My WeSeeHope Journey
Phong Dinh is a long-term supporter of WeSeeHope and has shared his memories of travelling with us to Uganda.
Ten years ago, I was lucky enough to be invited on a WeSeeHope project visit to Uganda along with a group of colleagues. This trip would leave an indelible mark on me and forever change and challenge my perception of extreme poverty and the problems orphaned and vulnerable children face.
Together we spent a week visiting the slums of Kampala and the refugee camp in Lira, Northern Uganda. At the time, the after effects of the insurgency that had not long been over were truly overwhelming. We had seen the scenes before but this time there was no changing the channel on the TV; we were committed, we had arrived in Uganda.
The problems faced by bereaved, abused and traumatised children and young people were apparent at every turn. We met lots of new faces, listened to many stories, learnt many names, and saw hopelessness in many eyes. But we also saw sheer determination in the people who blessed us with their time and stories of how, with the support of WeSeeHope, life was changing for the better.
Fast forward ten years and I was once again lucky enough to join WeSeeHope in Uganda. This time, we focussed on the Village Investors Programmes (VIP) which I learnt serves as the economic underpinning of WeSeeHope’s social and educational programmes. It is the financial wrap-around that helps communities become economically sustainable by enabling members to save money to provide for themselves, their families and other children in their care.
We visited different VIP groups and heard their stories of hope. One group in particular embodied what the VIP is all about with each of the 35 members on average caring for six children (that’s over 200 kids from one VIP group!) We heard how learning how to save has transformed their lives, with many using the group’s first year share-out to pay school fees and to buy goats, pigs, chickens and seeds for farming potatoes, maize and beans.
In the same communities, we also visited WeSeeHope’s Child Rights Clubs which teach children about how to protect and uphold their rights. The VIP members help and support the members of the Child Rights Club to make a positive impact on their peers and the community. It was amazing and humbling to so visibly witness the cycle of change embodied by both generations, and to envision the countless ripples of positivity and possibilities being created.
Whilst many stories stand out from my recent week there, one in particular has stayed with me…
Charles* was a 22 year old orphan who was caring for his five siblings (all under the age of 17) and three cousins. When we met Charles and his family, they were all living in a mud hut with thatched roof, which was no greater than two square metres. We learnt that when his parents had died, he had dropped out of school to care for the family. But WeSeeHope’s local project partner, RIDE, identified that they were in a very vulnerable situation and took action.
Charles became a member of a local Child Rights Club and finished primary school. He then went on to complete a WeSeeHope three-month vocational skills training course in carpentry and was given start-up materials to establish his own business.
At the end of last year, Charles set up a carpentry shop from which he now earns about $15 a month. With this income he has been able to send his younger siblings and cousins back to school and buy two pigs and three chickens, as well as some cassava seeds. He has also put some of his skills to personal use and, with the help of the community, has started the construction of a second slightly larger hut for the nine of them to live, but with a steel roof instead of thatched roof which will help during the rainy days.
Charles’ day starts at 6:00am when he works the land and tends the animals. After sending his siblings off to school, he walks to open the shop where he works from 10:00am until 6:00pm. Though Charles says the family still struggles, he was proud that not long since completing carpentry training, he could earn enough to meet most of the family’s basic needs. As his skills improve, his shop will grow and so too will his animal and vegetable farm #RippleEffectsAreReal #TransformativeEmpowerment
Throughout the trip, we heard facts and data points, but what I really heard was a sense of self-determination, and what I saw were people beaming with undeniable pride! There is poverty and problems still remain. But I also saw hard work, I saw pride, I saw determination, I saw empowerment, I saw community, but most of all #ISawHope – real expectant hope.
*Name has been changed to maintain confidentiality