Gallagher: Africa in Action: a noble mission |

Gallagher: Africa in Action: a noble mission

R.J. Gallagher Jr.

“If you think you are too small to make a difference, you haven’t spent the night with a mosquito.” — African proverb

Ah, yes, the good old days of high school. Good friends. Enlightening education. Athletics. Prom. Music. Mischief. Art. Parties. Parties. Start a nonprofit organization. Say what?

That’s right, start a nonprofit organization. And that’s what happened in 2006 when a group of Aspen High School students watched a documentary on child soldiers, “The Rough Cut.” The movie was produced by Invisible Children, and it was the first to document the story about children having to flee from their homes at night in order to avoid being abducted, brainwashed and forced to fight in Africa’s longest-running war.

I’ve seen this documentary, and it’s shocking. I was moved by it, but I never considered taking action to try and make a difference. Thank goodness that’s not how a couple of Aspen High School students reacted. They took action. Sarah Nininger and Haley Kaufman were inspired to get involved, become that mosquito in the African proverb and commit to a very worthy cause and make a difference. Along with the help of Aspen High School teacher Lance Finkbeiner, they immediately formed Action in Africa Inc. (Actionin as a small high school club. As Sarah states, “Seeing this film shattered my reality and helped cultivate my passion for working alongside people in Uganda.” You can now officially color me humbled and inspired at the same time.

That small club, now eight years young, has since blossomed into a nongovernmental organization with a mission to help better the lives of the people of Bbira, Uganda. Action in Africa became its own nonprofit organization with the impressive mission of providing the children of Bbira with education and proper health care. The goal of the newly founded organization is to foster the intellectual growth of Uganda’s youth, creating the next teachers, doctors and politicians. You’ve no doubt heard that old Chinese proverb, “If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” That’s exactly what Action in Africa is doing.

Throughout the past six years, Action in Africa has put on a variety of events to raise both money and awareness. These events include concerts, auctions, movie screenings and a vow of silence. Through these efforts, Action in Africa has raised well over $500,000 and has engaged and energized the entire town of Aspen about its cause.

The money that has been raised to date has been utilized for the development of five major projects: a library, a girls dormitory, widows homes, a water well and school scholarships. The organization is currently sending 91 students to primary and secondary school in Bbira while maintaining the clinic and library on its property. It also provides financial assistance to an entire primary school that includes 35 annual scholarships to the most dedicated, driven and promising post-primary students. Can you hear that buzzing noise?

As students have graduated from Aspen High School, they have continued to represent the mission of Action in Africa. The organization has spread to other college campuses: Chapman, Dartmouth, Texas Tech, UCLA and Stanford. Each year, the organization runs a service trip to Bbira, allowing supporters to experience personally the positive impact that Action in Africa is making on a daily basis.

Since 2008, Sarah has traveled to Uganda on six different occasions. She is now upping the ante on her commitment. She has made the decision to leave her home in the United States and head to Uganda for, as she puts it, “an undecided period of time.” She wants to explore how to further enrich Action in Africa.

Sarah has invited us to follow along in her journey at Sarah says that she is excited, anxious, nervous and feeling a million other emotions but simply cannot wait any longer to make her move and live out her mission.

I think I now know what it is like to spend the night with a mosquito. I think we should all help create a continued buzz for Action in Africa. It’s simply time.

“Philantopia” is a monthly column of The Aspen Times focused on philanthropy and community involvement. R.J. Gallagher Jr. is a three-decade resident of the Roaring Fork Valley. He has served on numerous nonprofit boards, including those of the Aspen Community Foundation and Komen Aspen. His firm, Forte International, is a supporter of local philanthropy that makes a difference on a global level. His email address is

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