Jose Villapando, 17, right, gets advice from classmate Andy Sanchez, 17, as he makes a book about art for children in Uganda during their class at Santana High School in Rowland Heights. (Keith Durflinger / Staff)
They put the you in Uganda.
 
Students at Santana High School have chosen to adopt the small African nation in their Books of Hope project.
 
The seniors "hope" their handmade books will inspire young Ugandans.
 
Teacher Victor Lombardi heard about the program from Principal Luciano De Sylva.
The English instructor decided Books of Hope would make an inspiring elective course at the Rowland Heights school.
 
More than 30,000 students, teachers and parents from more than 1,000 schools across the country have participated in the program, according to the Book of Hope Web site.
 
The program is based in Madison, Wis. Last year, Books of Hope collected more than 2,500 pounds of books to ship abroad. It hopes to double that this year.
 
"Books are food for the soul and shelter for the spirit. A single book can contain a universe of hope and possibility," notes Director Abha Thakkar on the Web site.
 
"The children we serve in Uganda and India have seen more than their share of misery. Their lives have been a constant struggle for survival for far too long.
"But as they emerge from war and slavery, we hope, through a book made of friendship and love, we can help them construct a vision for a better life."
 
The Santana seniors began by studying the African nation sandwiched between Kenya and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
 
"They learned that the northern part of the country has been torn apart by 20
years of civil war," Lombardi said.
 
During the vicious war, tens of thousands of children were kidnapped from their families and villages.
 
The youngsters were forced to serve as soldiers for the Lord's Resistance Army. It has been estimated that 90 percent of the rebel army were children.
 
"I cried when we saw the documentary 'Invisible Children.' It's horrible that they recruited soldiers that way," said senior Sylvia Fernandez.
 
The 18-year-old is making one of
Kevin Byun, 17, cuts out out pictures for a number book for elementary children in Uganda. (Keith Durflinger / Staff)
her books about human rights. The cosmetology student plans to make four books for the Ugandan students.
 
On March 19, the Santana students quietly worked on the drawings and lettering that adorned the little handmade books. Fortunately, the official language in Uganda is English.
 
Jose Villapando was one of the seniors concentrating on his book cover. The 16-year-old carefully laid large silver letters on his book.
 
"I'm doing a book about art around the world. I want to show them different art styles," Villapando said.
 
He has plans for three more books on poetry, sports and human rights.
 
"I want to make the Ugandan children feel better. Instead of guns, we're sending them books," Villapando said.
 
Kevin Byun was working on a book to help elementary students learn to count.
Large numbers graced each page, which will be decorated with the appropriate number of dogs, ducks and other objects.
 
"I'd like to fly over to see Uganda, even though it would be pretty sad," the 17-year-old said.
 
The project has left the Rowland student thankful for everything he has.
 
"We're so blessed around here," Byun said. "This book may be a little thing but I'm sending it to someone who will appreciate having something of their own."
 
His friend, 16-year-old Martin Hernandez, agreed. Hernandez was working on a health book for Uganda.
 
"Many of the children are orphans because of the AIDS epidemic in Africa," Hernandez said.
 
It has been estimated a quarter of children in northern Uganda over 10 years old have lost one or both parents.
 
Hernandez wants to construct three or four books for the African children. The aspiring architect hopes the books of hope give the children just that.
 
"There's a stereotype that students in a continuation school don't care about anything. These students really do care about the plight of children in Uganda. And they'll doing something to help," the proud instructor said.
 
richard.irwin@sgvn.com
(626) 962-8811, Ext. 2801