Hello friends of YES Uganda. My name is Andrea Bridge and I wanted to share a bit about my experiences in Uganda and working with the YES programs.
I am a paediatric nurse, and have been also doing some global health research as part of my role in an academic institution in Canada. I have been to Uganda three times now, the first in 2003, and fell in love with the country and people immediately.
I was privileged to be connected to Carol and her work through colleagues and friends in Fort Portal. I travelled to Uganda in June 2010 for 9 weeks and then again in 2011 for 3 weeks. I am so thankful and blessed to know Carol and all the staff at YES. The work they do to support vulnerable children and families in the Fort Portal area is invaluable and so desperately needed.
I wanted to share a few stories about the volunteer/project work I did with some of the children at the Manna Rescue home, and also with some of the orphans in the YES Uganda program.
In a nutshell, I partnered with some wonderful Ugandan women, the Manna Rescue Home staff and YES staff to carry out a photography project for the older adolescents in the Manna Rescue Home. The project was a way to help them reflect on their lives and experiences, consider their strengths and challenges, and then use photography as a tool to explore their feelings and share with others about their experiences. The children were given disposable cameras to snap photos of the themes they wanted to share with “the world”, and after about 3 weeks of taking photos, discussing the meanings and messages in their developed photos in groups with Ugandan facilitators, the children were able to share many important messages and experiences with us. We have shared those messages with YES Uganda and staff, as well as others who work with orphans. They also created a photo display of their work that they chose to share with the younger children at the home and staff. This was a great way to end the project and celebrate their voices and accomplishments.
The display and celebration ended with some time to dance and enjoy music!
The children at the home have faced so many challenges and still do face many challenges, but they wanted to focus predominantly on their strengths and blessings that are nurtured by the rescue home – most significantly social support, love, friendship and basic life needs that are met. Their resilience is astounding, even when faced with the challenges of living with HIV, facing stigma and discrimination, and coping with the grief and loss they have and still experience.
The rest of my time I volunteered helping Carol, David and Rose prepare for the start of the school year with the hundreds of orphans and vulnerable children that they support. It was an exciting time to see them all come into the office and leave with their new supplies, ready to go!
On the weekends, I did some tutoring for children that were struggling. I spent time helping them with English reading, speaking and writing, as well as mathematics. This was such a wonderful way to get to know these children. On our final session together, I presented them all with a “Certificate of Achievement” and we had a small celebration of their successes and strengths. Without the YES Uganda programs, these children would not be in school. It is frightening to think what their future would have been without this opportunity that YES provides them.
It is hard to believe that there are between 1 to 2 million orphans living in the small country of Uganda. Extended family used to be the safety net to take up these children, but now those extended family members have been extended beyond their capacity, some grandmothers left with up to 20 orphans to care for and feed. The YES programs help these families who are in desperate need.
We have all heard about the recent economic crisis in North America and Europe, but its effects reach across the globe. I was so shocked to see in 2010 and 2011 the staggering increase in the cost of food, fuel, basic life needs, education and shelter. The cost of sugar and staple foods has doubled this year – 50% increases. The average person or family in Uganda cannot bear such an increase. And we all know from the famine in Somalia that the most vulnerable to these changes are children. The risk of malnutrition is great. Malnutrition makes children more vulnerable to illness and death, but chronic malnutrition also causes poor growth, poor brain development and altered future life outcomes. The YES programs make sure the children they send to school have daily lunches at school. This is saving lives.
So the most important thing we can do, even though we are all feeling the crunch of the dollar, is to reach out to those most vulnerable and offer whatever support we can. Carol and the programs at YES Uganda are not immune to the current rise in cost of living and inflation. I wanted to make a call to you all: please support them with the best financial support you can offer so that they can continue their essential, important work. They are truly saving lives. I have seen it myself!
Perhaps we can even work together to think of creative ways to fundraise in these tough times.