Why this group is helping a village in Uganda: 'We're changing 25 lives'

·2 min read
John Pike/CBC
John Pike/CBC

A group of Newfoundland women are continuing their work to help children in Uganda prosper in the new year and beyond.

Marjorie Williams and Betty Whalen of St. John's helped create Helping Orphans Prosper through Education, referred to as H.O.P.E., after a visit to Africa in 2015.

"We fell in love with the 25 children that we help in Jinja, Uganda," Williams said earlier this month. "They were in dire straits, and we knew that education was the one way that they could break the poverty cycle. We came back, and we knew we simply had to help them."

Over the past five years, the H.O.P.E. team has undertaken several projects to support children living in Jinja, from helping improve an orphanage to giving students the opportunity to learn about computers and technology.

Whalen said the group's main focus on education aims for a wider impact.

"We truly believe we're changing 25 lives," she said.

"You can go in and deliver chickens or something, but that's only helping them for the moment," she said. "When the chickens are gone, they're still back where they were in the beginning. But education is that one way.

"And if you help a child with an education, well then their family may be educated, and maybe in turn their village will be educated."

Williams said the group has not been majorly impacted by COVID-19, as most fundraisers could still be held with electronic donations coming in. Her biggest change came during the Christmas season, which is usually spent with the children in Uganda.

Submitted by Marjorie Williams
Submitted by Marjorie Williams

"One of our good friends, Catherine Bailey, was steadfast on making sure those children had a Christmas gift on Christmas Day," she said. "She went to all her friends and family and asked for donations. So now for five years, we have managed to get Christmas gifts and Christmas food to all the children on Christmas Day."

We truly believe we're changing 25 lives - Betty Whalen

Williams said the experience of being with the children for Christmas brings her back to her own childhood, getting to witness the joy in their faces firsthand.

"Even though poverty is all around you, you kind of forget that there's so much poverty because they're so happy," she said. "It's just a joy to be around them and to be in that environment."

"This is their life, so they're not looking at their life as 'I don't have have things that we as Canadians think they should have', most of the time they're just very happy," Whalen said.

The group will continue fundraising efforts this year, with the hope the boarding school will reopen in February. If the school doesn't reopen, Whalen said the money raised will go toward helping the orphanage feed the children.

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