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Teachers A Lifelong Passion

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A Lifelong Passion

By Rege Behe
Dr. Louis Picard's life might have been vastly different if he'd gotten his wish when he joined the Peace Corps in 1964.
"I was going to go to Thailand," he says. "They said, no, you're going to Uganda [in 1965]. I looked at a map, and here it is 50 years later and I'm still going to Africa."
Picard has no regrets. He's traveled to 44 countries on the African continent, often in an official capacity. Picard has served as a consultant for the US Agency for International Development, the US Information Agency and the State Department.
What keeps him returning to Africa, however, is a keen interest in the fortunes of the people he's met in his travels.
"I don't know if it's love so much, but I really enjoy working in Africa," says Picard, who is the director of the Ford Institute for Human Security and a professor of Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh. "It's not an easy area. It's a tough part of the world."
The author of 11 books and numerous articles about Africa and its issues, Picard says "the problems of governments there are overwhelming and fascinating." He's especially interested in the political transformation of South Africa post-apartheid. But Uganda, his first destination, still tugs at Picard's heart.
Picard learned about Bright Kids Uganda Foundation USA from a close friend (Manuel Pinto, now deceased) and immediately embraced its mission: to assist children from various backgrounds, including street kids, HIV/AIDS orphans, children who have been living at displaced people's camps and those rescued from the rebels in Northern Uganda. This undertaking meshed with Picard's research into the "dilemma of poverty and the politics of it, and the misuse of power, in a lot of cases."
The residents of the Bright Kids home in Entebbe ¬¬-- a small number of the 2.5 million homeless children in Uganda -- are seeking the basic necessities of food and shelter. Picard, who serves on the organization's board of directors with his wife, Pauline Greenlick, an adjunct faculty member at Carlow University in Pittsburgh -- thinks it's important to not just provide funds for clothing, school books and food.
"It's education and income generation," he says. "The income generation is to provide the funds to run the place. But there's no way that impoverished kids are going to be able to afford the very high school fees ($600-$750) they have in these countries."
Picard wants the home to become sustainable through micro loans. Bright Kids sells books, crafts, DVDs and other items via eBay or other online commerce sites. The money from those sales goes into a fund that provides micro loans to a relative -- perhaps an aunt or uncle -- or someone in the community connected to a child at the home. The person who receives the loan -- perhaps $150 -- might invest that money in supplies for crafts, seeds for tomatoes or other vegetables, or anything else that can be sold. After four months, the loan has to be paid back with a simple interest rate of 10 percent.

It may not sound like much, but it's an essential building block if the home is ever to become self sufficient.
"Without resources," Picard says, "there's nothing you can do."

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