Sunday, February 28, 2010

Recruiting bookmark sellers and inspired youth

I've got 40 new bookmarks ready - well 30 now because Jessica Taylor ( bought the first 10. But no worries, I've got more in the works, thanks to Cindy Lepine and Monica Kahindo who I've recruited for the bookmark sweat shop.

If you would like one, let me know. It's a $10 donation. If you think you might be able to sell a few - also great! Maybe your work colleagues, friends or family would be interested ins upporting the orphanage this way?

I'd also like to put the call out there to hear from the youth who are keen to get involved. We're building some opportunities for you! We're also looking at ways that you can put in your community service hours for school credit.

For the little ones, I'm collecting drawings and letters that I can send to your peers at the orphanage. I have a few letters I have to write myself to some of the older girls, so I thought this a nice opportunity to get some of the children we know involved. Send me your drawings and letters!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Awesome people supporting an awesome cause

I've been talking online with the woman in the UK who organized the orphanage sponsorship program about where the greatest needs are for any funds I can raise. We agree that an education fund is definitely needed. We started breaking down the costs - and I'd be lying to say it wasn't a little overwhelming. (Can I seriously raise that much money?)

But just when I get a seed of doubt, I got ten times more encouragement as the day went on.

I wanted to give a huge shout out to some people who are helping the fundraise forge ahead! Cindy Lepine and Monica have volunteered to come over tomorrow night and learn how to make bookmarks. I really need help with this because it was a killer trying to make all those bookmarks for Xmas! I've had quite a few people ask for them since I've come home. Also, my awesome Aunt Judy in Midland has offered to sell "as many as she can" for us.

I went to the shops today to pick up the supplies. I got talking to the girls at Fancy Beads on Queen Street about the orphanage. They are keen to get involved and have offered to donate some of the personal jewelry pieces to raise funds. AND - while I was there, I met Tony who runs Sully's Boxing Gym (and also is a jewelry designer). He overheard our conversation and offered to let us use his space if ever we want to do an event. It's a very cool space and a world-famous boxing gym - even Ali and George Chuvalo have trained there! So who knows what the possibilities are!

And the best part of the day was that my long-time friend, Bernard Petersen, who lives in Boston offered to cover the costs of ALL of the supplies. I bought enough for another 100 bookmarks, so that means another $1000 for the orphanage. **Awesome -Thank you B!


Saturday, February 20, 2010

A letter from yoneki

Monica brought this letter home from Uganda addressed to me from one of the teenagers at the orphanage. The orphanage doesn't have email, so it was hand-written. I received it today and wanted to share it with you because it’s something very special to me, and because it’s just so cute! It’s a real honour to know that she is thinking of me and that I have made an impact – if only just a small one – in this girl’s life.

The letter is from Yoneki, who I called Unique, because she is indeed unique! At age 15, Yoneki has grown up in the orphanage and you could easily mistake her for a House Mother. She never stopped working – preparing food, laundry, gardening and caring for the babies. She was a natural care-taker and I would not be surprised if she one day goes on to be a nurse or a teacher. Yoneki was the eldest girl in my house and so I got to spend a lot of time with her – helping her in her chores. She is in her senior fourth level at school – she has a few years left before she thinks of university or vocational training.

Hello Karen,

How are you now that you are in Canada? To me, my life is not very well because you left me! Thank you for the letter you wrote me, I received it. Karen, in the letter you promised that you would be hearing from me in the future, but how and by what means? I don’t think I will hear from you unless you come to Uganda or if you send me your phone number.

In your letter, I really thank you for saying that you think I am a special girl.
The day you left I had a dream that you were hugging me and then I cried. But my mind told me that if I cried it means you shall one day come back to Uganda.
Thanks goes to you for all of the good things you helped me with at (the orphanage) in Uganda.

Greetings in love to all of your friends in Canada.
Love from your brothers and sisters in NOTDEC, especially Ellen.
Wishing you the best in your work. I hope to hear from you. I miss you very much.

Best wishes, from Yoneki.


I'm just home from Ottawa feeling even more inspired about the orphanage fundraising after talking to my colleague, Evelyne. She told me that before Christmas her husband and daughters talked together and decided to make a contribution to the orphanage to purchase a bed. Evelyne and her daughters are now brainstorming ways that they can mobilize others in Ottawa to help.

I met her daughter tonight - an amazing, bright, ambitious young woman - who told me she is taking a year off school to do volunteer projects and would love the opportunity to go to the orphange. You go girl! Do it!!

The young women at the orphanage, many her own age, would be thrilled to have her there - how incredible of an opportunity to connect with others your own age, but your situations are polar opposites.

If anyone else keen to do a volunteer experience, keep the orphanage in mind.

I've been blown away by the generosity of my friends and family who have offered to help. There is more I will soon share. And I'm going to start outing all of you who keep inspiring me to go further with this. You are propelling this fundraiser forward.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Going forward, next steps for fundraising

Going forward:

I wanted to thank you again for supporting the fundraiser and share with you information on how our funds were used, not only to buy furniture, but to help in a crisis situation. It turned out that our money arrived just as the orphanage was running out of food and baby formula. I’ve put more details on how our funds were used in the attached document.

Many of you said that you would like to make a donation or buy a bookmark, but we didn’t get the chance to connect before I left. Now’s your chance! Please contact me if you are still keen.

Since returning from Uganda, many people have asked me: “Wasn’t it sad to see those children?”

The answer is no, I didn’t feel sad. Frustrated at times, but mostly, the orphanage was inspiring.

I continue to be inspired by so many of you that have told me you would like to continue to support the orphanage. We have a real TANGIBLE opportunity here to make an enormous difference in a child’s life. There is a church group in the UK currently running a sponsorship program to pay for the children’s education, food and living expenses. The sponsorship is working, but there are other areas of need.

Some of the areas that I will be focusing on to raise funds for are:

· SCHOLARSHIP FUND: This will be a scholarship program for the orphanage’s youth who are preparing to go to university. The only thing stopping them is not being able to pay for it. We can help change the perpetual cycle of poverty for these children by funding their post-secondary education.

· DONATING USED CLOTHING, TOYS, Etc: I am currently building a list of items that we can send to the orphanage to help them. Items will include clothing for boys, toys, eye glasses, paper, pens, etc., that we can send to them.

I’m currently preparing documentation to turn this into a solid fundraising program. I’m also recruiting a team of like-minded souls who will help to champion this cause. Please do let me know if you’d like to get involved. If you are interested to keep getting updates about fundraisers, please do let me know.

Otherwise, I hope that you will continue to support our fundraising efforts – bookmarks and some other new items are in the works!

Thank you again. You all reminded me that if we all give just a little, we really can make an impact.


How our funds helped the children

How our money helped the 70 children at the Nzirambi Orphan Talent Development Centre A Miracle When I first arrived at the orphanage, I learned that the orphanage had run out of money in the middle of December. The orphanage is sponsored by a church group in the UK, but there had been a problem with the Ugandan banking and the money got tied up for two months. They were scrambling to find funds to pay for food for the children and formula for the babies. Auntie Milly, who helps run the orphanage, says our money was like a miracle to them. I wired six million shillings (the equivalent to $3,50CDN) to them in mid December. If I had of known there was a problem, I would have sent money sooner instead of leaving it in a box in my drawer – as I did while I was collecting your funds. But the orphanage, I think, was too proud to ask. Furniture I was able to see first-hand how our money was used. We bought ALL of the beds for the youngest babies – our beds are distinguished from the others because they have been painted white. In the house where I stayed with the youngest babies, there are sturdy couches which we paid for. It means the women don’t have to sit on the floor while they are holding crying, hungry babies. It also makes the home feel more like a home. A young carpenter was working on site to build more of the couches for the other homes as well. Small tables were also purchased, along with plastic chairs for the homes. The Prisoners/ Agriculture One morning I woke up to find a line up of about 30 prisoners in yellow uniforms working in the field outside of my window. The orphanage sits on 30 acres of land, which they are working to develop and prepare for farming. The hope is that the orphanage will one day become sustainable and grow most of its own food, and maybe have some left over to sell. The prisoners were hired with our funds. They provide cheap labour and in return mass amounts of land was hoed and grass cut, ready for planting.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The babies

The babies
When I arrived, the home was still grieving the loss of three children - two were babies - who died in December due to illness, most likely malaria. The children died just two weeks before Christmas.

I stayed in the home where the majority of babies were kept – in all, I think there were about 6 of them under the age of 2. At least one baby stays in each of the houses as the House Mothers try to share the workload of caring for the youngest at the orphanage.

When I was there, the youngest was Baby Steven – he was born on Christmas Day and on Boxing Day he was found in a garbage dump and brought to the orphanage.

Baby Abigail was baptized on the last Sunday I was there, and after her baptism her House Mother brought her to the hospital. I’m still not sure what’s happened to her or why she was ill.

Baby Rafiki George who I cradled one morning for hours trying to stop his crying was also brought to the hospital that same day.

But, the day after the baptism, a new baby, Baby Jimmy, was brought home from the hospital. I didn’t even know about him! He had been brought to the orphanage before I arrived, but immediately admitted to hospital and was only returning now. I got to meet the sweet little baby, wrapped up in blankets, sleeping soundly and overall, doing well.

Another baby, we determined while I was there, is quite possibly deaf – or maybe autistic. We tried to bang pots to catch his attention, but the child is completely unresponsive. He never cries, never moves – never makes a sound. If tests reveal his hearing is fine and he is not autistic, then it is likely that the child is in shock after losing his mother – sadly, not uncommon for many of these babies.

If it is determined he has serious health issues, I’m not sure how the orphanage will manage the medical costs involved....?

The babies are so vulnerable – and sadly, many of them do not make it because they are so ill when they are brought to the orphanage. However, most do survive and they live in the orphanage until they have grown and finished school. They are incredible children.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Daily Grind of the Orphanage

I promised some of you – and myself – that when I had access to a computer, I would update the blog about the orphanage. Now, I’d like to backtrack and in the upcoming blogs, I will introduce you to some of the children and their life at the orphanage, tell you how our money was used and some ideas I have for future fundraising. I’m practically bursting at the seams to share my idea...but, first things first.

The orphanage.

There are four houses here and in each one there are almost 20 people – the houses were built with the donations of a Christian group in the UK. The boys are kept separate then the girls, and there are many more boys then there are girls. The kids range in age from newborns up to 20 years old - the older kids have spent their entire lives in the orphanage.

The older children (and by older, I mean anyone older then 5) help with chores. I was there during their school break and all day long, the children would work. They cook, clean, do laundry and feed the babies. How strange it is to see a 7-year-old girl pick up a crying two-week-old and stick a bottle in its mouth (while she is sucking her own thumb). None of them complained about chores.

The house where I slept is where most babies are kept. At the time, there were about 8 babies. The youngest was Baby Steven, born Christmas Day. He was brought to the orphanage on Boxing Day when someone found him in a garbage dump.

In each house, there is a House Mother. These women work non-stop. There is a perpetual cycle of laundry, dishes, floors to scrub, cooking, babies to bathe, bottles to prepare....It’s almost impossible to explain the amount of work that goes into caring for 70 children (without the convenience of washing machines, dishwashers, microwaves, etc).

I tried my best to help out where possible – peeling matoke (bananas with a thick sap that make them difficult to peel), grinding groundnuts with mortars for stew, hanging laundry, digging out weeds in the yard, washing dishes (constantly washing dishes) and sweeping the floor. Every morning, I would make all of the baby beds. One morning, I held baby Rafiki George for three hours trying to soothe him. The poor boy was taken to hospital just a few days later with illness that had not been determined while I was still there.

In the evenings, the children would gather in one house for prayers, singing, dancing and drumming. Afterwards, they would huddle around a TV that was donated to them. There is no cable, but they have a donated DVD player and it runs off a solar-powered generator. It’s their one small luxury.

Some of the older kids would sit out front of the house talking – as older kids always do. I would try to join them most nights. They wanted to know what life was like in Canada, did I go to university, or how often did I plait my hair (!!!). I wanted to know what they dreamed to do, what school was like, where their fathers were and what they planned for the future. These evening were some of my favourite times at the orphanage.

I’m home now and my days are getting back to normal – work, internet, exercise, walks with Shelby, visiting friends and family. I’ve had three caramel apple spices from Starbucks since I’ve been home Meanwhile, I know nothing has changed there. The perpetual cycle of work and struggling to survive and get ahead continues....