Hi, this is Katrina... Brent asked me to write a posting for the blog.
Firstly thank you so much to everyone who contributed money to the project. You always have some reservation about whether your charity donations get to the source and whether they are well spent. I can tell you your money has gone to building the classrooms and the organisation is well run. They are secondary school classrooms (as the earlier Watoto children get older) and are also really important for the children in the community that live nearby. These 4 classrooms mean there are secondary school age children who can now attend a good quality high school – an opportunity they did not have before you donated.
The HRX team here are great! – Stephen, Lauren, Georg, Chris, Anna & Brent (sometimes but not always). They have been very committed to the project and have worked hard. I thank them and their families (who have supported them coming).
Watoto villages are like a private oasis in the middle of chaos – security at the gate, beautiful green lawns, great houses, a good school and medical facilities. It is inspiring to see what has been achieved and in particular meet the children and see how they really live. We had lunch in the home with some Watoto ‘families’ today and I spent time talking to Grace the house mother finding out about each of ‘her’ 8 children. Each story is heartbreaking and many unimaginable but she spoke so lovingly about all of her children regardless of their history, difficulties, whether they are HIV +, etc... – like a true mother. The system of house mothers with 8 orphans works. While it seems only fair that the most vulnerable, disadvantaged HIV orphans in the country go to Watoto, it is important to realise that the ‘average’ child in Uganda has a life that is far removed from life at a Watoto village.
Traveling into the rural villages (85% of Ugandans live in rural villages) yesterday to meet 2 families was an uplifting and shattering experience at the same time. It was moving to meet and hug them – they are very special to our family. I was struck by how much hope the children have and how resilient and capable they are. While the level of poverty is confronting there are many advantages to their culture and way of life - the family grows most of their own food, they spend a lot of time together as a family, babies are always held and carried around by the mother or a sibling, the houses nearby in the village all form a tight community, and everyone contributes to the household where children take responsibility and are capable. Life is difficult -they live in 2 rooms with many children, don’t have running water, often don’t have electricity, etc…but these are not the big issues. There are also dangers we can’t relate to like child sacrifice and 30,000 Ugandan children being abducted to serve as Child Soldiers, but the issue that dwarfs all is HIV.
Of the 2 families we visited, in one family the mother has HIV and the father doesn’t live with the family or support them financially. In the other family the mother has already died and the father is very ill and lives somewhere else to be close to a hospital. So the children in both families could effectively be without parents in the short-term. As this became apparent throughout the day I started to panic about the future of the children in both families and what would happen. I spoke to the people about my concerns and what we can do - it became obvious that because this situation is repeated in such a troubling % of households - there is a new ‘normal’. While these children are so special to us (our children pay for their sponsorship out of their pocket money, write to them, send them presents and eagerly await the letters they send each month) the harsh reality for all involved in helping here is unfortunately they are just 2 of many and there are many who are worse off. While we will be persistent and find a way to help both of these families through whatever happens I felt shattered to think about the new normal and the desperate situation for the 11.6 million HIV orphans living in sub-Saharan Africa alone.
I hope this provides some context for the HRX project and your generous donations. Thanks so much for your contribution!