Uganda: Part Four
I hope you have enjoyed getting to know the children from Karukoba village in Uganda a bit more, although I am sure you are like me in finding it difficult to know they are facing so many challenges. You might also be thinking that you are happy this blog series is now done, since I know I write far too much each time. (Hence my difficulty with Twitter!)
On my final night in the village, I asked some of the local people why they feel the region has remained in a cycle of poverty. Three main issues were raised:
1) A lack of education. The government primary school is a long distance away, and many families are unable to afford the school fees. Because they know little of the world outside their village, it is very difficult for anyone to feel that anything could ever get better, and so things just continue as they have always been.
2) The village is used to child labor. Everyone has to work so hard to pull their weight, so children begin working very young and rarely get to better themselves. Some girls in this region marry as young as 13 or 14. The birth rate in Uganda is higher than most places in the world, with women often having 6-10 children, which also contributes to ongoing poverty.
3) As my blog yesterday emphasized, access to water is a critical challenge, and so it takes everyone’s energy just to get the meager amount of water they need to survive each day. The lack of water also hurts the crop cycle, making access to adequate food more difficult.
So what do we do with what we’ve seen and learned? And how would that fit into LWB’s current mission? Thankfully I see several collaborative projects which could help bring “hope and healing” to the children here.
LWB has been invested in the education of children in China since 2004, when we opened our very first Believe in Me school inside the Shantou orphanage, and so beginning an education project in Uganda seems like a natural fit. I mentioned in an earlier blog that Innocent’s mother had welcomed orphaned children into her home for decades.
She is a kind and lovely woman, and on the final night I was in the village she told me that she herself had thirsted for knowledge and education more than anything else, but she never had the opportunity to go to school. Because of this, she now wants every child in the village to have the chance she never did.
In Uganda, only 1% of women own land, so those who do treasure it. Because her deepest regret is that she was never allowed to become educated, Innocent’s mother donated her small piece of land that was in her family for the current wooden school house to be built. This was an enormous gift and shows her commitment to having the children in her village finally break the cycle of poverty she has lived her entire life.
How wonderful it would be to partner with this amazing woman to make her dream of quality education for children a reality. The first steps would be to build a safe primary school out of bricks (with a real concrete floor for desks and bookshelves!) and to hire certified teachers who can begin teaching the Ugandan curriculum in English. I am so excited thinking about all that can be done.
Through our many years of nutrition work in China, we have seen firsthand that when children are truly hungry, everything else about their lives suffers. Because we saw clear indications of hunger and malnutrition among the children in the village, setting up a nutrition project in Uganda directly fits with our mission as well. Here are some of the ideas we’ve discussed:
1) Begin an LWB nutrition program for the primary school children, providing both a healthy breakfast and hot lunch at school each day.
2) In order to increase protein consumption, implement a chicken program. Because we would want the local villagers to feel ownership of the primary school, each family could be given two chickens, and once they start laying eggs, they could “pay” the school with 3 eggs a week, which would then be used for the school breakfast/lunch program.
3) LWB already purchased one cow for the village, which can help provide some milk to the school each day. Additional cows could be purchased as funds are available to increase the milk supply for the children.
4) Expand Innocent’s beehive program from 10 to 70 hives. A log beehive (much sturdier than the ones he currently has) can be purchased for $20. The funds from the harvest could go into purchasing additional food for the school.
5) A pig project could help provide needed fertilizer for overworked soil, increasing production of crops. Families who received a pig could then make a donation of sweet potatoes each harvest to the school in return.
6) While we would work to have a sustainable program for the children with livestock and crop production, we would also need monthly nutrition donors to buy essential staples like beans and rice as well.
The Critical Issue of Water
If you read my blog on water yesterday, you know this is an enormous challenge for the people of this village. And while access to water would be a new project path for LWB, it is one that must be addressed in order to have success for the other program areas.
While I was in Uganda, we hired a certified hydrogeologist to come to the village for a water survey. The positive news is that they did find water in the village, although the borehole would have to be drilled extremely deep (140 meters down). When the news was given to the villagers that water was found, they ran and got the ceremonial drum and the dancing began. However, as I mentioned yesterday, there are significant issues which would have to be addressed, since so many wells in Africa have fallen into disrepair.
If we moved forward with a well project, there would have to be extensive training on well maintenance and the establishment of a village water committee. A hand pump at that depth might be too difficult for the children to operate, so solar panels might be needed to help bring water to the surface. And so while absolutely I want to keep investigating this option, I think rainwater harvesting is a more guaranteed solution.
Ten thousand liter water storage tanks can be purchased in the capital city of Kampala and would then have to be driven by truck to the village (about a 7-8 hour drive). A tin roof is required for rainwater harvesting though, which is a problem in the village since most homes have grass roofs. However, if a new primary school is built, we could budget in four 10,000 liter tanks for each corner of the school roofline. This would definitely be a help for the children, especially during the rainy season.
Innocent currently has one large plastic tank he purchased after a Go Fund Me campaign. It can provide water for ten days during the dry season. (I actually dreamed last night that I won Powerball and bought the village enough bottled water to last ten years. I know….not very realistic…but it was a lovely dream while it lasted).
So that’s a lot to take in, isn’t it? But I truly believe that if we work together, we can accomplish really exciting things for the children of Karukoba village. I want to learn as much as I can about their lives, and I hope you all will want to share in this new journey with us.
While visiting the village and seeing so many children living in such extreme poverty was difficult, I fully believe that Innocent and I met for a reason. His passion to help children who are hurting matches our own, and I wish you could have seen my face when I learned that his family had been doing foster care for orphaned children for longer than LWB has. I looked to the sky, gave a little prayer of thanks, and thought, “Divine intervention.”
The children I met in this village are each so special, and thankfully they still have unlimited potential if interventions begin soon.
Unfortunately, the message they are being given far too frequently is that they can never rise above their current poverty. They need people to believe in them and to encourage them that they can indeed improve their lives, especially through the power of education.
What would the ripple effects be for this region if the children had the food and schooling they needed to thrive? And isn’t that a great (and exciting) question to contemplate?
The other day I watched a new Disney film trailer for a movie called “Queen of Katwe,” which was filmed in Uganda. I never know when the emotions of what I see overseas will suddenly overwhelm me, but I’ll just say I was crying pretty hard in the theater, which made the man next to me probably think I had a serious problem. : )
I encourage you to watch the trailer yourself, and to listen for the line which completely did me in: “Use your minds….and you will all find safety.” (See the trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z4l3-_yub5A)
SAFETY. That’s the perfect word to describe what we want every child in our programs to feel, whether they live in an orphanage or struggle with extreme poverty. I believe fully that by expanding our successful education and nutrition programs to Uganda, we can begin to instill in every village child that their lives truly matter and we believe in their dreams.
How I hope you’ll join with us! Stay tuned for some wonderful ways to get involved.