A Quick Trip to the North

On August 6th, I followed Babra Namutosi, Assistant Programs Coordinator, onto a packed night bus. We’d be traveling to Agago in search of Blessing Marion’s family.

This is one of the programs Wells of Hope Ministries offers: Family Tracing. WOHM believes in the importance of developing familial bonds to help a child grow and find a sense of belonging. To accomplish this goal, WOHM visits the children’s families, assesses the living conditions and situation, and facilitates a connection between the two parties.

In the case of Blessing Marion, she was born in prison, attended a daycare in Luzira, and arrived at Wells of Hope when she turned four years old. We had a contact for her, so, we packed our backpacks, hopped on the bus, drove up to the northern part of Uganda. Bags were pushed into my face, feet crept slowly into my space, and the seat got more and more uncomfortable. The bus ride was not my favorite part, but it was all worth meeting Blessing Marion’s family.

Upon arriving to Agago, Blessing’s grandfather, Uncle Francis, offered us a ride to one of his houses. Blessing’s grandmother welcomed us into her home. The house was comprised of three barren rooms – one for cooking and two for sleeping.

Slowly, we began uncovering the pieces of Blessing’s family. She has three grandfathers, one grandmother, three uncles, two siblings, and nine cousins waiting for her. They were very excited to see pictures of Blessing, as none of them have met Blessing before. They want to teach her the local language, introduce her to her family, and ensure that she is provided for. Her grandfather shared their economic struggles with Babra and me, confiding in us that they cannot provide for the eleven kids living in the household. The grandmother does most of the work, relying on farming for sustenance. Regardless of their circumstance, they look forward to meeting Blessing, asking that they get to spend time with her.

After finishing our visit in Agago, we left for Gulu. It took us about four hours and multiple modes of transportation, but, we somehow managed to make it work. In Gulu, we met another Wells of Hope student and attempted to reconcile him with his aunt and mother. Our second visit was not as successful as the first, but I enjoyed meeting the family, even though they could not understand my English.

Overall, I experienced so many firsts during my trip Family Tracing. I got to laugh and smile a lot and help Blessing be reunited with her family. I’m beyond thankful for this opportunity.

Written by Anooshka Gupta, intern from University of Michigan, USA

A Weekend in Semuto

Last weekend, I sat around a campfire, sipping sweet ginger tea and listening to different riddles proposed by students at Wells of Hope. We danced, ate roasted maize and chapattis, and shared stories with each other. The Head Office at Wells of Hope let Esther (Intern from Kyambogo University, Kampala) and I spend a weekend with the children, and I enjoyed every minute of it.

As someone from the West, I have not spent much time in village settings. I struggled with squat toilets, eating meals of posho and beans (as my stomach does not handle this well), and remembering to drink enough water. These things did not stop me though, as I was determined to spend as much time as possible with the children.

On Friday, we set off to Wells of Hope High School, intending to host a campfire for the high schoolers. Unfortunately, we were only able to spend a few hours with the High School students, but we spent that time to the fullest. They taught me how to dance, invited me to play games with me, and showed me so much love and compassion. Once the fire began dwindling down, Esther, Babra (Assistant Programs Coordinator), and I set off for the Wells of Hope Junior School.

Before breakfast, I spent some time with the younger girls at Wells of Hope Junior School. I’m not sure how well they were able to understand my English, but I think this was a good start for the rest of the weekend. They showed me how to cool down my porridge when it got too hot and laughed at me as I continued to burn my tongue. Quite on brand for me – I only discovered the sugar at the end of my meal.

The children then broke off into groups to practice singing for Camp David. I was not very good at these, but I loved hearing all of the pupils sing together. Some of them have really wonderful voices! At this point, some of the younger children broke off from the group, so I played with them on the playground. They are beyond adventurous, and, as I learned that day, I am no longer great on seesaws. Some of them walked us over to see the farms as well! I developed a little following of a few of the younger girls. They pointed out different places on the school grounds and pointed out the piglets and goats.

We then proceeded to lunch, where I had my first meal of posho and beans. My stomach struggled afterwards, but I joined the children in their next practice session. Afterwards, we watched some Tom and Jerry together and watched some of the older boys play football against the village kids. We won the game and celebrated with a little dance party! As always, the children at Wells of Hope give me a run for my money – I am nowhere near as great as they are.

After dinner, we prepared for a second campfire. I held two children in my lap. They proceeded to speak to me in Luganda and laugh when I could not understand what they were saying. I loved it. We finished the trip the same way we started: laughing and sharing good memories by the fire.

I love the children at Wells of Hope. They have taught me more than I could’ve possibly imagined, and I will never forget my time with them. Thank you to Wells of Hope Head Office for giving me this opportunity.

Written by Anooshka Gupta, intern from the University of Michigan, USA

Wells of Hope in Action: Elma Community Grants Program

Accelerator Program 2018-2019 (Cohort 2)

1st-5th July 2019 in cape town, south africa

Mrs. Ssuubi in training with her colleagues.

We are so grateful to Elma Philanthropies for the opportunity provided to Wells of Hope Ministries. Our Executive Director, Ellen Ssuubi, joined her colleagues, directors of Elma Community Grants Program (ECGP) Accelerator Program grantees, on their two-year capacity building and organizational strengthening. This marked the third session, which took place in Cape Town, South Africa. The Directors were taken through training on three areas identified as needing to be strengthened in their respective organizations. These topics included: “Resource Mobilization/Fundraising,” facilitated by Ms. Kristin O’Sullivan (ELMA), “Technology for Your Organization,” by Mr. Arnold Ndifhedzo Netshambidi (Phambano Technology Development Centre), “Monitoring and Evaluation,” by Ms. Ruth Mapara (ELMA) and “Succession Plan,” by Ms. Bernadette Moffat (ELMA).

“I’m so grateful to Elma,” exclaims Mrs. Ssuubi, “for the great support rendered to our community led organizations. They are not only supporting us financially, but they have elevated and appreciated the leaders of these organizations, helping us appreciate and value ourselves beyond the services we are providing for our beneficiaries.”

Furthermore, Mrs. Ssuubi was exposed to new learning practices with and from her fellow leaders. During their reflection on the Neuro Linguistic Program, she shared on how much she has learned the importance of effective communication in Wells of Hope’s service delivery. She has been able to pass these skills on to her team. Mrs. Ssuubi reflects, “I have been able to fast-track my leadership growth because of these sessions. Sharing our experiences as leaders has taught me quite remarkable lessons in streamlining and improving and strengthening our systems as an organization.”

Additionally, she visited Breede Valley Association for Persons with Disabilities in Worcester, Cape Town. She considers this a breath-taking experience where she got to appreciate the different purposes each community led organization serves. Breede Valley, as Mrs. Ssuubi recalls, “has and is transforming lives of children into youth and adults who are well cared for and given hope in life despite their different conditions.” She enjoyed seeing the youths and adults doing jobs that a well capacitated person can do – and doing it much better. They completed these tasks, such as laundry and dry-cleaning, to both give back to the community and earn some money. Mrs. Ssuubi found this quite exhilarating.

“I feel encouraged that we can all make a difference – in our different organizations – thanks to ELMA!”

#RestoringHope: Children’s Prison Visit

I followed a flurry of blue dresses and pants. We climbed a set of concrete stairs, took a left turn, and filed into a small, rectangular room. I held onto a young girl’s hand, gently pulling her along the corridor. Shelves lined the walls, labeled according to the subject each one featured – primary school, secondary school, law, accounting, sociology. The list seemed endless. We spread ourselves out on a straw mat, anxiously awaiting the women’s arrival.

Once a term, or three times during the school year, children under the care of Wells of Hope visit their incarcerated parents. These visits provide both the children and the inmates with a unique opportunity, as both parties have the ability to interact with one another without bars or gates creating a separation between them. The children receive the benefits of spending time with a loved one or parent, while the inmates feel motivated to create and sustain a positive life outside of the prison walls.

The children before visiting prison.

On 25 July, I had the opportunity to accompany eleven Wells of Hope students and pupils to visit their mothers at Women’s Prison Luzira. If I were to summarize the day into one word, I would, hands down, say emotional. At times, I found it difficult to match the children with their parents – the women were excited to see all of the children, not just their own. These women, and their children, had become their own version of a family – complicated, but full of undying love and support. I felt extremely humbled sitting in the presence of all these children.

Throughout our visit, I got to observe the children interacting with their parents. Some interactions involved simple conversation, while at other times, the parents had put together large packs of gifts and clothes for their children. Part-way through our time together, we all shared a meal together: rice, matooke, beans, eggplants, greens, meat, and chapatti. Multiple women approached me, thanking me for taking care of their children. I smiled and nodded in response; I felt beyond lucky to work with all of these incredible children.

During my time in Upper Prison Luzira, I came to learn of how much Wells of Hope impacted these parents’ lives. One father says, “[Wells of Hope] [has] been our ambassador. The world judged us, but Wells of Hope is there for us.”

Another commented, saying, “I didn’t know my child could learn how to write.”

In Upper Prison Luzira, one of the fathers shared, “at the time I was imprisoned (that is, 2006), Susan was 2 years old and Onan was 9 months old. It had never occurred to me that I would ever see them. The joy I feel is inexplicable! I thank Wells of Hope for reuniting me with them and for taking care of them.” This father saw his children for the first time last year.

Wells of Hope creates a reciprocal relationship with its beneficiaries, trying to facilitate positive and healthy change in all three groups: the incarcerated, the incarcerated person’s children, and the community of the incarcerated person. This would not be possible without all of Wells of Hope’s donors, volunteers, sponsors, and partners.

We’d like to thank Grace Fellowship Duarte for making this visit possible! Thank you for your generosity.

Written by Anooshka Gupta, intern from University of Michigan, USA

World Youth Skills Day: Both a Celebration and a Reminder

Before beginning my discussion about the creation and importance of World Youth Skills Day, I would like to provide you with some context. All of these statistics apply specifically to Uganda.

  1. One out of every five people is of primary school age (6-12 years old).
  2. 53.6% of the population is below the age of 18.
  3. 56.9% of the population works in “vulnerable employment,” defined by Uganda Bureau of Statistics as “less likely to have formal work arrangements.”
  4. 68% of children aged 14-17 work in agriculture, forestry, and fishing.
  5. 37.3% of the employed population has had “some primary education.”

I don’t bring up these statistics to evoke feelings of pity. Instead, I encourage all to view these statistics as an opportunity for change. I, personally, believe that employing children with practical skills is a method of combatting some of these high statistics, especially given the young-leaning nature of Uganda’s population.

Therefore, in following this logic, World Youth Skills Day is a day to be recognized, remembered, and celebrated. As quoted from WorldSkills.org, Sri Lanka spearheaded a resolution, with the assistance of the G77 and China, “to highlight at a global level, the importance of youth skills development.” The campaign has a singular goal: to improve the socio-economic standards for youth, including combatting issues of unemployment and underemployment. On 18 December 2014, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the resolution, marking 15 July to recognize work that has already been completed and promote skill building and usage among the world’s youth population. This year’s theme, Learning to Learn for Life and Work, encourages students to share how learning a particular skill has impacted their life.

What of children with incarcerated parents, however? A study conducted by Wells of Hope found that 90% of imprisoned individuals came poor socio-economic backgrounds. This, compounded with children often becoming household heads, given that 98% of incarcerated people are men, leads to many children with incarcerated parents turning to hard labor or sex work. Wells of Hope, on the other hand, provides a space to support children in their learning, through the creation of both a primary and secondary school: Wells of Hope Junior School and Wells of Hope High School. By the end of 2019, Wells of Hope aims to place twenty children in tertiary or vocational schools to equip them with new skills. Wells of Hope believes in facilitating sustainable change by funneling resources back into the community, after gaining the necessary skills to foster said change.

These efforts cannot be completed alone. To combat youth unemployment and underemployment, multiple parties must come together to encourage skill building and positive change. Wells of Hope functions as one cog of the larger machine, prompting children to believe in themselves and their futures, as all children should have the opportunity to do.

Written by Anooshka Gupta, intern from University of Michigan USA