Students of École Mother Teresa School welcomed a familiar face last month.
When some of them attended Our Lady of the Rosary School in 2011, they met Rosemary Akiteng and heard about the hundreds of hungry orphans in her village of Ogooma, Uganda. Mother Teresa was the last of the several Sylvan Lake schools that hosted Rosemary this visit before she returned to her orphans. She came to say thank you and to show the students what their fundraising efforts have accomplished for the Ogooma Uganda Children’s Home.
In 2008, before Rosemary’s 2011 visit, a family from Sylvan Lake travelled to Ogooma to see how they could help. There was such great need, but they didn’t know where to begin. At the time, villagers walked many kilometres to draw water from a muddy, contaminated watering hole. They were often sick and many died. So it seemed the thing to begin with was to get healthy water into the area.
The family returned home and began speaking to their Alliance Church friends. One dedicated Sylvan resident after the other told relatives, friends and corporations across Canada. Donations began to arrive and a generous corporation helped dig a solar-powered well on the site where Rosemary’s uncle had had a small farm. So by 2010, the solar-powered well was dug. Now more than 1,000 villagers a day (from sunrise to sunset) line up to chat while waiting their turn to fill their big yellow jerry cans.
Rosemary’s “board” of villagers had been prepared to work in whatever way they could. As fast as funds could be raised in Canada, the task began of making mud bricks by hand for a dormitory. The first goal was to house 30 orphans, but when Rosemary asked local churches and officials for a few names of the most needy, the shortlist contained over 300 names.
Sylvan Lake students and their teachers raised funds and Our Lady of the Rosary supplied sheets for the first beds. For the first time, those 30 orphans were not sleeping on the ground of a sod hut without coverings. And they could have three meals each day.
CP Blakely School sent school supplies. École Notre Dame Secondaire High School helped build a nursery classroom. École Fox Run School joined others in sending goats. Quilters with a Purpose supplied quilts for each bed and some neighbouring huts. Individuals came forward to sponsor an orphan. Crocs and clothing were sent from individuals at Sylvan Lake Alliance Church, as was cash from the congregation.
Sylvan Lake students were glad to hear that, with a second dorm, 86 orphans are now safer and eat regularly. Other children come to the orphanage begging to just sleep on the floor. And Rosemary’s heart breaks if she has to say no. They were also told that, as much as possible, the Ogooma board wanted the orphanage to be self-sufficient and to benefit its local community as well.
So now there’s a well that serves 1,000 neighbours every day, and a church/community centre/ classroom. They have as many as 700 people come to services in a building that has seats for 250. There’s a loud-speaker system so those who are sitting outside can hear.
A pastor’s home with a permanent pastor and family, bikes and wheelchairs from Canada have been provided for the handicapped neighbours and grandparents — victims of war and AIDS.
A choir of children sing and dance at the church and have been invited to sing at special functions outside the community, including Day of the African Children. The organization supplies much of its own food and is hoping to create more to sell.
A bakery with a brick oven is now on site. The youngsters raise goats, chickens, and turkeys. Their gardens yield eggplant, tomatoes, green peppers, papaya and cabbage. A fence was needed around the garden to keep monkeys from stealing their food. This year, a drip irrigation system was completed to water the crops in the dry season.
They are proud of their new “library” — a handmade book cabinet with approximately 20 books on it — and two old treadle sewing machines where young women are turning out wallets, purses, aprons and totes to sell.
There are no computers because there’s no electricity and all the amenities it brings with it. But the students who have been taught at the orphanage have a stronger grasp on their lessons than older ones who have been attending the village school.
The nursery classes utilize the two classrooms, the church, the dining hall and under the trees to teach children between three and eight years old, with 33 of the orphans attending. In addition, about 42 neighbour children get an education and one meal a day.
The older orphans walk about six kilometres to the community school that has up to 250 students for every teacher in a decrepit building. Half the village kids arrive without paper and pencils because parents can’t afford them.