Wichita presenter to describe success building private school in Uganda

For more than three decades, Wichita psychologist Paul White has been a regular donor to Opportunity International, a Chicago-based nonprofit that provides loans and other banking services to entrepreneurs in developing countries.

On Thursday, White, who specializes in workplace relationships and family owned businesses, is sponsoring a free presentation in Wichita by one of Opportunity International’s clients.

Thomas Balya Bugembe will talk about how he built his private school from two rented rooms and 37 students beginning in 2006 into an institution that serves 356 children from kindergarten to seventh grade – and employs 21 people – in Sonde Town, Uganda.

The presentation begins at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Central Christian Church, 2900 N. Rock Road, and is open to the public.

“They have an established process of giving loans to small entrepreneurs in a way that’s helpful to a community,” said White, who first learned about the organization while a student at Wheaton College in Illinois. One of his college friends now serves on Opportunity’s board of directors, he added.

White said he was contacted by Opportunity about hosting Bugembe’s visit to Wichita. “Wichita is a compassionate community,” he said. “Secondly, Wichita is an entrepreneurial community and highly values rewarding hard work and self-reliance. And third, stories are powerful. It seemed like a neat opportunity.”

Opportunity International’s focus is to alleviate poverty by providing entrepreneurs with relatively small loans, as well as banking, education and training services. The aim is to help lift individuals, families and communities out of poverty. The loans they provide are ones that its typical client can’t get through a traditional bank because of either the small value of the loan, the high risk, or both, Mary Bruening, regional director for Opportunity International in Kansas City, Mo., said.

She said since the organization was founded in 1971, it has provided more than 21 million loans totaling $6 billion to small entrepreneurs in 22 countries. Bruening said 98 percent of its loans are repaid.

Wichita is one of 10 cities where Bugembe is making a presentation over a month-long period, she said. He is only the second Opportunity International client to come to the U.S. and make such a tour, Bruening added.

“It’s important that we remind people that one person does make a difference,” she said.