An AIDS orphan in Uganda, Makumbi Deogratius never dreamed that he would someday be an electrical engineering student in Muteesa I Royal University. But then he became involved in SEED, one of three initial projects created by Dr. Fred Ssewamala, a professor at the Columbia University School of Social Work.

“I got to know the value of education of which today I feel my life is shaped,” Deogratius says.

This weekend, Dr. Ssewamala celebrates the launch of his latest educational project targeting orphaned Ugandan youth, "Bridges to the Future." The project was recently awarded a multi-million dollar grant from the National Institutes of Health.

At the launch event, to take place on Saturday, September 29th, at the Kimaanya Parish Grounds in Masaka Town, more than 1,000 primary school orphans will open their own savings accounts, each starting with anywhere between USh25,000-50,000 initial deposit. Their accounts will be hosted by three local banks: DFCU Bank, Kakuuto Microfinance, and Centenary Rural Development Bank.

“This is the most exciting time in our study. It’s when the real intervention begins, and the children can start saving in earnest,” says Dr. Ssewamala, adding that it would hardly have been a success without the project's long-time financial partners.

H.E.Edward Ssekandi, Vice President of Uganda, will be in attendance, along with several other ministers including Major General Alupo, the Minister of Education and Sports, and Caroline Okao Amali, the Minister for Microfinance. The Dean of Columbia University School of Social Work, Jeanette Takamura, will also attend. Participating primary schools from Masaka and Rakai Districts are to perform traditional songs and dances.

“Bridges to the Future” is the culmination of Dr. Ssewamala's work in the Masaka region for the past nine years. His previous studies — SEED, Suubi-Uganda, and Suubi-Maka — showed successful results, which have been published in the American Journal of Public Health, Social Science and Medicine, and the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Rev. Fr. Joseph Kato Bakulu of the Diocese of Masaka, who has worked hand in hand with Dr. Ssewamala to implement the various studies in the local community, sums up the progress made thus far: “I personally saw children who appeared to be poor and yet saved, demystifying the saying that Africans are too poor to save. In this case, they saved for noble causes, i.e., education and starting up small businesses.”

In addition to the account opening launch event, Dr. Ssewamala, his research team, and their research collaborators–the Diocese of Masaka and Reach the Youth-Uganda–will be distributing new textbooks. The textbooks are part of the educational package that participants in "Bridges to the Future" receive. Other benefits include mentorship by recent graduates from the earlier research programs that Dr. Ssewamala has conducted in the area; guidance and counseling by religious leaders; and payment for school lunches, school uniforms, and exercise books.

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