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Jan. 19, 2015

A classroom for Benson

Sarah Scott and Kirk Mason, 2014 graduates of Michigan State University, have teamed up to embark on a project that will honor an environmentalist, help teach children and raise environmental awareness.

Benson Bamatura could recognize more than 500 birdcalls by ear and had identified 725 bird species in his 12 years of birding. He was known equally for his passion for wildlife and conservation as well as his big heart and friendly personality. He also partnered with MSU faculty to help guide a study abroad experience in Uganda. Benson died on Jan. 26, 2014 at the young age of 33. Apart from leaving behind a wife, three children and two foster children, he also left behind a legion of local and international friends as well as the Ugandan rainforest that he loved.

Upon hearing of Benson’s death, a group of students and others at MSU reached out to a friend and colleague of Benson, Kemigisha Harriet, to determine the best way to commemorate his passing and support his family. It was recommended that they raise money to pay for Benson’s children’s school tuition fees – ensuring that his children obtained an education was a high priority.

The group contacted the superintendent of Bigodi Secondary School and a deal was proposed: through the construction of a classroom addition on Bigodi Secondary school, Benson’s children school fees would be waived and they would be able to complete their educations.

Scott, an environmental activist, conservationist, and friend of Benson, teamed up with fellow activist and documentary filmmaker, Mason on the project. Together, with support from the community, they raised funds for the construction of the classroom addition, as well as developed multiple projects that further Benson’s goal of conservation in his community and across Uganda, where they will be living and working. Scott earned a bachelor's degree in zoology/ecology, evolution and organismal biology, and environmental studies. Mason earned a bachelor's degree in media and information/arts & humanities.

In addition to the classroom construction, they will be raising awareness of the rich, biologically-diverse environment in western Uganda through a series of educational, online videos – Ugandan Explorers – as well as an after-school conservation club. They are also collaborating with MSU’s Center for Regional Food Systems to produce a documentary highlighting local food systems and provisioning in Kibale District.

Learn more about their work at the Classroom for Benson website, read their blogs, and follow them on Facebook and Twitter.