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A past client of mine, Cara, contacted me in the spring about an idea for our seasons of giving.  We decided to fund raise for this cause in the summer.  I had a great summer wedding season, so we were able to raise $1400 for the Suubi Fund.  We sent a boy to school for the year, and the extra money went towards another child’s education.  Cara writes:

“I had the privilege of traveling to Uganda last fall. It was an eye-opening trip…I saw conditions I could have never imagined and had conversations I cannot forget.  But, nothing impacted me as greatly as the plight of the Ugandan orphans. Uganda is roughly the size of Oregon…. and nearly 3 million orphans live there.  It is a number that is unfathomable —and unforgettable.  I spent time at several orphanages in Uganda, but one had an immediate impact on me – New Hope Children’s Centre located about 45 minutes west of Kampala.    While many orphanages in Uganda benefit from sponsorship or support from developed nations, New Hope does not.  After my day at New Hope, I cried as I sent an email home to family that read in part, “to call it an orphanage elevates it so significantly….. Much worse than I anticipated.”  Nothing had prepared me for New Hope…I knew that day that I had to act.

New Hope is an orphanage for 145 children, aged 5-18 years. The conditions at New Hope are very poor — the living conditions are unhealthy, there is not enough food on a daily basis, there are no “modern” amenities like electricity or clean water, and the children have no plans and little hope for the future. Despite this, the children are amazing. They are kind, compassionate, and bright.  They take great pride in their education, anxious to show off their spelling and math, even while standing knee deep in muddy waters that fill their only “classroom” every time it rains. But, they need help.

The organization I founded, Suubi Fund (“suubi” means hope in the local language of Uganda) has worked to enroll these children in secondary school, with an annual bill of $8000.00.  We are constantly fundraising to secure the funds to keep them in school.

 We are currently working to build a chicken coop on the grounds of New Hope. This will not only provide the children with much-needed nutrition, but also will provide a sustainable source of income.

 Our long-term goals include building a new dormitory for the children.”

Cara and I were able to meet up and chat in person (while our kids played at the playground), and also a great many emails went back and forth.  Here they are in a Q&A format (all images by Cara):

Sarah: What brought you to Uganda in the first place?

Cara: I am nearly done with my PhD in Epidemiology and my research focuses on HIV – especially in developing countries.  My trip to Uganda was part of my program, allowing me to visit one of the countries in the world most impacted by the global health crisis of HIV.    However, to understand my visit, you first have to know that my first passion -before anything else- has always been kids.  I worked my way through college and grad school as a childcare worker, teacher, and full-time nanny. So, as I planned my time in Uganda – it was an obvious choice for me to spend time at local orphanages.  I ended up spending over half my trip volunteering in orphanages — and was forever changed.  I came home from Uganda with a broken heart because of what I had seen and experienced and felt compelled to act.  Since that time, I have worked to start a nonprofit to aid one orphanage, in particular.  New Hope Children’s Centre in Entebbe, Uganda, is severely underfunded and does not have the resources to care for its 145 children.  They have no modern amenities — including running water, plumbing, or electricity.  They don’t even have enough food on a daily basis.  While their conditions are desperate, what was more alarming was that 10 children were old enough (age 14) to attend secondary school but did not have the funds to do so.  These children were about to be “released” from the orphanage, as “adults” — with no future.

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Sarah:  $800 (in U.S. dollars) a year seems expensive for Uganda.  Is education free and compulsory there?

Cara:  There are 3 terms to the Uganda school year, which starts in February of each year. Each term costs roughly $250 per child (roughly because it varies slightly with the exchange rate).  The remaining $50 per year is being collected to pay for the required school supplies, including uniforms and shoes.  The school is expensive.  Unfortunately, that is the norm in Uganda…which has made education a scarcity.  According to UNICEF, only 17% of Ugandan children attend secondary school (as of 2010).  Primary education (roughly the equivalent of grades K-8 here) is compulsory and free (technically – although many require uniforms which are not free and thus- many children are unable to attend).  Secondary school recently became “free” in Uganda, as well (in 2007).  However, that move has been made on a gov’t level and has not trickled down to the local level yet.   The gov’t -run secondary schools are  not readily accessible or available in rural areas. So, most Ugandans still rely on private secondary education.However, the cost of secondary school is astronomical—especially considering that a substantial portion of the Ugandan population lives on less than $1 a day…an $800/year tuition bill is not feasible at all.

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Sarah:  I know that you’ve said New Hope is not funded like other orphanages in the area.  Why is that?

Cara:  New Hope’s history is quite simple. Its director, Godfrey, used to be a schoolteacher who tutored children at night (for free) who couldn’t attend school.  His reputation spread and soon orphans were being dropped at his house because he was known to care for children and was willing to educate them. He is married with children of his own—and now cares for 145 orphans!  Can you even imagine?  He is in rural Uganda and  has not received much support because of that. Many of the more “affluent” (relatively speaking) orphanages are in major cities and have attracted support of westerners and/or churches or many in more rural locations were actually started by westerners and/or churches.  Because New Hope began in a Ugandan’s  backyard, essentially, there has never been a support system in place.

Sarah: So in many ways, New Hope is a good change, in that it was started by a local (whether intentionally or not!).  That should be a really good thing for the kids there.  But I see what you mean about the funding.  I’m so happy that you and the Suubi fund are taking on this work.

Cara:   I have definitely found this work to be the most challenging, yet rewarding, thing I have ever done.  After returning from Uganda last fall, I kept telling my husband, “those kids are haunting me” because I would think of them in every spare awake moment and dream of them at night.  I feel like this project found me.

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