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Lake Catholic Employee Spends Free Time Volunteering In Uganda

Debbie Jarosz has spent the last seven years working in Masindi and Gulu

Debbie Jarosz didn't spend a lot of time thinking about global problems while growing up.

"I was a Cleveland girl," she said. "We did our vacations in Myrtle Beach and that's as cosmopolitan as we got."

But that changed in 2005 when Jarosz -- the community service director at -- joined a women's building group for Habitat for Humanity in Uganda.

She and the other women in the group were struck by the vast difference between Uganda's poverty and poverty in the United States.

The average Ugandan lives on $1,190 a year. Average life expectancy is 54.

The country is recovering from a civil war between a rebel group -- the Lord's Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony -- and the Ugandan government. The war lasted more than 20 years before a ceasefire in 2007.

It was a common for LRA members to kidnap children as young as 8 and force them to fight in their army. The practice splintered families and traumatized a generation.

"They were so devastated by the war that there's not much to work with out there," she said. "There isn't anyone there who doesn't have a story. It's pretty horrendous."

However, Jarosz remembers more than the sadness and need in Uganda. Like how the African children would run outside to greet and sing to the women as the group traveled to the building projects in the back of a pickup truck each day.

"That's the experience," she said. "They're extremely celebratory."

While helping build homes, Jarosz met Donna Weir of the Chardon United Methodist Church, founder of the nondenominational Rock Foundation School in Masindi. Seeing the need, Jarosz began to volunteer at the school in her free time.

The Rock Foundation School teaches more than 400 primary and secondary students. It also hosts a scholarship program to help students participate in vocational, technical and undergraduate programs.

But the region needs more than education. So in 2008, Jarosz joined with the Rev. Jino Mwaka, the Archdiocese of Gulu in Uganda and others to form the Gulu Help Foundation.

The charity has a broad goal -- to support the people in northern Uganda. In practice, they have focused on finding funding to improve the region's medical care.

Gulu Help Foundation supports two medical centers right now -- the St. Joseph Health Center in Minakulu and the smaller St. Francis Health Center in Anaka. The charity also is working to start a university to train counselors.

Jarosz said every time she talks about Uganda, someone inevitably asks why she volunteers in Africa and not closer to home.

"They say, 'There are hungry people here too,'" she said.

Jarosz -- who also supports several local charities -- responds that anyone who has been to Uganda never questions her commitment to its people.

"It's a whole different world there," she said. "You can never get the picture out of your head."

To donate to either organization, go to the Rock School Foundation or the Gulu Help Foundation web sites.

Additionally, Debbie Jarosz has been selected as The Huffington Post's Greatest Person of the Day. Visit The Huffington Post to see more people, like Jarosz, who are making a difference in their communities and across the world.

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