Walking the streets of your community, no matter where you live in the Pacific Northwest, it’s hard to imagine what it’s like in a small town in Uganda, Africa. Not only are the vegetation and climate dramatically different, but the culture is foreign and the living conditions are severe.
To go one step further and imagine living in an African orphanage, where you and most other orphans around you have lost parents to AIDS, is almost impossible.
Yet establishing a heart-felt connection with the smiling young faces of the Little Angels School and Orphanage in Mityana, Uganda, was not difficult for members of the Seattle Insight Meditation Society (SIMS). They have given generously, to provide basic needs for these children living in extreme poverty conditions.
Is it surprising that in the midst of difficult economic conditions right here in Seattle, many people found resources to contribute to improve people’s living conditions 8,770 miles away? I think it was the images sent over the internet, of small children in royal-blue uniforms sitting in outdoor “classrooms” and bamboo huts, which stirred the hearts of many folks here. The orphanage faces water shortages, power outages, insufficient clothing and food, and too few beds. The goal is to provide basic necessities first, but education is a prime objective.
Contributions from SIMS members to Little Angels were generous, and very effective, since the cost of basic necessities in rural areas of Uganda is far less than in much of the rest of the world. Together we were able to provide a new toilet facility, clean out the old toilet, provide a large rainwater collection tank, purchase bottles to purify water using the sun’s rays, and buy a mother goat and two kids for the orphanage.
These results were achieved by entrusting our collections to a group of dedicated young local adults who have been working in Tanzania and Uganda for five years. They have formed a Bellevue-based nonprofit called Project Kesho. Kesho means tomorrow in Swahili, the national language of Uganda.
Project Kesho has since 2007 been working with Little Angels, the private primary school and orphanage. The school is located in the town of Mityana, about 50 miles from Kampala, the capital of Uganda. The school educates about 400 students ranging from kindergarten through primary school, which in Uganda is equivalent to middle school.
Half of the enrolled students are orphaned as a result of HIV/AIDS. Many of these orphaned students live with extended family in surrounding villages, while about 75 board at the school as they have nowhere else to live.
In November, 2011, Project Kesho staff supervised several projects paid for by contributions from SIMS, while also checking on the health of the children living at Little Angels.
Descriptions of the projects follow:
Bathroom support: Project Kesho constructed a new toilet building for Little Angels, and cleaned an existing toilet structure and removed waste water.
Solar Disinfection of Water (SODIS): SODIS is nothing more than putting unclean water in plastic water bottles and then setting the bottles in direct sunlight for four to six hours. After that the water is safe to drink, and the storage bottles are also clean.
SODIS is very simple to perform but requires a supply of plastic bottles since they deteriorate quickly in the bright equatorial sun.
Project Kesho had started a successful SODIS program at Little Angels in 2009, but the program stopped due to lack of plastic bottles to continue the process. With the SIMS funding Project Kesho purchased about 150 plastic bottles of water, so that after the children drink the bottled water they can replace it with water from the nearby stream, and perform SODIS.
Rainwater harvesting: Due to SIMS’ generosity, Project Kesho able to add a 2,000-liter rainwater storage tank, and gutters to fill the tank from rainwater runoff.
Project Kesho had initiated the rainwater harvesting project in 2009, in response to Uganda’s acute water shortage, in turn due to unpredictable and infrequent rains. Due to the drought the government has been rationing water and power, and Mityana has been hit hard.
During one 10-day visit by Project Kesho staff, for instance, power was cut for 12 to 18 hours every day, and water was only turned on twice. While the children can use the water from the stream to bathe and wash clothes, drinking it is unhealthy.
Rainwater harvesting provides a free alternative when the water is running, and a safety net when the water is not working. Combined with the original rainwater harvesting project, the orphanage now has a total of 3,500 liters of water storage.
Animals: SIMS contributions enabled Project Kesho to purchase a mother goat with two small babies, both females. These animals act as investments as they are purchased cheaply, cost almost nothing to maintain, and then can be sold for double or triple the purchasing price.
In addition to the improvements funded by SIMS, one anonymous member of the sangha met with one of the Project Kesho founders to determine the feasibility of making a large single contribution. This sangha member and his company have decided to build an entire classroom on the Little Angels campus. Construction is expected to begin this spring.
It is with great joy that I write about such evidence of compassion in action. This generosity is at the heart of the Buddha’s teachings, and allows us to experience interconnection with the network of humanity. We gave with the hope and trust that our contributions would help to alleviate the suffering of others about whom we know very little. It’s great to see that the gifts will enable the children to live with a little more ease.
About the author:
Joyce Michelson is a practitioner in the vipassana tradition and a SIMS board member. She has been a supporter of Project Kesho since 2008.
Photos: Elliot Barnes—a co-founder of Project Kesho with Ian Barnes—took these photos in Mityana, Uganda, in 2011.