CNN Testimonials

A Message from a Grateful Parent

Dear CNN Heroes Staff,

As I sit and reflect to write this, I’m blown away that 11 years has passed since I first heard of Dale Peterson, the teacher that we soon learned when we moved to Niwot, Colorado, was who all the parents hoped & prayed their child would get for first grade. Lucky for us, our son, Jensen did in 2007, and would be the first of three of our six kids to be fortunate enough to be taken under his expert, loving & caring wings.

At the time, I knew nothing of the fledgling foundation he was working on. I had only heard that he was “the most amazing & kind teacher a child could get”. We learned soon enough that was indeed true, and then one day, something extraordinary happened. Jensen came home with a note from his new teacher announcing that he would be matched with a pen pal from Uganda and there would be a cultural exchange celebration in class, and that Mr. Peterson would appreciate parent’s help with some cooking in giving the 6 year olds a real “taste of Uganda” potluck meal. I thought it was such a simple, fun idea at the time; little did I know that day was the beginning of wave after wave of the biggest and best blessings a family could receive, and change the course of our lives forever.

Before I knew it, I was cooking matooke, one of Uganda’s staple dishes, for the celebration, and learning from Jensen all about children’s lives in Uganda, a place, I’m ashamed to admit, that I couldn’t have pointed out on a map of Africa prior to Jensen showing me. He was so proud and excited to share what he was learning – that Ugandan kids love to sing, dance, raise their gardens, care for their animals and 

that many generations live in one home, but then his little 6 year old voice and face took on a serious tone. “…but, Mama, they don’t have classrooms, and in some places they don’t even have a school. They need help.” That was the beginning of 11 years of eye-opening, heart-expanding experiences for not only our family, but many others as well.

Soon, the first graders, without the prompting of Mr. Peterson, were brainstorming ways they could raise enough money to send school supplies to their new pen pals. There were lemonade stands popping up, bake sales being organized, pennies being collected, and some kid’s even donated their own piggy banks in order to start the ball rolling. Mr. Peterson was in awe of the children’s heartfelt generosity and the excitement and buzz around school was contagious. Parents wanted to help out too.

Initially, Mr. Peterson thought that the pen pal relationship and sharing about each others cultures was going to be the extent of it, but when he saw how serious his students were about helping the kids in Uganda get a real school, he didn’t miss the opportunity to instill in his students one of life’s most precious lessons – it’s better to give than to receive, and like the old adage says about the value of education, “Give someone a fish and you’ll fill their stomach for a day, teach someone to fish and they’ll never go hungry again.” So, he came up with ways to get the whole school community behind the student’s wish to build their new friends a school by organizing jog-a-thons, used book and art sales, auctions, etc., but it was when Mr. Peterson travelled to Uganda himself and returned with photos of the children’s beautiful faces that a deeper connection was forged. All of us could then feel who these children were. The Niwot students could then put a face to the name of their pen pal. It was real and we couldn’t get enough.

Soon, all of the kids at Niwot Elementary School wanted a pen pal, so Mr. Peterson organized that every grade and class, not just his first graders, had their own pen pal. Not only was a real cross-cultural relationship forming, but also a foundation, one that bears the name of “gratitude” in the Lugandan language, “Mwebaza”. It was also the name of the fledgling school in need of classrooms and school supplies that Mr. Peterson visited when he first travelled to Uganda. Subsequently, he has travelled there every year since, along with many educators, and health, hygiene, nutrition and construction professionals.

The feeling of gratitude was a mutual one. We, as parents, were so amazed at our children’s interest, and how much they cared and were curious about their counterparts in Uganda, and we felt so grateful to see how our children’s hearts and minds were opening to the larger world around them. Before long, our daughter, Gigi, was in Mr. Peterson’s first grade class. By that time, all the students at Niwot Elementary wished they could go visit their pen pals in Uganda, so Mr. Peterson did the next best thing. He brought Uganda to them! What a day it was when the head mistress, of the Mwebaza School in Kyengera, Uganda, Miss Catherine Namatovu, arrived at Niwot Elementary! She taught the children Ugandan dances, stories and songs while dressed in her cultural animal skin, feathers and brightly colored dress. They were thrilled and stupefied at the same time – mouths all agog, and not just the student’s – the parents were as well! Before long we were all dancing and singing together, and without us realizing it at the time, becoming a closer-knit community than ever before. The feeling of mwebaza that Mr. Peterson brought into our lives was now having a much bigger impact than just a first grade class pen pal relationship. The entire community was coming together as a family. Local businesses – restaurants, banks, newspapers, coffee houses and shops soon knew of the first grade teacher at Niwot Elementary and wanted to lend their support.

It felt as though some sort of threshold was being met on both sides of the cross-cultural exchange. So, once again, Mr. Peterson took the relationship to yet a higher level. He inaugurated the annual “Mwebaza Day” celebration where the students in Uganda and Colorado were able to Skype each other. In real time, our kids could meet their African pen pals via a huge screen in Niwot Elementary’s gymnasium, and vice versa. Each school took turns sharing their songs and dances, enthusiastically waving hello and blowing kisses to each other. The level of joy and happiness was palpable. Once the Internet connection was over, Mr. Peterson thought it would be a good idea for the students to write down what they felt during the celebration, but not until every student in every class raised a cup of passionfruit juice (a popular juice in Uganda) toasting their special friends on the other side of the globe.

Fast forward three years and Mr. Peterson has wasted no time in expanding the mission of the Mwebaza Foundation. Beyond cross-cultural exchange and service learning, the Foundation has grown to include in its mission an aim towards fostering a healthy learning environment and promoting self-sufficiency. This includes the construction of solid schoolhouses to protect the students from skin-boring jiggers and torrential rains, safe transportation versus walking miles to school each day, solar power, clean water to safeguard against waterborne diseases, proper sanitation by installing composting toilets, sustainable lunch programs that ensure proper nutrition, income generating livestock programs to promote self-sufficiency, scholarship programs since all schools in Uganda, even the public ones, charge tuition which many cannot afford, and award programs to recognize students with extraordinary performance.

But the Foundation’s benefits go both ways. As a parent, I’ve heard umpteen stories in our community about how parents feel their children’s lives have been enriched by having a relationship with their Ugandan pen pal – learning about another’s life on the other side of the world and in a way, growing up with them as a kind of extended family, and how rewarding it is for their children to learn that their efforts, even as a young elementary school student, when teamed up with the rest of their community, made something that we take for granted, a reality – an education. Helping their Ugandan “brothers and sisters” gain an educational foundation that could lead them towards college and eventually a career, which without it, they would have none, was awe-inspiring and thrilling. That’s an empowering experience to give kids, and we have Mr. Peterson to thank for it. His beautiful vision to build bridges of humanity through the pure hearts of elementary school kids, and his perseverance in instilling the confidence that kids can change the world, and sharing his great love and hope for humanity went far beyond the 9:00-3:00 school day, without ever expecting a penny or any accolades in return – just being good, for goodness’ sake.

I would like to return now to where I began in this letter and share a bit about how Mr. Peterson’s relentless, tireless, and generous work outside the classroom, in establishing the Mwebaza Foundation, has personally impacted our family…

You’ve heard how two of our children were in Mr. Peterson’s first grade class and grew up with a Ugandan pen pal, and celebrating “Mwebaza Day”, but now I would like to tell you about our daughter, Devaki, who was about to graduate college with degrees in Peace Studies and International Affairs at the time of the first “Mwebaza Day” celebration.

Devaki specialized in African Studies and was about to embark on a studies abroad program in Rwanda when it dawned on her that Uganda was “right next door” and perhaps she could swing by the Mwebaza School she had heard so much about from home while she was away at college. She contacted Mr. Peterson, and without a moment’s hesitation he began phoning Miss Namatovu and organized a 3-week internship for her at the school for college credit. Devaki was on her way in more ways than she knew. She fell in love with the children at the Mwebaza School and upon her return asked Mr. Peterson if there was anyway she could work with the foundation upon graduation. He gently explained to her that she would be most welcome and appreciated, but that the Foundation was supported by volunteers and that every penny of funds raised went directly to the Mwebaza School, so it might not be the most lucrative career move – at least on a financial level. Devaki was soon to learn that she was one of the wealthiest people on earth – maybe not by the sum in her bank account, but indeed on the level of personal fulfillment. The kids in Uganda had attached themselves to her heartstrings and there was no turning back. The pull of heartstrings was then amplified as she got to know the students at Niwot Elementary as well. With every visit the bonds deepened and strengthened on both ends.

As more schools in Colorado were partnered with more schools in Africa, the success and vision continued to increase. Devaki began making multiple trips to Africa each year, and always returned home with great news of progress in the lives of our African friends. She has found so much fulfillment and life purpose in working for the Foundation, that this summer she took Gigi and Jensen to Uganda with her. They all said it was the experience of a lifetime to be there working together with the children and they’ve already made plans to return next summer! Their high school friends want to join them too. They’ve learned another valuable life lesson – the joy and reward of connecting, helping and sharing with others is not only natural to being human, it’s contagious, and when it spreads, life is better for everyone.

When Jensen was 6 years old and looked up at me with his solemn big blue eyes and told me, “They need help.”, I didn’t realize how much we as an American culture, especially our children, needed them. We needed something that they probably take for granted as much as we do free education, food and clean water. An excess of consumerism, technology, isolationism and the double-edged sword of social media are said to all play a part in causing record levels of depression, suicide and illness, especially among American kids. Our kids need a break from their iphones, computers, shopping malls and TV, and get back to face-to-face interactions, finding entertainment in playing with each other instead of an interactive screen, sharing feelings and exchanging experiences, dreams and opinions – get to know one another, work together and support each other. They need what their African counterparts have on a daily basis – a connection to their natural surroundings. Scientists tell us that Americans are suffering from Nature Deficit Disorder. So, it’s no wonder that when Gigi, Jensen and Devaki are in Uganda they’re so happy. They’re really connecting with life there and feel more fulfilled because of it. The takeaway is that we not only require a nature connection to lead healthy, balanced lives, but we need to connect, listen, and share with others who are different from us as well. Mr. Peterson was wise enough to see the importance of this many years ago, and through him and the work of the Mwebaza Foundation, cross-cultural relationships between Coloradoans and Africans continue to be nourished.

In fact, Niwot Elementary School alumni who now attend Niwot High School are currently customizing two shipping containers and converting them into mobile classrooms that will soon be shipped to Uganda as ready-set classrooms.

Mr. Peterson’s work is influencing a generation at a very critical time in history.

When nationalism is on the rise, and waves of fear of “the other” are being generated at the highest levels of government, when people are more concerned with their social media status than who their neighbor is and how they’re fairing, when children the world over are wondering and worrying what kind of world they’ll inherit – a loving, cooperative, far-sighted, compassionate, free and unified one, or a fearful, isolated, greedy, short-sighted, restrictive and inhumane one?

The Mwebaza Foundation’s work is very timely, and I hope that through the good work that CNN Heroes is doing it will inspire other educators, education administrators and school districts to start up programs within their own school districts to reach out to developing countries that are being inundated with contrary influences whose aim it is to indoctrinate division, spread inaccurate historical accounts and skewed facts in order to usurp power from a weakened and unstable environment.

Mr. Peterson is a true hero in our eyes. He’s a shining example of mentorship, as well as being an exemplary teacher – always patient, soft spoken and willing to listen, and endeavoring to understand and not judge. He’s the kind of person the world needs more of; everyone who meets him is better because of knowing him. Our entire Niwot school community, and every partner school community throughout Colorado is better because of him, and in a very impactful and tangible way the partnered students and educators throughout Uganda have a bright and hopeful future because of him reaching across the world to build bridges of caring compassion. His entire life is one of service, giving, helping, uplifting, educating and unifying and in so doing offering those in need, including Americans, a brighter future.

As Nelson Mandela said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Therefore it should be the world’s leaders top priority after food, hygiene and shelter to ensure that every child receives it. It should be foundational the world over, but it’s not, and until it is, those of us from areas who can help, should, or else others with ulterior motives will and the world’s fate will be in their hands.

There is a huge need now more than ever for every child to receive quality education that empowers them and encourages them to question authority, and to think independently and creatively. International teamwork at the grassroots level -community to community – is the answer.

Thank you, Mr. Peterson, for having the vision, will and heart to pursue this critically imperative endeavor – the hope of a better future, and starting where it counts most – in our children.

A Message from Mwebaza Primary School Students

A Message from Principal, Michael Keppler, Colorado

I have been fortunate to have experienced the Mwebaza Foundation since its inception when Dale Peterson first came to talk about starting a Pen Pal relationship with a school in Uganda. Since that time over 15 years ago, I have witnessed firsthand how the Mwebaza Foundation has positively impacted the lives of hundreds of children in Uganda, and in Colorado.

It is so rewarding to see how children – who have been provided homes, running water, a good education, and access to food when they are hungry – react when they learn about students in Uganda and other parts of Africa who cannot take these things for granted. Once children understand these dramatic differences, they frequently want to know what they can do to help. They are excited to learn more and talk about ways they can take action to do something meaningful and important.

Students often discuss and plan to have a bake sale after school, sell crafts or even have a lemonade sale in their neighborhood to be able to give to the Mwebaza Foundation. They readily jump at opportunities to volunteer or lend a hand in any way they can. In doing so, they feel good about helping others and they also have a greater appreciation for their many blessings right here at home.

What started out as a simple project to connect students from two very different places in the world has blossomed into an amazing foundation organized by a caring group of people who work to inspire our youth to make a difference in the world and to positively impact the lives of children and their families. I feel fortunate to have been a small part of the process and to be able to see firsthand how the foundation has grown and flourished under Dale’s leadership. It has been an amazing journey with multiple paths and significant impact. I look forward to seeing what the next 15 years will bring and the ways the foundation will continue to change lives around the world.

With appreciation –

Mike Keppler

A Message from an Inspired Parent and Supporter

Dear Anderson Cooper and CNN:

For the past few years I have seriously enjoyed with great anticipation the show CNN Heroes. Last summer in July 2017 I traveled to Uganda Africa with my 18-year-old son as a graduation present and for him to personally see and meet the people in Uganda for which he has been helping. My son started through a simple pen pal program and was inspired by 1st grade teacher Mr. Dale Peterson that has continued for some 10 years. The pen pal program grew in nature with the local Niwot Elementary School students learning about their pen pals and the hard life they live and in trying to learn without books, chalkboards, desks, pencils and paper and other necessities. The elementary students in this small town in Colorado decided to do something about it again being inspired by a 1st grade teacher, Mr. Peterson. They started doing local fundraisers with lemonade stands, garage sales and jog-a-thons raising money to provide needed items for their pen pals and the school they attended, Mwebaza Infant Primary School.

This is a story that needs to be told about how one man, one teacher, can inspire young children in America and a community to make a difference in the lives of children, their families and now four (4) communities some 8,500 miles apart in Uganda, Africa.

This is a story how one man has made a difference; how one man has spent the last ten (10) years donating his time, energy and his soul to help those so desperately in need.

My son and I were so proud and empowered by what Mr. Peterson is doing we decided to volunteer our efforts again this summer and spent two weeks in Uganda visiting the several schools now being assisted by Mr. Peterson and the Mwebaza Foundation. We assisted in interviewing for scholarships and helped with the planning and building of the foundation for a new computer lab and classroom addition at Mwebaza Primary. We learned so much of what his Foundation is providing and continuing to improve.

Here are just a few accomplishments of Mr. Dale Peterson and his foundation he started for the benefit of Ugandan students, teachers, and the local communities.

  1. School supplies including desks, chalkboards and other materials.
  2. Building new toilet facilities or improving old ones with more modern or sanitary systems in place.
  3. Providing water by drilling and cistern systems by capturing rain water off the roofs.
  4. Providing better nutrition and teaching self-sustainability with planting of gardens, orchards, buying cows for fresh milk and raising chickens for eggs.
  5. Providing needed scholarships for those who cannot afford school fees. Many of the parents of these children are single parent or guardians raising many children and cannot afford to pay the meager school fees that are required across all of Uganda. Some would
    be forced to choose between food or education without these scholarships. This year, through Mr. Peterson’s efforts, they were able to provide over 100 scholarships to those in need.
  6. The program he started with pen pals at one school has now grown to include a total of eight (8) schools and over 2500 students.
  7. My son and I were present for the students “Celebration Day” with singing and dancing for their parents for some five (5) hours. The students who graduated were honored and other students also acknowledged for their accomplishments in the classroom. It was so beautiful. The Foundation started an “Awards” program for those who displayed exemplary performance in a variety of subjects ranging from leadership to mathematics. The Foundation provides “gifts”, but not “gifts” by American standards, but practical items the children lack in Uganda for which students in America would take for granted. Some are awarded covered foam mattresses to sleep on, while others are awarded blankets and bed sheets. I cannot tell you how my now 19-year-old son was so empathic and proud of what is being done by this Foundation, he has also helped with.
  8. The Foundation has provided hundreds of pairs of prescription and reading glasses to students, their parents and others in the community in need of such assistance. They sent over an optometrist to help fit students and adults. This program continues with donations of used eyeglasses in Colorado being sent to Uganda.

There is so much more to list or things that I don’t know but the Foundation has a website at The work the Foundation wanted to accomplish in Uganda became so much that Mr. Peterson was fortunate to have hired one employee for the Foundation, whom helps full-time with his passion and guidance, Ms. Devaki Douillard, who is also so passionate about the mission to improve lives of Ugandan students and provide an education of which hopefully a leader of Uganda will emerge in the future.

We appreciate CNN, Mr. Anderson Cooper and staff for considering Mr. Dale Peterson and Mwebaza for their tireless efforts the last ten (10) years to “MAKING A DIFFERENCE” in so many lives.

Yours truly,

David Chaknova

A Message from Our School Director, Parents’ Junior School, Gulu

Thank you for your visit and all the work you/Mwebaza Foundation is doing for PJS and the entire community of Lapainat. We are grateful for the borehole, the toilet unit and the scholarship awards plus many more.

Thanks for your time with us. It was wonderful having you during these time when our school and the community needed encouragement, support and mobilization skills you all provided.

Thanks for being such a Blessing to us. We shall continue to give you our full support and cooperation.

Our pupils, staff and the boards ask me to send you their best wishes and to pass their appreciation to our dear donors and well wishers.
Thank you again.
Yours sincerely,
Charles, PJS

A Message from Principal, Nancy Pitz, Colorado

The Mwebaza Foundation means so much to Niwot Elementary, and to each and every past, current, and future student.  This foundation allows students to learn about empathy, giving back, selflessness and kindness. The foundation not only provides opportunities for students in Uganda, but it teaches hundreds of students in Niwot, Colorado priceless lessons that can’t be taught to the same extent any other way.  Thank you to Dale Peterson for having the vision and for keeping it alive and growing larger every year.  Dale made this happen, and with that he has changed the lives of thousands of children near and far.

A Message from Headmistress, Mwebaza Primary School, Kyengera

In memories! Once from just simple penpal letters along with the cultural gifts, to now a mega foundation. An educational foundation that is bringing up kids from less privileged, needy and orphanaged pupils who may never achieved this chance. Ever since I the inception of the project, hundreds and hundreds have gone through our hands and they can smile and boasts of the foundation. Just to say, who would ever knew that. St. Paul, Nkokonjeru would have shinning class rooms from the grass thatched huts with lots of jiggers, now it is history. God Bless Mwebaza Foundation schools. Oh I cannot forget talking of kids having balanced diet . They have a life at school which is less stressful, clean water supply, nice uniforms, sports wear and lots more I cannot talk of as for now. All in all long live Mwebaza Foundation, long live the Mwebaza Foundation board, long live our partner schools.
The newly constructed Mwebaza schools, St. Paul Infant School, Nkokonjeru and Mwebaza Annex, Nkungulutale well fenced to give security to kids. The long lasting kind of furniture in schools with giant solar panels to give pupils enough light for morning and evening studies, learners fully availed scholastically. A dream is becoming in reality with the computer labs at schools for pupils to catch up the vast technology. Oh, the undergoing construction of classrooms at Mwebaza Infant School, Kyengera. This will future meet the growing demand for classes to give pupils a conducive study environment. The annual Mwebaza Foundation sponsored parties to parents and learners, where learners exhibit talents marked with prize giving away event. And by the time learners leave schools, they can be reliant from the knowledge and skills attained from our productive ventures. God Bless.

A Message from Mwebaza Primary School Alumni

Dear CNN,

We are former students of Mwebaza Infant School. We are all aged 18 years. We are writing to nominate Mr. Dale Peterson, our hero, as the CNN Hero for the following reasons:

  1. During our time at Mwebaza, Mr. Dale provided chickens which gave us eggs to balance our diet.
  2. With the help of Mr. Dale, we were able to get water tanks at Mwebaza which enabled us to get safe water.
  3. Because of Mr. Dale, we were able to receive gifts like clothes, shoes, books, which helped us in our studies.
  4. With Mr. Dale’s help, Mwebaza was able to get a school bus which improved on the school’s transport especially during school trips.
  5. Mwebaza School was able to get new buildings which served as classrooms because we did not have enough classrooms.

Thank you CNN for considering Mr. Dale as the CNN Hero.

Nakamatte Esther, 18 years
Nabbanja Esther, 18 years
Nanfuka Immaculate, 18 years