One Experience of a Lifetime: Coming Up!

Guest post by David Levis, ChildFund Sponsor

In 2011, David Levis was the grand prize winner of ChildFund’s Facebook promotion, the Experience of a Lifetime – a trip to visit his sponsored child. David chose to travel to Uganda, where he and his wife, Stacie, sponsor several children. A public school teacher from Citrus Heights, Calif., David opted to take the trip during spring break 2012. We’ll be following his travels next week as he visits five sponsored children and ChildFund programs.

Soccer balls and pumps, check. Baby dolls, Hot Wheels cars and Frisbees, check. Pencils and solar lights, check—the list goes on. This is a very different kind of packing list. My wife prepared me a few months ago, when she turned to me and said, “You only need one pair of pants and a shirt, right? She laughed and I laughed, and then she said, “No, really.”

Stacie and David Levis

We have been looking forward to this time since winning the “Experience of a Lifetime” last August. After months of preparation, both physically and mentally, the day of departure is almost here!

Over the last few weeks, so many things have come together. We have packed and repacked everything multiple times, and in multiple ways, trying to get as many small gifts for the children to fit in my luggage as possible without exceeding the 50-pound limit per bag.

toys for children

It's all going to fit!

As of tonight, we have to repack it all over again. A stuffed animal, medications and odds and ends from our latest Kmart trip has put us back at square one. Stacie is once again attempting to weed out my clothing!

In addition to meeting the children that we are blessed to sponsor, I will also be visiting a local school that ChildFund supports. Using Google Docs, my students and I have been making connections with the teachers and students in grade 7 of Buyengo School in Busia, exchanging questions and group photos. I look forward to visiting the school and meeting the students and teachers.

Meanwhile, I finished off all of my vaccinations, and started my malaria-prevention medication. I’ve packed multiple mosquito repellants, and a travel guide to Uganda so that I can brush up on the culture and the landscape. Using the itinerary that ChildFund has provided, I’ve also been using Google Earth to map out our trip. It’s going to be an amazing experience.

I’ve also had incredible support from my family and friends, who are all preparing to follow our trip through social media, blogs and Skype. Our family has been featured in the local newspaper, and even our children have been involved in preparing gifts for the families we will meet.

As I leave California this weekend, I will not be traveling alone. I take my family, friends and fellow ChildFund sponsors with me in thought and in spirit. It is my hope that I will be able to share this experience in its entirety with everyone I can when I return.

I invite you to follow along as I travel across the world for a true “Experience of a Lifetime!”

A Child Saved in Northern Uganda

Story told by Tony Ocira to Semu Okumu, ChildFund Uganda

I come from Laroo community in Gulu District, which is located in the Acholi area of Uganda. I’m 27 and I work as a veterinary doctor. But when I was a child, I was sponsored through ChildFund, starting in1993. Laroo community was one of those places affected by a 20-year civil war involving the LRA rebels.

Young veterinarian in Uganda

Tony is now a veterinarian in Uganda.

By the time I joined ChildFund, my parents could not afford to pay my school fees or buy the things we needed. Our district was a battleground for the civil war. If we slept at home in our villages, we could be kidnapped by the LRA. We children often had to commute to the city in the evening to sleep on the streets and return to our school to study during the day.

My parents could not till the village land because the rebels often uprooted our crops. In any case, they were too scared to till the land with bullets flying all over.

When ChildFund came to introduce their programs to Gulu, Laroo community, I was one of the children who benefitted. Even at nine years, I knew that my life was going to change. ChildFund built a primary school for the little children and provided them with learning materials.

When I joined ChildFund, the Lowe family became my sponsors and they helped make me what I am today. Although they were not physically present, they showed me support during my childhood. Their letters showed concern, friendship and love.

With the support of my sponsors, my family bought livestock for rearing. The money got from selling the offspring of the livestock helped to provide clothes, household items for my family and pay for my school fees from primary school up to college. My sponsors were so good and I am eternally grateful.

Once, on my birthday, they sent me some money and my mother bought for me a short-sleeve blue shirt and brown khaki shorts. I felt so smart and walked around the village greeting all the elders and waving at the other children who were wearing tattered clothes.

Vet care for women's chicken

Tony tends to a community chicken.

Because of ChildFund, I had scholastic materials and lunch provided for me at school, and whenever I fell sick I received treatment. When I was young I had a dream of becoming a doctor, and now I am a veterinary doctor based in Amuru District in Northern Uganda.

I am glad that ChildFund came to Acholi area at a time when other organizations were fleeing.

I would like to thank all sponsors who give children better opportunities in life and tell you that through your sponsorship you are making children’s dreams a reality.

Spotlight on Uganda’s Children

by Virginia Sowers, ChildFund Community Manager

Uganda is once again in the news, and the focus is on children. Overall, that’s a good thing. There can never be enough attention heaped on this nation’s children, who endured 20 years of civil war from the 1980s to the mid-2000s. Yet, it’s important to distinguish between the Uganda of the early years of this century and the Uganda of today.

It is estimated that as many as 26,000 children in northern and eastern Uganda were abducted, raped and forced into servitude and military combat during the war. During the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) crisis, ChildFund responded with programs in some of the worst affected districts of Pader, Gulu, Lira and Soroti in Northern Uganda. We provided child protection and psychosocial support to thousands of children in the large camps of internally displaced people (IDPs).

Joseph Kony, who led the LRA, fled the country. Widely believed to now be in hiding in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kony remains a wanted man for the terrible atrocities committed on Uganda’s people and its children. And he continues to exploit children who come into his reach in central Africa.

“In the early years following the crisis, ChildFund Uganda focused on reintegrating formerly abducted children with their families and communities, as well as promoting the protection and psychosocial well-being of many other children who were not abducted but still were affected by the crisis,” says Martin Hayes, child protection specialist. “By 2006, the northern Ugandan city of Gulu no longer had ‘night commuters’— children on the run from the LRA abductors and who were afraid to sleep in their own rural homes,” Hayes notes. “Today, Gulu is a bustling town.”

The last 10 years have also seen the return of tens of thousands of the IDPs from camps back to their homes and a gradual return to normalcy. “ChildFund’s work has shifted to helping the Ugandan people get on with their lives,” Hayes says. ‘We’re working with our community partners to promote children and youth’s protection and healthy development – tangible support that is making their lives better.”

children in outdoor classroomSince 1980, ChildFund has worked with community-based partners across Uganda to support the needs of children. ChildFund’s programs currently benefit approximately 784,000 children and family members through establishment of Early Childhood Development (ECD) centers and parental outreach programs, school construction and teacher training, youth leadership and job training. “We also have been working with communities and families to support the needs of children affected by HIV/AIDS, which is a tremendous problem in Uganda,” Hayes notes.

“Child protection is at the forefront of all of our programs,” says Hayes. “ChildFund is working closely in partnership with the Ugandan government, the national university, international and national organizations and community residents to collectively improve the protective environments for children. Together, our goal is to strengthen Uganda’s national child protection system.”

Around the Globe with ChildFund in 31 Days: Uganda Is My Home

by Mercy, a youth enrolled in ChildFund International’s Uganda programs

31 in 31 logoOver the course of January’s 31 days, we’re making a blog stop in each country where we serve children, thanks to the generous support of our sponsors and donors. Today. a youth in our Uganda programs describes her home.

My name is Mercy, and I am a Muganda girl — a member of Baganda ethnic group. I live and go to school in Uganda’s Kampala District, in the Rubaga Divison. The neighbouring areas are Kasubi, Namungoona and Makerere.

girl washing dishes

One of Mercy's chores at home is to wash dishes.

I live in the city and the main business here is trading. We have many small shops that we call “duukas.” They sell all sorts of things like rice, sugar, posho [maize], biscuits … many things. We also have people who sell things by the roadside like Irish potatoes, bananas, sweet potatoes and tomatoes. There are many cars that pass by.

My community is part of the Baganda Kingdom, which is a principality of Uganda. We have a king called Muwenda Mutebi II and a queen called Sylvia Nagginda. She is very nice. We also have a princess called Ssangalyambogo. She has won many swimming medals, yet she is a young girl.

The king has many palaces but the main one is the Lubiri. He also has an office in a place called Bulange. It is big and has many rooms. My uncle took me there one day.

When there are important functions in Buganda, the king attends. Every year we have a big celebration on the king’s birthday. We have regalia like drums and spears. We used to have royal tombs where our passed kings were buried, but they were burned last year. That day I cried very much.

In Uganda, we have many clans like the Elephant clan, the Grasshopper clan, the Lion clan, the Edible Rat clan. I can’t remember the rest of the clans but there are more than 50. Each clan has a leader. My mother told me that someone cannot marry another person from their clan.

Discover more about ChildFund’s programs in Uganda and how you can sponsor a child.

The Joy I Get From Receiving a Christmas Card

by Cate, a sponsored child in Kiboga Area, Uganda

Inspired by the card she recently received from her sponsor, Cate penned this poem.

poem by CateAll of us were born to celebrate our birthdays,
But there is one birthday that we all celebrate,
That one of Jesus Christ
Oh, how good it feels to celebrate Christmas.
Gifts of love we receive from our loved ones,
Christmas cards and beautiful messages
from friends and family.
Every year as a must I receive a very special Christmas card,
Before December 25th I receive my special card,
From that one person who never forgets me.
It is always has beautiful designs and lovely messages
And it brings me so much joy
It is from my sponsor.
Every year I wait and wait with open arms,
For that Xmas card that shows me that,
My sponsor David cares about me,
And even when my family doesn’t give me a card,
I really never mind because I know
My sponsor will send me a card.

A Gift of Seeds Helps Transform a Family Living in Poverty

Reporting by ChildFund Uganda

Ugandan girl


Jesca ate better this year. The eight-year-old, who lives in Uganda’s Busia, Buyengo community, had suffered from malnutrition. But she began to flourish after her family received maize seeds from ChildFund’s Gifts of Love & Hope catalog.

The family of nine – Jesca has four brothers and two sisters – had been scraping by. The father and mother struggled as subsistence farmers, barely growing enough to eat.

Jesca’s mother couldn’t stop smiling as she looked at the maize she had been given to plant. “This is the beginning of my new life,” she remarked. Jesca was also happy since her mother kept telling her that the maize had been given to the family because of her enrollment in ChildFund’s programs.

Girl in garden

Jesca in her family's maize field

In addition to providing the seed, ChildFund also trained the family in modern farming techniques to increase crop yield. So not only is this gift improving the children’s nutrition, the additional outputs are also boosting the family’s income, as they now have surplus maize to sell.

With the initial proceeds Jesca’s parents have bought other seeds, including ground nuts (peanuts) and eggplant. And, for the first time, they’re been able to acquire other basic necessities like salt, sugar and soap as well as books and school uniforms for Jesca and her siblings.

“I would like to wear good clothes and shoes, eat good food and sleep on a soft bed like the children of the rich men in our village,” Jesca confided, pointing to her bed made of reeds. “I would also like to speak good English like teacher.” She dreams of one day working in the medical field.

That dream doesn’t seem as far away as it did last year. Jesca’s parents have attended additional ChildFund training sessions to learn how to improve their family savings and to plan better for the future. It’s been a remarkable year of improvements in health, education and livelihood prospects. And it all began with a simple gift of seeds.

Will you help change another child’s life?

My Life in Masindi, Uganda

Guest post by Ivan, a child enrolled in ChildFund’s Uganda programs

boy with book

Ivan studies his science text.

I live in the Yelekeni community in Uganda’s Masindi area. I am 11 and in form six at school.

My community is found in the mid-western part of Uganda. Our area is blessed with a good climate that favours agriculture so much that we have two growing seasons in a year. The most stable foods are beans and maize.

By culture, I am Acholi, and being a boy we spend most of our time hunting for wild animals during dry season and making evening fire for the elders. Girls are responsible for collecting firewood, cooking and grinding grains, using our local grinding stones.

During birth, according to my culture, baby boys spend three days in the house and girls spend four without being brought out. On the day of bringing the baby out, a small party is held for naming the baby. The name is given by the elders.

During burials, men are not seen to be crying. And it is men who participate mostly in the burial exercise. During marriage, it is the men who take the dowry to the bridegroom’s family.

Hand-drawn mapFor a child in my community, one has to wake up and groom in the morning, sweep the compound, brush your teeth, wash your face and dress up for school. During weekends and holidays, we wake up at 6 a.m., go to the garden to either dig, weed or harvest crops, then come home at 2 p.m. From 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., we play football.

Some families have just one meal in a day, which is in the evening.

At 7 p.m., we bathe and then go to sleep.

Thanks so much for sharing with you my story, and greetings from Masindi area.

ChildFund Alumni: ‘Living in a Permanent House Felt So Good’

Interview by Henry Bazibu, Sponsor Relations Officer, ChildFund Uganda

My name is Grace Mwagale. I am 33 years old. I work as a records officer at a government hospital in Uganda and earn a salary, which helps me provide for my family of three. I feel very proud that my children sleep on a bed, have three meals a day and have decent clothes to wear. Since I work at the hospital, I can also afford medical services for them.

Woman at house

ChildFund Alumni Grace Mwagale

I come from a poor background, and being an orphan from a young age only made my situation worse. I grew up in Lukone village near the St. Mulumba Family Helper project, which was affiliated with ChildFund.

Before I was sponsored, I stayed in a grass-thatched, pole-and-mud house with my siblings, and slept on papyrus reeds for a mattress. I wore no shoes and my dresses were tattered. I had no scholastic materials and didn’t like school much because I felt inferior to the other children. Most of them laughed at my tattered clothes and my little heart was in pain. I started receiving sponsorship in 1984 when I was seven years old.

While I was a sponsored child, I received counseling from social workers, which helped to build my self-esteem. In addition, I received school fees and gifts, and my family received cows and goats for rearing.

The animals multiplied and we sold some and used the proceeds to construct a small permanent house. Living in a permanent house felt so good. We were not worried any more that rain would fall through the roof and ruin our few earthly possessions, and we stopped counting the stars in the sky through the holes in the grass-thatched roof. It really felt great. I felt challenged to read hard and pass my exams, and never to let down my sponsors who had given me so much.

Clean Water for Ugandan Families Living with HIV/AIDS

by Virginia Sowers, ChildFund Community Manager

Procter & Gamble, developer of the PUR water filtration system, has partnered with ChildFund to provide a year’s worth of PUR water purification sachets to 1,000 households in Uganda’s Luwero district.

The distribution of PUR sachets (365 per household) and water purification sets will provide safe drinking water to families living with HIV/AIDS. Additionally, ChildFund, working through trained community health volunteers, will educate families on the importance of proper hygiene, steps they can take to prevent diarrhea and how to recognize the danger signs of diarrhea that require prompt medical attention.

Approximately 1,000 households (5,000 to 6,000 people) living with HIV/AIDS will now have a reliable source of clean water. The PUR water filtration system, developed in collaboration with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, provides a simple means of purifying dirty water in an affordable and convenient way.

Greg Allgood, with Procter & Gamble, recently visited the ChildFund community in Uganda, providing this firsthand blog.

Children Need Clean Water to Thrive

Nearly 1 billion people lack access to clean water, which causes hardship, disease and death.

The impact on children is particularly tragic. Each year 1.4 million die as a result of diarrhea, according to the World Health Organization. Most cases of diarrhea are attributable to polluted water and poor sanitation.

These deaths are preventable, and ChildFund is taking steps to help improve community water sources,  while also providing education on hygiene and health.

In 2009, ChildFund Zambia pilot tested the “Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Improvement Training Package for the Prevention of Diarrheal Disease” developed by USAID. The goal was to get more field staff up to speed on

  • Making water safe to drink: discussing different methods of turning dirty water into safe, drinkable water for different communities.
  • Hand washing: explaining how hands carry germs and encouraging correct hand-washing procedures. (Today, by the way, is Global Handwashing Day.)
  • Handling human waste: explaining how improper disposal leads to contamination and offering suggestions for improving specific community conditions.
  • Facilitating interpersonal communication: identifying the need for better communication between families and community members on water, health and sanitation issues.

“The WASH program is classic evidence-based best practice that we want our projects to adopt and use worldwide,” says David Shanklin, senior health specialist for ChildFund.

When applied in school settings, WASH interventions—including gender-specific sanitation facilities, hygiene education and safe drinking water—support child health, which furthers educational access and attainment.

The way up and out of poverty can begin with a reliable source of clean water, good hygiene and sanitation. It’s a powerful concept and worthy of our ongoing support so that children can thrive.

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