Courtesy of Riley King
Courtesy of Riley King
A 26-year-old Durango man who spearheaded the construction of an elementary school and a medical clinic in Uganda is trying to drum up more support for the projects.
“I think I put others above self,” Riley King said over coffee recently. “I think it’s my responsibility to make a difference.”
The conviction led him to establish Unite Our World in 2008. The organization now has recognized nonprofit 501(c)3 status.
“Our goal is use our talent to empower people and help them help others,” King said. “We want to harness their potential to achieve a positive impact.”
King will show a 20-minute film about the development of the clinic in Uganda at the Back Space Theatre on March 16. A question-and-answer session will follow. A monetary donation of any size gets viewers in the door.
King, a 2005 graduate of Durango High School, is the son of Glen and Becky King, pastors of Durango Faith Fellowship.
He beat around for three years after graduation, forming a band (King plays piano and guitar and sings) with a friend and touring the country.
“We made ends meet,” King said.
On one of his trips through Durango, King met Solomon Muteb, a Ugandan, who had built Blessings of Joy Elementary School in Mweruka, a village four hours by vehicle south of Kampala along Lake Victoria.
Uganda is a landlocked country encompassing 91,000 square miles – smaller than Oregon (97,000 square miles), but bigger than Utah (84,000 square miles). It has a population of 35 million.
“I went to Uganda in 2009 to document the school – four classrooms of mud and straw,” King said. “When I came back I built a website, founded Unite Our World and began to raise funds to help.
A silent auction at The Lost Dog Bar & Grill provided the first money to pay teachers and build additional classrooms, he said.
In summer 2010, King returned to Uganda to work on the school.
He was accompanied by his girlfriend, Brittany Lang, who teaches fifth-grade at Kemper Elementary School in Cortez; her sister, Jordan; Matt Peters, his former band co-founder; and Matt’s parents, Dan and Jill Peters, who own Peters Construction.
The team built two 40-foot by 40-foot brick classrooms and upon returning sent money to complete the roof, King said.
In October 2010, a photo display of the project was hung at the Open Shutter Gallery.
The next year, King made his third trip to Uganda with two Fort Lewis College students to build a new classroom and put cement floors in all of them.
The added space allows instruction up to seventh-grade, which is required to go on to middle school, said Brittany Lang, who taught for three months in Mweruka during the construction.
“I had 40 students in every class,” Lang said. “About 50 percent of them had desks and benches and the rest stood or sat on the floor.
“I had to improvise because they’re short of resources,” Lang said. “My classroom had a blackboard and I had a piece of chalk about the size of my pinkie.”
She also brought an innovative approach to teaching.
“Ugandan teachers write on the blackboard, and the students simply have to recall and regurgitate,” Lang said. “A higher level of thinking isn’t required.
“But, in geometry, for example, I taught shapes, and then we went outside and they had to find similar geometric shapes in nature. They couldn’t believe it.”
She also incorporated art and music in her instruction.
Between trips to Uganda, King supports himself with landscaping and construction jobs.
In 2012, Solomon Muteb’s brother, Benon Kizito, called him for help in establishing a medical clinic in Bukunda, King said.
King went to Uganda in November to help Kizito acquire a building and medical supplies and to hire staff members. When he left Uganda a month later, the clinic was staffed with two doctors and three nurses.
Trent Taylor, who is majoring in art at Fort Lewis College, accompanied King twice to Uganda, and on his last visit displayed his artistic talent on the walls of the clinic.
“Health is the most important thing in life for a person, and they had nothing there,” Taylor said. “There were chronic and acute medical problems, but no care. The nearest hospital was incredibly distant.
“One of the young guys working with us had a bad case of asthma,” Taylor said. “He didn’t even know what it was.”
King said Taylor’s contributions to Unite Our World wasn’t limited to his work in Uganda. He raised almost $5,000 for the cause from family members and friends in Chicago.
“Our two projects in Uganda have been funded through the generosity of many people,” King said. “I’m amazed at how caring people are.”