By Stefanie Donahue
Nearly a decade after co-founding The Somero Project, a nonprofit organization that provides children in the Ugandan village of Kotolo with a place to learn, Birch Bay resident Becky Conover and her father, Craig Conover, are receiving
a helping hand.
On September 5, Wells Fargo announced it was giving $10,000 toward the project as part of its 39th annual employee Volunteer Service Award. Becky, a service manager at a Wells Fargo location in Mount Vernon, was one of 16 in the company to receive the award, which grants a range of $1,000 to $25,000 to eligible nonprofits each year.
Becky and Craig began supporting Ugandan children through missionary work. As a student at Ferndale High School, Becky organized a fundraiser for the Uganda Orphan Choir. The duo later came up with the idea to build and operate a school in the Kotolo village after visiting Uganda in 2007, just after Becky
graduated from high school.
The closest school to Kotolo was seven miles away and distance and unsafe conditions resulted in few children making the trek each day. Parents resumed the role of teachers and often taught lessons outside. Heavy rains and other weather conditions made it challenging to get through a single school day, Becky said.
Craig pulled from his life savings to construct the Evergreen Primary School in 2008. To-date, they’ve built ten classrooms and currently serve upwards of 400 students in primary through seventh grade with a staff of 10 teachers, a director, clerk and guard. Four board members, Kevin Miles, Kristen Bergerson, Andrea Farred and Sausha Knott, also provide volunteer assistance.
“My dad instilled this passion in me to give everything to help someone else,” Becky said. “It’s very moving when you see the students start writing letters on their own and gaining confidence in themselves.”
Craig and Becky decided to call their work The Somero Project in 2011. In Lugandan, the native language in Uganda, the word somero means school. Becky became president of the organization in 2012 and she volunteers about 20 hours per month. She visits the school to meet with teachers and interact with students as often as possible.
“They’re close to home and they’re able to obtain a quality education,” Becky said.
The project is no longer pulling from Craig’s life savings to survive financially. Instead, they operate a sponsorship program that connects donors in the west with students in the village.
Once a month, sponsors commit $25 to a student. So far, The Somero Project has received commitment from 90 sponsors, Becky said. Locally, donors can participate in an annual 5K fundraiser at Lake Padden in Bellingham; the most recent took place in early September. With help from Wells Fargo, Becky plans to use $3,000 to finish installing a well in the village. The remaining funds will go toward the construction of a medical facility, she said.
“We believe that education is vital to a thriving society,” according to a statement from the organization. “That it will empower youths to make informed decisions and become leaders of the community. Optimally, we would like to see every child having the opportunity to gain an education and hope for a better future.”
To learn more about The Somero Project, visit the thesomeroproject.org.