Sunday, March 27, 2011

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Compassionate volunteers serve hope at destitute orphanage

From the Parkville Lumimary

NOTE: For a complete photo album from the Mercy Home orphanage, click here.

BEWYA, UGANDA—The 40 minute drive from downtown Kampala south to this small village is dusty and slow, thanks to a washboard road. Mostly, the drive is a journey from the relative modernity of the capital city to a place that, even though it serves youth, is miles away from the cutting edge.

At the Mercy Home for Children, an orphanage housing 50 children 5-18 years old, being on the edge has an entirely different meaning. Though it may sound like hyperbole, the fact is that Mercy Home’s youngsters constantly live on the edge as they wonder if they’ll eat or go to school or be able to see a doctor if they get sick.

Located on a plain overlooking pretty Lake Victoria, the orphanage is run down. The kitchen, if you can call it that, is an out-building with dirt floors and a crumbling brick stove. The toilets are awful, and the walls have accumulated the dust that proliferates here. The dormitories where the kids live are habitable, though dingy.

Right now, Mercy Home has no funding. None. They’re trying to fundraise and to get some government or NGO support, but haven’t had any luck thus far. This means that from day to day, the orphanage’s volunteer administrator John Bosco Kiwanuka doesn’t know how he will feed the kids, let alone help out the youngsters who need medical or dental care. Kiwanuka said he contributes what he can, but that’s not much since he has his own household full of mouths to feed.

Because there is no funding, there is no money to pay employees. Kiwanuka said he visits as often as he can, but he also has a paying job and a family. A matron volunteers her time to stay at night babysitting the youngest kids, but has to leave during the day. Sometimes, the kids are unsupervised, breeding the potential for all kinds of trouble.

Mercy Home’s children aren’t alone in Uganda, where there are an estimated 2.5-million orphans, according to UNICEF. Uganda has 8-million kids 14 and under, so it doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out that orphaned children are an epidemic here.

Just when things looked darkest, four new volunteers recently arrived at Mercy Home, giving hope to the 50 children. Two Ugandan volunteers, Susan and Tabu, live nearby. The other two volunteers are from halfway around the world—Parkville, Missouri.

Susan has pitched in to clean up the home, and has donated much needed firewood so that the children could cook their meals. The Parkville volunteers, Barbara and Alex, have been working on clean-up, too. They have also helped Tabu to patch a road leading to the home. Barbara and Alex regularly bring beans and cooking oil so that the kids have something to eat. Barbara has sunk hundreds of dollars already into Mercy Home, spending it on foodstuffs, cleaning equipment, bleach, shovels and pick axes, etc. She’s planning to renovate the kitchen, including installing a cement floor. She has paid for one swollen-faced young man to visit a dentist, and others with malaria to see a doctor and get the medicine they need. On one recent visit, Alex, age 13, was even spotted teaching dance steps (from “Dancing with the Stars”) to a half-dozen of the orphanage’s residents.

Based on what I saw, I think Susan, Tabu, Barbara, and Alex’s biggest contribution to Mercy Home is bringing hope. It was incredible to see how the whole place brightened up when Alex and Barbara arrived amid a swarm of hugging, smiling orphans.

Despite the hope, the reality is that Barbara and Alex will be heading back to Missouri in May. When they’re gone, what will become of Mercy Home? To her credit, Barbara has raised over $3500 for the orphanage, including $2000 from one generous Parkville donor. Barbara is carefully rationing the donations so that they stretch as far as possible. That’s great, but the need for more funds, and sustainable funding, is pressing and unending.

I’m unbelievably proud of Barbara, my wife, and Alex, my son. Like Barbara. I lay awake at nights worrying about how to continue helping Mercy Home’s orphans live a decent life.

NOTE: If you are interested in helping, contact Barbara Youngblood at:

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