Martha Birawba has always been a go-getter: from her leadership on Sister Schools' 2008 Ssuubi Tour, to her dedication to her education despite the obstacles, and now to her acceptance to the Dental Surgery Program at one of Africa's premiere institutions, Makerere University in Kampala.
Read on to hear her story and learn how she plans to pay it forward.
Where It All Began
Terry’s favorite part of Sister Schools has always been the return presentations. A close second is the travel opportunities Sister Schools provides for both U.S. and Ugandan students. It’s especially rewarding to bring Ugandan children to Seattle so local students and teachers can interact with them directly.
The 2008 Ssuubi Tour was composed of 12 and 13-year-old students who were not only amazing dancers, singers, and musicians, but also outstanding ambassadors for their schools and country. Martha Birabwa was a leader of that tour. She was smart, articulate, and always spoke from the heart. She also had an incredible thirst for knowledge and a drive to excel.
One memory of Martha has stuck with Terry through the years: “I’ll never forget when I arrived to pick the team up at Harbor Pointe Middle School in Mukilteo. When Martha saw me from a balcony, she rushed down the stairs to share her exciting news: They had attended a math class and knew everything the U.S. kids were studying!”
As Martha put it, “We’re learning the same math they are!”
The Scholarship Program Is Born
The Ugandan students were so impressive that at the end of the tour, several host families chose to sponsor their secondary school education and our scholarship program was born. Every student from the 2007 and 2008 student tours was sponsored and completed six years of secondary school, the equivalent of our high school degree. Most of them went on to complete further training for specialty degrees or attended college.
Sponsor families gave the Ssuubi kids an educational opportunity that most Ugandan children don’t get. According to Michael Fardella, one of Martha’s sponsors and the President of the Board during the launch of the scholarship program, you can see the difference the Ssuubi Tour made in the students over the years: there is motivation in them to be the best they can be.
Michael believes that the scholarship program was one of the best and most important gifts we could give to children in Uganda. “It allows the child to dream and think of a better future with more possibilities. It also allows them to mature, gain confidence, and potentially make better decisions about their lives. While not a guarantee of future success, it places them in a better position than having to find a job or work in the fields at thirteen,” he said.
Martha can attest: “Sister Schools has helped me realize my dream . . . it brought hope in my life.” She had dreams of being a medical doctor, but circumstances at home left her with no hope of continuing on to secondary school.
Then she became part of the Gaughran and Fardella families during the Ssuubi Tour. Even as she continued to face challenges throughout her school years, “Sister Schools had hope in me. They never abandoned me at any point. I am forever grateful.”
Paying It Forward
When Martha didn’t get into her ideal bachelor’s program, she thought she had reached the end of her schooling. Then she was given an opportunity to pursue a diploma in public health dentistry and she knew she had the support to see it through. “Sister Schools still stood by me, helping pay my tuition, encouraging me to not lose hope, and promising to see me through this next level of school,” she said.
In her work as a public health dental officer, she’s tried to make sure her younger siblings have the same opportunities she did, using her funds to support her mother and keep the kids in school.
Ten years after the Ssuubi Tour, Martha reunited with Terry and Ella during the 2018 distribution trip. She and Ella are close in age and remained close through the years. At the time, Martha talked about her dream of going back to school for dental surgery. She had just returned from Gulu, a rural district in Northern Uganda, where she and classmates had been running free dental clinics. She was frustrated because all she had been able to do was pull teeth; no one had the time or money to treat the underlying causes or invest in their dental health.
“That’s when Martha told me about her big plan,” Ella said. “If she could go back to school for dental surgery, she could open her own practice in Kampala where she’d make enough money to reinvest in more clinics and provide real treatment in rural villages. That’s what Sister Schools is all about. When we invest in kids, the returns down the road are incredible. The investment and return may look different in every community, every country, and every individual – but this is how change happens. It happens through kids like Martha.”
In February, we were thrilled to hear Martha was accepted to Makerere University’s Bachelor of Dental Surgery Program. In five years, she will be an oral and maxillofacial surgeon. But there’s no doubt she’s already well on her way to opening eyes and changing lives like Sister Schools did for her.
Martha also sent this note:
“A special thank you to the Board of Sister Schools, Terry and his family, the Gaughrans, Michael and Alayne, and Asia for always being there for me. I feel so loved and blessed to be a part of Sister Schools.
And thank you to Mrs. Susan Wamala Sserukuuma for introducing me to Sister Schools while I was her pupil at Mukono Boarding Primary School and for standing with me through my journey.
To all the supporters of Sister Schools, honestly I don’t have the right words to express the impact of your great work to the organization. Sister Schools is one organization that brings hope to many hopeless people in my country. It is one good thing to help someone you know, but it is one great thing to help someone you don’t know.
Thank you for standing with this organization. I hope one day, I also reach out to one random person who could be facing similar issues that I had before I became a part of Sister Schools. I pray I continue to raise the flag of Sister Schools.
Thank you for your kindness, to the sponsors, all the pupils that donate scholastic materials, all the funders, thank you so much.
That one pencil, that one cent can change someone’s future.”
Congratulations, Martha – we are all so proud of you!