.com.“