Fundraiser benefits Bethel Park woman’s efforts on behalf of Ugandans
Think of what you consider to be your typical college student. Then meet Lauren O’Brien.
The 23-year-old Bethel Park resident, who will graduate from the University of Pittsburgh in December, already has four years under her belt of running a nonprofit organization that helps women and children who live more than 7,000 miles away.
The east African nation of Uganda faces many of the same issues as other countries on the continent, such as governmental inefficiencies, relative economic stagnation and a need for better educational opportunities, especially for females.
Pauline Juliet Inc. – O’Brien and co-founder Henry Kiwanuka named the nonprofit after two girls who lost their parents to AIDS and were forced to drop out of school – is helping to address the latter in and around Kiboga, a town in Uganda’s Central Region.
“We just gave out 71 scholarships, which we’re really excited about,” O’Brien reported. “School is not free in Uganda. It’s pretty far from free, actually. An average price for a younger student would be about $200 a year” – a fair chunk of a typical family’s income – “but that grows with age. Also, there are uniform fees, class materials, and a lot of people have multiple children. So it’s really difficult.”
Another of the organization’s efforts is the Pauline Juliet’s Women Empowerment Association, which involves about 500 Kiboga-area residents.
“We work toward training the women in different skills, like farming and jewelry making. We plan to do some skill training when it comes to dulas, which would be birthing training,” O’Brien explained. “We also work with financials. We have a savings project now that has about 400 women involved, and we hope to turn that eventually into a small loans program.”
Along with her energy and passion for helping women and children, O’Brien’s efforts are bolstered by two major components.
As is the case with any 501(c)(3) nonprofit, one is fundraising. To benefit Pauline Juliet, a community flea market is scheduled from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 14 at St. David’s Episcopal Church, 905 E. McMurray Road, Peters Township. A similar event was a success at the same site last year.
Meanwhile, O’Brien can count on a strong core of volunteers in Uganda to help move projects forward, with Kiwanuka at the forefront: “He has been a huge part of making everything happen. He’s a really, really dedicated worker.”
At 25, he sometimes has fellow Kibogans wondering about his relative age as he embarks on various Pauline Juliet endeavors.
“Then a month or two goes by, and they see the product of what he was saying he was going to do,” O’Brien said. “And they’re like, OK, I want to get on board with this.”
As a Pitt freshman, she got on board doing work for various human-rights organizations and made friends with some people in Uganda.
“Through that, I started working with orphanages that were Ugandan-run,” she recalled. “Basically, I was raising money for scholarships. My goal was to eventually become nonprofit, maybe 10 years down the road. But my thought was, I can wait until I’m older, or I can just start today and work toward that goal every day.”
Call Lauren at 412-726-8985 or her mother, Susan, at 412-854-1338 for more information about the flea market, and visit www.facebook.com/PaulineJulietInc.