PIEDMONT -- A small lantern will light the darkest corner, just as the Lantern Project has brightened the lives of the underprivileged all over the world.

Founded by retired Piedmont school Superintendent Gail Uilkema in 2003, the charitable organization has funded 245 projects in 60 countries since its inception. And no donation is too small to help.

"Always remember that the purpose of the Lantern Project is that everybody feels comfortable with whatever they can donate," Uilkema said.

Schoolchildren collected pennies for pencils in Kenya. Other students did the same to buy toothbrushes for people in a faraway land. Dollar by dollar, projects are funded. This past year has been extraordinary, Uilkema said.

"Lantern surpassed the half-million mark (in donations) for fiscal year 2012-13."

Projects included funding for playground equipment, building supplies, school uniforms, boots, bicycles, gardening supplies, cataract surgeries, sewing machines and a land mine probe kit in countries around the world.

Money is usually wired to a reliable contact near the village being helped, Uilkema said.

But in some cases, delegates from Lantern travel to the location being aided, such as board member Ksenija Olmer and her husband, who wanted to bring 50 pounds of books to schoolchildren in a remote Ethiopian village.

The Olmers were challenged reaching the mountain village at 13,000 feet.


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They drove on an asphalt road for four hours, then another hour on a dirt road, then hiked through a meadow to reach a school with 500 excited young children.

The school was primitive yet tidy with classrooms built of mud, grass floors and no electricity or water. But the library had new desks and new shelves with organized books.

The visit concluded with students reading aloud from their new books, some of them practicing English or sharing their Amharic words with their guests. The Olmers used their own money for the trip.

Every dollar that is raised by the Lantern Project goes toward helping those in need. The only exception is paying for food served at charitable fundraisers the organization hosts every year.

Uilkema has developed a worldwide network of reputable contacts such as international schools, Rotary clubs and the Peace Corps to identify key projects in need of support.

Funds raised from a vintage hat and vintage car benefit planned for Feb. 27 will go to a hospital in India that cares for pregnant women and for training people in villages to care for the newborns.

An April 11 cocktail benefit features an insider's view of the Bay Bridge construction, and funds raised there will help build bridges in villages around the world, Uilkema said.

FYI
To host a benefit event or for more information, contact lanternprojects@comcast.org. To donate to a project, visit www.lanternprojects.org.