Our friends in Uganda – inspiration in the face of challenges
In 2019, Palma Barbieri, one of our members, attended the Rotary International Convention in Hamburg. Post convention, Palma planned to head to East Africa for a 6-week backpacking trip with her daughter Ally. At the convention, Palma met Julius Wolimbwa, a young Rotarian from Mbale Uganda. He offered to host them for their 2-day trek off the beaten path to beautiful Sipi Falls. When Palma and Ally arrived in Mbale they attended a Rotary meeting with the Mbale Metropolitan (MMet) club and spent time with Julius and the Elgon Ngoma Troupe.
The Elgon Ngoma Troupe is a community-based non-profit founded by Julius just over 10 years ago. The aim is to help children and youth living or being exploited in the streets of the region by getting them off the streets, back into school and discovering and developing their potential in traditional African music and dance.
The Troupe rents a small house for some of the youth and Julius works to reunite others with their families where possible. Maximum capacity is 12 but since Covid-19 hit 25 youth aged 10 to 16 years old share beds. Julius ensures a family atmosphere and respectful environment for the Troupe members while instilling self-confidence, self-esteem and pride. The Troupe’s paid performances provide some of the funds needed to shelter, feed and educate its members. Former members who have ‘graduated’ from the Troupe volunteer as mentors, trainers and supervisors for the current youth and provide some administrative support.
Over the past 10 years, Elgon Ngoma Troupe has helped about 100 youth to improve their potential for self-sustaining futures. Julius has dedicated his life to helping youth in the region, knowing as he does the life of a street kid - hunger, homelessness, no education, risk of exploitation and child trafficking - because he was an orphan himself at age 9. His musical talent, intelligence and the help of some caring teachers helped him to create a better life for himself and now for other street kids.
Mbale region lies just south of a region where ethnic strife between 1990-2010 caused much devastation. In 2018 the government estimated the number of children and youth living, or being exploited, on the streets to be 15,000 nationwide – 4,000 of whom are in Mbale district. No government programs exist and so non-profits like Elgon Ngoma try to fill the void.
Raising funds for the basic survival needs of the Troupe is an insurmountable challenge. T-C Rotary provided $750 in January for the term’s school fees and supplies for two of the young girls living at the Elgon Ngoma Troupe home. Then Covid-19 happened. The resulting lockdown restrictions closed all schools in mid-March and prevented the Troupe from performing. With no income, the Troupe was unable to pay rent or buy food beyond some small donations. Seeing this dire situation, T-C Rotary has now contributed $750 a month to fund food purchases for 4 months from May to August.
Uganda’s very tight Covid-19 restrictions have been very successful. But the prolonged lockdown has had severe economic impacts in a part of the country that was already poor, making it harder to raise funds for food and rent. The Troupe is hoping that restrictions will lift sufficiently in the next couple of months to permit performances to raise some funds during the Christmas season.
Help them start a farm…and they will have food for a lifetime
Julius had been exploring ideas for developing additional self-funding activities but they all required an initial investment that Elgon Ngoma could not raise while still ensuring the children had their basic needs looked after. Recently, Julius approached T-C Rotary with a proposal to rehabilitate a small village farm that would provide additional housing and 35% - 50% of the Troupe’s food needs. The project would help some youth learn farming skills and older youth would have paid work.
Julius could provide an abandoned 2-acre farm with a dilapidated farmhouse in Mawululu, a village about an hour north of Mbale at no cost. What he required was funding for repairs to the farmhouse to alleviate the unhealthy crowding situation at the Mbale home and to provide farm tools and seed to start growing vegetables and staples like beans and corn.
With a sizable amount of its international funds unallocated, T-C Rotary decided this was a project worthy of our support. The help of the MMet Rotary Club, where Julius is a member, was crucial. They have an engineer and other relevant experts on their roster. They provided a detailed assessment of the needs and costs to our club showing that the $8,000 we committed for the project would provide enough funds for an access drive from the village road, much needed very basic repairs to the farmhouse and the purchase of tools.
There is currently no electricity, water or latrines on the property so the youth will be using paraffin lamps and a nearby village well and latrines and showers for now. Elgon Ngoma Troupe will need an additional $10,000 for its own latrine, showers, water well, solar panels and additional necessary repairs to the house in the next year or two.
Work on-site commenced mid-September. We are grateful to our friends at the MMet Rotary Club for partnering with us in this effort. They provide the vital on-the-ground supervision and support to make this project a success for the Troupe.
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