Empowering HIV/AIDS orphaned children in Africa to a self sustainable future

Catherine Koch

Catherine Koch

Founder and President of Love Is The Answer, a Canadian registered charity serving orphaned children in Africa.

Naume & Gideon~Betty & Morning


Hey Caleb! Here’s Jimmy, a new friend! He and his buddy Nero live at the hostel where I stayed this week! He sat at my feet while I was using the computer…I think he must have known how some days (though I know you are Loved and safe where you are) I am missing your presence greatly! Thanks Jimmy…and thank you Caleb for visiting me in my dreams! Hope you’re having fun in the snow! I Love you! xo

Being here is to be living almost completely in the moment as plans change or become delayed/move forward suddenly. I started the week knowing I needed to accomplish one specific task, yet to understand how it would come together. Faced with my visitor’s visa for Uganda due to expire on Saturday, weeks ago I had come to the idea that I would leave the country this week and travel to Rwanda (a neighboring country to the south) for a visit with a Canadian woman who has been working there. She has been living in a village of women and children, helping to uplift them and their circumstances for the last couple years following the genocide there13 years ago. After time in Rwanda I had thought I would re-enter Uganda, obtain a new visa and carry on with the projects I have underway here.

Monday I was at the NGO center in Mbale finishing up the booklet for the ‘Skills’ grad due to take place Thursday. After some discussion I decided quite spontaneously to take a ride to the capital city Kampala with a truck that was leaving shortly from the NGO. Last week it was reported that an outbreak of ‘Ebola’ had been confirmed in the southwest of Uganda along with speculation that it was spreading to other areas of the country. As travel to Rwanda would be on public transport taking me through the southwest of Uganda it felt best to put off that journey, go instead to the capital by private means to extend my visa and stay in Uganda until understanding more about the medical alert. So, by Monday afternoon, after saying a very quick, warm goodbye and best wishes to the ‘Skills’ group (as it was likely that I wouldn’t make it back in time to attend their grad ceremony), I found myself and my backpack in the vehicle heading to Kampala.

I enjoyed a few days stay at a little cozy hideaway hostel in east Kampala where I met and shared laughs and stories with fellow travelers from the UK, Germany and Australia. I’m grateful to have received quite quickly a 3 month ‘special pass’ that grants me multiple entry into Uganda should it make sense to travel to Rwanda or elsewhere at some point during these next weeks/months.

Although I returned to Mbale having missed the ‘Skills’ grad (I am told it was a great celebration and the participants were very happy to receive their sewing machines and booklets!) I was in perfect time to go on outreach to the district of Bukedea on Friday where I could accompany a local volunteer to 2 of the child headed households I have been wanting to reconnect with since our last visits.

First we traveled to see Naume and her brother Gideon. Wanting to understand more details about the children’s lives I asked them many questions and can now start to piece together how things are for them and where/how they are needing and asking for help. In this family we have 4 children whose parents died about 10 years ago, living together in one round grass roof hut (one sister has 2 infants of her own, so there are a total of 6 in the hut). 3 of the children are in their teens, Gideon (16yrs) is heading into S4 (about Gr11), Martha (14) and Naume (12) both going into P6 (Gr6) in January when the new school year begins. The children’s Grandfather who outlived his son cared for the children until his passing in 2004. Before his death he wrote his wishes which included providing for his orphaned grandchildren’s future. He gave to them land with a home on it, all of which is secured with the local authorities in the children’s names. They have not occupied the inherited home as yet, because when Grandfather died they were still quite young and so remained in the care of their grandmother, and, the home is in need of repair to make it habitable for them.

Together Gideon, Naume and Helen (the 24 yr old sister who has 2 children) and I went to have a look at their property located near to where they are now staying with their aging grandmother and a few cousins. The home on the property is a 3-room brick and mortar structure with iron sheet roofing. As can be seen in the photos it does need some TLC but once fixed up will offer the 6 of them a good amount of security and space. It is situated on several acres of land on which they can plant crops. The older sister Helen is willing and able to attend to the crops and household chores during the days while the younger ones are at school and all of them are ready to pitch in after school and on weekends. With some work they could certainly be growing enough food for themselves and to sell at market for income, self-support and independence being the primary goal for them all, now and into the future.

Gideon is a very bright guy and works hard at school. He has the dream to attend university and become a veterinarian just like his father before him. Gideon says he and his sister’s are now ‘ready to leave (where they are currently staying) at any moment’ and require help to make the home on their property ready for occupation. My goal here at present then is to organize all aspects of facilitating the repair of their home. Gideon is going to work on figuring out what materials we need and then we’ll be able to estimate the costs involved to get this project in motion. I have received a promise from ‘ACYC’ (the group I gave a donation to in my Dad’s name…on the ‘Project’s’ page above) to help with the labor to make the repairs. It’s also my idea to have some of the land around the home plowed by a local group who rent out 2 oxen for such a purpose so that crops can be planted as soon as possible and we can begin the cycle of planting, growing, harvesting, eating and selling/storing of food.

Further, to begin his next school year, Gideon requires help to cover the registration fee and the costs of books for S(enior) 4… about $100CDN. The younger children are in ‘UPE’ (Universal Primary Education), free primary education provided to all children from P(rimary)1 to P7 by the government. So both Naume and Martha have no fee requirements, just uniforms and school supplies costs, which we have already given to Naume. Because we are talking ‘rural’ and they are a fair distance from school and town, it would also be a good idea to help them acquire a couple bikes or perhaps even just one to get them going until their own income flow can start and it becomes possible for them to buy another one for themselves.

Next, we moved on to Morning’s where we found Betty home. Morning was on a couple hour walk to bring water home. Last visit, Betty’s Auntie had dropped off her 3 children, without food or money, for Betty to take care of. Since then, Auntie has returned and taken her children back home. Here also, I asked many questions learning more about their current circumstances as well as some of the ideas and dreams they have and need help with at this moment. The primary caregiver Betty, will soon be 18…because of her responsibilities she completed school up to P5. Then there is Moses, who is 13 and currently stays with an Uncle but would like very much to rejoin his sister and brothers at the family home. Next is our Morning William who is 10 and heading in to P5. Then we have little brother Peter James, 8, who is entering P3. As well, there is cousin Stella, 29, with baby Josephine,18 mths who has hydrocephalus (swelling of the head). Josephine has been to a hospital in Mbale for care and medication since birth, but I learn on this visit Stella has not been able to afford the transport or medication costs lately so baby has not rec’d medical attention since Sept.

It’s my understanding, after the deaths of their parents and perhaps because they did not leave a ‘will’ the clan leaders of the area voted and secured the land that the children live on in the children’s names. Betty, Morning, Peter, Stella and Josephine all share one round grass roof hut (remember photos of the art work on the wall and the chicken roosting in an earlier posting), the roof of which needs repair due to being burnt from cooking indoors during extreme weather. Their paternal Grandmother is also staying at the compound and occupies a second hut exclusively. Surprising for me to see/learn, recently Betty and Stella have done digging for neighbors and earned the income to pay for help to build a third hut at the compound, an economical solution to the additional room they require for cooking and sleeping, especially when Moses returns to be with them. They’ve done a great job not only building this hut but coming up with the idea of it as a partial solution to their needs for more space. Ultimately the structure they require for cooking is a brick and mortar building with iron sheet roofing….the inside of a grass roof does not make for the safest cooking space and the weather, especially in rainy season, does not allow for very effective out door cooking. It is my plan to have the ACYC crew help this family as well and together we will build the structure they need early in the new year once I figure out and purchase all the materials needed. I have met a man who builds such structures and he will be supplying me with ‘plans’ from which I can estimate our needs and costs etc…

It is also within my plan to have some of their land plowed for crop planting, similar to what I described for Gideon above. I encouraged Betty to focus a little on herself asking her what she has in her heart about her future that she might like to tell me about. She said she would like to be able to attend training in tailoring, maybe 3 times a week in the local community nearby, so that in time she could begin to create greater income for herself and her siblings. We agreed she will look into the costs associated for this training and I’ll be following this up with her as soon as possible. At least one bike for this family is probably a great idea as well…they live pretty far down a dirt road off the main hwy, a number of miles from town. I bet a bike would sure be fun for Morning… clothes are first in order though and I’ll be buying some used ones at the market that I’ll take for them all next visit! (People use bikes as taxi’s here -boda boda’s- and also to transport just about everything… just today I saw a man with a single bed wooden frame standing upright strapped to the back of his bike…I couldn’t get my camera out in time, but one time I’m thinking I’ll do a whole series of photos showing what people carry on their bikes….it is amazing, truly! There is this great way people strap 2, 4, 6 or even 8 jerry cans on the back of a bike and ride home with them filled with water when they have to go long distance for it…)

While both Gideon and Betty each see to the details we need info about, on Monday I will head to the hospital where Stella has taken her daughter for care in the past. I intend to speak with the Doctors about baby Josephine and see how I can help arrange and contribute to consistent care and healing for this little one.

You can see I have lots of work to do and that’s not even to mention…ACIO now have their 70 irons sheets for the roof of the temporary structure, yeah! and, we’ve had some very inspiring empowerment meetings about the 3 additional communities…!

Hi Ho then…!

In Love,

FYI…Re:’Ebola’…At time of writing, ‘Ebola’ has been identified in the southwest of Uganda. The area in the east where I stay is currently confirmed as ‘Ebola free’. Please share with me in sending Love and uplifting thoughts to those who are affected by this in Uganda, and everywhere. Thanks.

( some fragments from an article on the subject)
Overview of Ebola hemorrhagic fever
Ebola hemorrhagic fever is a severe, often fatal disease in humans and nonhuman primates (monkeys, gorillas, and chimpanzees) that has appeared sporadically since its initial recognition in 1976.
People can be exposed to Ebola virus from direct contact with the blood and/or excretions and secretions of an infected person, ( including saliva, sweat, and all body fluids.)
The incubation period for Ebola hemorrhagic fever ranges from 2 to 21 days. The onset of illness is abrupt and is characterized by fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, sore throat, and weakness, followed by diarrhea, vomiting, and stomach pain. A rash, red eyes, hiccups and internal and external bleeding may be seen in some patients.
There is no specific treatment for Ebola hemorrhagic fever. Patients receive supportive therapy, consisting of balancing the patient’s fluids and electrolytes, maintaining their oxygen status and blood pressure, and treating them for any complicating infections. There is no vaccine for Ebola hemorrhagic fever.
The likelihood of contracting Ebola hemorrhagic fever is considered extremely low unless there has been direct contact with the body fluids of symptomatic infected persons or animals or objects that have been contaminated with body fluids

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