By Sam Mcneish
Sitting around Marjorie Williams’ kitchen table, the four sets of eyes gathered to share a story told all you needed to know about their tale.
Those eyes exposed the souls of the four women who have taken on a project that potentially could save generations of people in Uganda.
Their eyes lit up — and welled up — as they explained the simplest of things their efforts were able to provide for 24 impoverished youth through a group they founded called HOPE (Helping Orphans Prosper through Education).
That joy mimicked the look in the eyes of the children they are helping shown in the photos provided to The Telegram taken during a recent trip to Uganda, proving their venture is making a difference.
Started in 2015, the group, comprised of Marie Woodford, Madlyn Carew and Williams, through conversations started by Woodford, who had previously visited the region and worked with orphan children, decided something had to be done on some scale to make a difference. This group has now grown to four women, as project supporter Betty Whalen has decided to become more active in the efforts.
Another Newfoundlander – Catherine Bailey – who is from St. John’s, is also volunteering with the group and helped to co-ordinate Christmas in Uganda, packages of gifts and personal items for each of the students to receive and put to good use.
The original three travelled together in 2015 to see what they could do and during that visit purchased goats, chickens and a cow to help the village sustain itself.
In 2016, they were able to provide beds, mattresses, food, medical supplies, school supplies and additional items that were needed by these children.
“We learned very quickly you can’t just go and drop things off to these children and we needed to follow protocols to ensure they got the help we wanted to provide,’’ Williams said.
“What we do is important – for a child, a family, a village, a country and the world,” she added.
To make this happen, they partnered with a group called Love is the Answer (LITA), a registered Canadian charity that helps orphaned children in the manner the women sought to support them.
Catherine Koch, who is from Vancouver, lives in Uganda and is their boots on the ground at the orphanage and school.
“When I was there in 2015, I saw how dire the circumstances were for these children. I just knew I had to do something to help. They were having warm water for supper,” Woodford said.
“When I came back and started to get this organized, Madlyn and Marjorie got involved and we went back in August. We all knew we were in this for the long haul,” she added.
In addition, they found education helped them to understand there was a future for them, far greater than what the youths ever realized.
As an example, education empowers young girls in so many ways. They would not have to endure childhood marriage, rape and the traditions of female genital mutilation.
“If we broke this link for 24 children, that was 24 lives changed, 24 families changed, 24 villages changed,” Williams said.
“Education helps children break the poverty cycle, opens so many doors for them, and breaks down barriers.’’
They started with 10 children in 2017 and decided for 2018 they would expand their work and support 24 children in school.
A visit to the school in June and reviewing the students’ report cards showed what they were providing was working, as their grades had markedly improved.
Their efforts have seen the group be able to fund computers for the school, and sewing machines, which allowed the girls — and boys, too — to learn to be seamstresses and tailors. In addition, a library was set up in the Jinja Primary Boarding School and, during the trip in June, the group established a partnership with a doctor who does monthly check-ups on the students to ensure they are remaining healthy and offset any medical issues that arise.
“By getting them the education they need, we are helping to make a difference,” Carew said.
“You can’t take education away from them. It will help them now and long into the future to make better lives for themselves The support we are receiving (from friends and colleagues) is more than we ever expected.”
Of the 24 students, two have HIV, and many times members of the group have suffered from malaria, tuberculosis, mumps, measles, typhoid fever and worms.
“We are hoping that through early detection, the diseases will not become severe or even fatal,’’ Williams said.
“The funding for their medical needs, travel to medical centres and additional unexpected costs are now provided so they can enjoy safe, healthy and happy lives.”
The children range in age from four to 16, and the women have committed to the 13 years it will take to get them educated. In fact, the four of them are adamant there is no way they are abandoning them and will see this through just as they would with their own children.
It was that thought process, and a multitude of conversations and stories from her friends, that led Whalen into the fold.
“I had always been behind the scenes and quite easily was able to raise money to help out. Many times I didn’t need to ask and everyone around me jumped in to donate to this project for me,’’ Whalen said.
“But I wanted to do more, and this is why I am so happy to be part of this worthwhile venture.”
Whalen had tears well up in her eyes when talking about and thinking of what the children are facing.
That impact shows they have the right group to spearhead an endeavour like this.
“You look at what is being done, things like Marjorie going out and collecting glasses for the children, as at least one was suffering vision issues.”
Support from afar
The support doesn’t just stop at the front and back doors of these four women.
Williams sought support from a host of people, including someone who has deep ties to Newfoundland and Labrador.
She sent a letter to Dennis Ryan, an Irish-Canadian folk musician, best known as a member of the popular Irish-Newfoundland band Ryan’s Fancy formed in 1970 with Fergus O’Byrne and the late Dermot O’Reilly.
Williams got far more than she bargained for. Not only did she find financial support, but gained one of the biggest cheerleaders the project could have asked for in Ryan.
“What these ladies are doing, driven by Marjorie, is amazing. All they do goes directly to these kids and is making a huge difference in their lives,’’ Ryan said.
“This is a new charity, but it goes without saying I am these ladies’ No. 1 fan. I am touched and moved by this whole thing and was only too glad to help when they reached out to me.”
Ryan, along with his bandmates and friends, moved to St. John’s in 1971 to attend Memorial University.
Ryan said he was supposed to do a concert in St. John’s in December in support of HOPE, but logistics didn’t allow that to happen, so when spring arrives he will look to put something together to support the project. Details will be announced once they are in place.
“It is proof that ordinary people can accomplish extraordinary things when they put their mind to it. You don’t have to be part of a big organization to do this. Just look at what these women have done in a short period of time,” he said.
“I am so enthusiastic about this project, so much that I got on the phone and shared it with a bunch of my friends, so they could get involved too,” he added, noting those people were quick to ante up for the project.
Source Northern Pen