Moving kids From Dirt to Desks

September 2021 View more

Dolores Bopp Potterton sits at a newly built desk with two Alenga students.

Ever since Naperville resident Dolores Bopp Potterton, founder and president of U4Uganda (, was a little girl, she has felt called to visit Africa. Her desire to help others is something that has been ingrained in her since childhood. “To be a Bopp meant you were going to serve others,” she explains. In 2009, her dream became a reality when she visited Uganda for the first time on a mission that would forever change her life and the lives of those she serves in the village of Alenga.  

When Bopp Potterton first arrived in the primitive village, she was overwhelmed with how large the village was and the complexity of the problems its people faced. Only 25 percent of children attended school beyond fourth grade. Many were orphans fleeing war and persecution. It was a place where people had little, and yet they shared what they had with others. Bopp Potterton wanted to help the community, but with poor sanitation, no electricity, and contaminated drinking water, she didn’t know where to begin. It wasn’t until she visited a local school that her focus became clear. 

“There were 1,110 children in nine classrooms. Some of them walked an hour and a half to get to school. And they all sat on the dirt floor to learn,” she says. “All that the children wanted were desks. The wise headmaster told me that if we got the children out of the dirt, everything would change.”

It proved impossible to import desks, so she and a local missionary priest started a cottage industry where villagers could learn the building trade. Since then, they have built desks for 21 schools and have witnessed the entire community change. “Wherever there are desks, there is no dropout rate. School enrollment has increased to almost 100 percent. In 2016, children began advancing to secondary school for the first time in the history of the village,” she explains. Because of that, the mindset of parents changed. Children are no longer required to drop out at a young age and help the family. “It’s altered the parents’ whole outlook,” Bopp Potterton says. “They now realize that education causes change. It has become prestigious to send children to school.”

Because Ugandan schools have been closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and recent flooding has destroyed 50 percent of the farms, U4Uganda has temporarily shifted its focus to providing food and other necessities to the village. “Even though they are suffering, they are the most grateful, the most generous, happiest people I know,” she says. “I will continue to serve them until I take my last breath.” Bopp Potterton was recently named a Paul Harris Fellow by Rotary International. U4Uganda will celebrate its 10th anniversary as a nonprofit next month. 

Photo courtesy John Potterton