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Parker Vige is experiencing, first-hand, the joy of helping others a half-a-world away. The Gonzales native, East Ascension High School graduate and current University of North Carolina sophomore is on a gap year, living and working in Jinja, Uganda.
"I've been here for three weeks and I've fallen in love with the people here, the project and the work that they're doing and seeing the progress," Vige said.
He says growing up in south Louisiana, helping others is something he's always done. But, he says, it wasn't until recently that he realized the true impact of service.
"I realized the impact was a little bit less whenever the purpose was to make myself look good," Vige said. "After I learned that, I began to engage in projects for the sake of the project and for the sake of the people who were involved... and that sparked my interest in the fellowship that UNC offers and the potential of going abroad and connecting elsewhere and being able to engage there," he added.
Through his fellowship, Vige is working to create, from the ground up, a computer literacy class for school children in the village.
"[It] involves adding a time into the schedule, getting some teachers involved to provide some kind of sustainability to the class once we leave," Vige explained. "Just overall improving the computer literacy of the students so that when they get to secondary school, they don't just have a deer in headlights look because they've never seen a keyboard."
Vige is also working on the construction of a multi-purpose assembly hall for the village.
"We are working to construct a new building that will be used for graduations, the kid's morning assemblies as well as literacy classes for people in the community," Vige said. "Eventually we have plans to hire the hall out as a secondary income source for the school so that project has so much potential as it continues to progress and we keep increasing the vision for what's to come."
Vige has created a GoFundMe account to help raise funds for the literacy classes and assembly hall. In the first 32 days, the page has raised over $2,500. He says any little bit helps.
"Whether it's a college student coming for four months or whether it's my mom sending a check to the school or if it's my friends sharing it on social media, I think all of those things are making an impact," he said.
He says the problems in Uganda have been there since before he arrived and will be there far past the time he leaves, but for now, he's hopeful that his south Louisiana spirit of service can help a new generation.
"These people, they don't need us," he said. "But it's certainly helps to have people from Gonzales and from Baton Rouge and from all parts of Louisiana and America and the world... it certainly helps to have those people come and engage and show that they are rooting for the success of this community in whatever form that takes."
Vige also frequently posts updates to his blog, alwaysglobal.org.
To donate to the cause for the underfunded Ugandan school, click here for the GoFundMe account.