Peter Brady’s first trip to Africa was in 2007 to see his daughter who was in Kenya at the time. Little did he know that he and his wife Colleen would be making annual trips to the continent for years to come.
The Bradys were friends with the Koerner family and Peter Brady said that in 2006, between graduating from Champlain Valley Union High and starting college, Jagger Koerner had used a small nest egg he inherited from his grandmother to start a charitable foundation called 52 Kids. The goal of the foundation was to help 52 children from the village of Kamuli, Uganda, attain the highest level of education they desired.
While Koerner was attending Cornell, his father became the U.S. director of the foundation and Koerner journeyed with him to Kamuli in 2007 to check out the foundation’s work. He was impressed and a few years later, Colleen joined the group, and the couple began taking kids from CVU to help out.
“We immediately fell in love with the people,” Colleen Brady said. She and Peter have made over a dozen trips to Uganda.
Initially, much of the work was physical, including making bricks, cutting thatches for roofs, building kitchens, planting trees and creating plate stands so families could dry their dishes in the sun in a sanitary manner. The couple also planted vegetable gardens for residents.
While in Uganda, they held Skype sessions with CVU classrooms. As the years progressed, the visits became more about connecting and less about physical labor.
“Our goal has been to see as many of the 52 kids as we can,” Peter Brady said. “The connection is incredibly powerful, not just for the kids but for us. The relationship is very strong, and we’ve come to realize that people are less interested in building a plate stand than in sitting down and having a cup of tea with us.”
Colleen Brady described their role as ambassadors of hope.
She has plenty of experience working with kids, having spent 35 years teaching first and second graders at Charlotte Central School.
“The joy of that work was seeing the world through the optimistic and hopeful eyes of the kids,” she said, “and also developing lasting relationships with them.”
Colleen Brady retired three years ago but her husband is still working as a contractor. For the last 10 years, he has mostly done residential renovations. Like most contractors, Peter’s bills have a breakdown of materials and labor, but he also adds a 1 percent surcharge for the 52 Kids Foundation. Having that line on the bills has led to a number of conversations and resulted in some regular donors to the foundation.
Roughly 25 CVU kids have travelled to Uganda and Colleen enjoyed seeing how much they learned from the trips. Most of the students were between their junior and senior years and for many it was such a powerful experience that it changed their thoughts about what they wanted to study in college.
“There is not one aspect of what goes on in a day over there that isn’t drastically different from our lives, so it’s an amazing experience,” Collen Brady said. “It could be a real paradigm shift,” she said.
Of late, the foundation has shifted its mission. Only six of the original 52 Ugandan kids are still in school, so the group is funding a micro-savings program to provide the former students with access to capital with low interest rates so they can start a business or pay for their own children to attend school.
Many of their former students’ kids have finished university level programs. One is in architectural school and may follow her degree with an internship in the U.S. Others are attending vocational schools for plumbing, hairdressing, building and electrical work.
Peter Brady believes he and his wife will continue to have a connection with the people they’ve met through the program for the rest of their lives.
“It’s been incredibly life-changing in terms of our perspective, our gratitude for what we have, and our understanding of the inequities in the world,” Colleen Brady said. “I don’t think there’s a single time I turn the faucet on that I don’t appreciate the fact that we have running water.”