Categories:  Faculty

Rebuilding Uganda, one book at a time

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James Radosevich, professor in the Center for Molecular Biology for Oral Diseases, volunteers at the Uganda School for the Deaf.

By Lucia Gonzalez

More than two decades ago, James Radosevich learned American Sign Language from a College of Dentistry colleague.

Years later, that skill came in handy when he began volunteering at the Uganda School for the Deaf in Kampala, Uganda.

Radosevich, professor in the Center for Molecular Biology for Oral Diseases, was asked to help rebuild the African country devastated by years of civil war, famine and disease.

The destruction had wiped out most of the country’s elders. It was not uncommon to see 40-year-olds as the oldest members of their communities.

“There was no wisdom being passed down from the elderly because there are no elderly,” Radosevich said.

“What most people don’t realize is that even though the food famine has been abated, there is a huge book famine. Many kids go from kindergarten through 12th grade without touching a book.”

Radosevich saw this firsthand when he visited the Uganda School for the Deaf, where American English Sign Language is used and classes include primary education, carpentry, tailoring, home sciences and agricultural practice.

“Deaf kids are amongst the most disenfranchised people” in Uganda, he said. “When deaf children graduate from school, few will hire them even though they are fully capable of working.”

Radosevich joined forces with Books for Africa, a nonprofit U.S.-based organization that collects books no more than five years old from universities and libraries and ships them to African countries. Donations to the charity are tax deductible and all proceeds go towards purchasing books.

His goal is to raise $18,500 to buy 22,000 books. He said most books will go to the Uganda School for the Deaf; others will be send to a Ugandan nursing school in exchange for health care for the school’s students.

The school will set up a library that loans books at low cost, creating librarian jobs and raising money while educating the students, he said.

Radosevich has traveled to Uganda twice and plans to return in February. He is looking for new volunteers and donations of money or books.

Contact Radosevich at jrados@uic.edu