“There is no separating my life from my work,” says Sarah Nininger ’13, B.A. Integrated Educational Studies. Her friends back in the U.S. are getting married, having families, buying homes. She’s trying to figure out how incorporate a plot of land that came with her building in Uganda into a community gardening project.

Sarah Nininger ’13 gets a hug at Action in Africa’s Center in Nakuwadde.

At 27, she’s the president of Action in Africa and this year’s Chapman University Schweitzer Rising Star award recipient. Action in Africa is a non-profit organization and Nininger lives and works on-site at The Center in Nakuwadde, Uganda. Action in Africa operates on about $150,000 a year. Judging from photos on the Action in Africa website, much of Nininger’s pay comes in the form of hugs, smiles, empowered women and happy kids.

Nininger first became involved with Action in Africa as a high school student through a school club. At Chapman, she established a club chapter, helping organize materials and funds to support the mission of Action in Africa. After graduation, she applied to and was accepted for graduate school at USC, but weighed the decision against her heart and followed her calling to the red earth of Uganda. She says it was the best decision of her life, one she has never regretted.

Action in Africa is dedicated to providing education and empowerment opportunities to the population it serves, allowing them to “reach their untapped potential and incite economic growth by becoming the next leaders, innovators, and entrepreneurs in their country.”

It provides materials, funds, a safe educational and meeting location at The Center, as well as community services for 300 – 500 children on any given day in the village of Nakuwadde. The village population is somewhere up to 10,000 Nininger says.

The Center compound serves roughly a one to three mile radius area in the village for local schools to utilize for lessons and activities, acts as a community center for workshops, programs, mentoring, woman to woman groups and thrice-yearly medical services. It also provides clean water – an essential service that cannot be overstated.

Education is tough in Uganda. Schools are a luxury, in that the public schooling system is sporadic at best in terms of teachers showing up and facilities being kept in running order. While elementary school attendance is more than 90 percent for boys and girls according to 2013 UNICEF statistics, that participation rate drops off to 16 percent for boys and 18 percent for girls at high school level, called secondary school.

Achieving a university education in Uganda is almost unheard of says Nininger. Action in Africa Is trying to change that. Currently there are 95 students on Action in Africa funded high school scholarships in some form for high school. One student has his entire university education funded through a scholarship and Nininger is working on expanding those high education opportunities.

Although rewarding, writing a strategic plan to send a child to college is a lot of work, Nininger says. But her Chapman education prepared her for this path. “I’m using my degree every day,” she says.

To learn more, visit the Action in Africa website.

About the Schweitzer Rising Star Award:

The award is presented annually by Chapman University to an inspirational young alumna/alumnus who has taken up Albert Schweitzer’s challenge to find a place to invest his or her humanity for the betterment of humankind and the world.