By Laura Supple
When Dani Klein and I left for Uganda a month ago, we could not have anticipated what we would see and do. Although Lindsay Kingston and Ben Teasdale had been to Kamuli with the 52 Kids Foundation (an organization that strives to teach Ugandan children to live positively without aid) in previous years and tried to give us an idea of what it was like, their explanations could not fully capture life in this town.
No two days were alike in Kamuli, Uganda, but one thing we could always count on were the children that waited until we walked by so they could shout “Muzungu! Muzungu”! “Muzungu,” the local word for “white person,” became our identities during our three weeks in Kamuli.
When we first arrived I was struck by how enthusiastic and friendly everyone in Kumali was. It seemed the entire town wanted to talk to us, shake our hands, and have us take their picture. When we visited the more rural communities, we were always greeted by great big bear hugs, smiles, and lots of food! As we settled into our three week stay, however, other aspects of life in Kamuli became apparent. In the villages, the distended bellies of the small children were barely covered by the tattered; decaying rags they wore as clothes. Children eat mainly rice or cornbread and beans for most every meal. These foods supply calories, but lack many vital nutrients the children need to remain healthy. I was shocked by the number of kids we met that had to drop out of school simply because they did not have enough money. One boy we became close to was forced to drop out of school in third grade because his family could not pay tuition. He had to work for several years, as a small child, to save up enough money to complete primary school, through seventh grade. He’s now 19 and still working to help pay for his younger brother and sister’s education. That was something I could never quite wrap my head around: the idea that a young child may be unable to go to school because of money.
These are some of the issues that the 52 Kids Foundation aims to fix by paying for the schooling of 52 Kamuli children and doing various projects in the communities to better health, safety, and quality of life. I was overwhelmed by the gratitude people expressed for everything the 52 Kids Foundation has done. People now have hope for the future because of the opportunities the Foundation is creating.
Before Dani and I left for our trip, we started a project called Ugandan Roots, which aimed to establish a tree farm for Kamuli and the 52 Kids Foundation. I knew that 52 Kids and Kamuli locals were excited about the project, but I didn’t fully understand why; now I do.
As we spent more time with community members, another issue became increasingly clear: it was not raining. June is supposed to mark the start of the Ugandan rainy season, so our trip should have seen rainfall every day like clockwork. The problem is, due to changing climate trends that Kamuli farmers have noticed in recent years, rain patterns are shifting and it is becoming more and more difficult for farmers to predict the rains and know when to plant their crops. In Uganda, climate change isn’t just something to worry about for future generations; it’s a real problem they are facing today.
Planting trees is the best way for the people of Kamuli to fight the devastating climate shifts they are feeling. As one wise woman told me, “trees bring the rains,” and the deforestation in and around Kamuli over the past few decades is already causing drastic changes in the rain patterns that farmers have depended on for generations. Local farmers provide most of the food for Kamuli, so when their crops die, the entire town suffers. For Kamuli, going green isn’t about politics or image; it’s a matter of survival.
In addition to the environmental benefit, trees provide a very valuable resource in Uganda, especially as they become more and more scarce. Firewood is the main source of cooking fuel and a necessity in every home, and the value of timber continues to go up. In 10 years, many of the kids that the 52 Kids Foundation supports will be going to universities or vocational schools, and a large enough tree farm would be able to provide vital income to make that possible.
It was no surprise that we found a tremendous amount of support for our project from the community. Thanks to the help and hard work of various community members, we were able to plant close to 200 trees on a 1.5-acre property just outside of town. In about 10 years, those trees will be harvested by the 52 Kids Foundation and used to fund any number of projects.
Two hundred trees is an excellent start, but we want to do even more. We have the opportunity now to lease five hectares (about 12.5 acres) from the Ugandan Forestry Reserve to plant trees for 52 Kids–if we are able to raise enough money. Everything we are able to accomplish is thanks to the generous donations of our sponsors. Dani and I want to thank all of the Ugandan Roots sponsors that made this project possible and gave us hope for the future of the 52 Kids. For more information about Ugandan Roots or to make a tax deductible donation, contact Laura Supple at 985-9403.