Snoqualmie Valley couple wants better future for Ugandan children
May 23, 2012
By Sebastian Moraga
There’s no point in education. Women past fertile age are worthless. So are stepchildren. And by the way, did you know that you can cure your HIV by sleeping with a virgin?
You didn’t? Here, have another glass of swamp water.
What? You don’t drink swamp water? Well, these people have to.
Welcome to Uganda, a country like many others in Africa, attacked by the triplets of poverty, ignorance and the scourge of AIDS and HIV.
Uganda also houses the hopes of a local couple, insistent on improving the lives of children there.
“Their level of poverty is something I had never seen before,” said Kimberly Calhoun, whose husband John talked her into going to Uganda five years ago to help install a sand filter for clean water. She balked and promised to go on the second trip if he survived the first one.
He did, so she did.
“I just fell in love with the people there,” she said.
They began raising money to build wells. It took years of gathering cash and finding tools, but the drill trucks finally arrived in the mountainous village of Rwenjiri in 2009.
Kimberly calls that day one of the best of her life. It took three tries, but clean water finally arrived.
“There were people celebrating something that we take for granted, just go and turn on the tap,” she said. “They had been getting water out of a swamp for years.”
The Calhouns also helped build an elementary school and housing units for teachers, who had lived in mud huts until then.
More than 400 children attend that school. Ugandan children aren’t expected to stay in school after age 11, according to the CIA’s World Factbook.
“The only way these kids are going to get out of the poverty cycle is if they have an education,” Kimberly said. “If you live out in the boonies, there’s no reason to get one because, where are you going to go?”
The Calhouns want to help bring the basic necessities of health, education and shelter to areas of Uganda, she said. Their latest project entailed buying 25 acres of land an hour northwest of Kampala, Uganda’s capitol.
“We built a storage facility with a caretaker room and a bathroom, and just finished building a clinic,” she said. “It’s not up and running yet, we’re raising funds for it.”
Kimberly said she wants Ugandans to take ownership and care of what’s being built, the clinic now and a second school later.
The 25 acres will have crops planted, and children attending the new school will work each day for 30 minutes, weeding or planting.
“We want it to be self-sustaining,” she said. “We want them to take ownership. We don’t want a bunch of people here sending money every month to keep it going.”
The clinic will charge those seeking help.
“It’s important that everybody pays a fee when they come,” Kimberly said. “If they can’t pay a fee, they need to bring a chicken or something.”
The only time the clinic will open for free is when American doctors, particularly dentists, work there. Kimberly and her husband will try to take American doctors there twice a year, she added.
The U.S. has an estimated 3.1 hospital beds and 2.6 doctors per every 1,000 people. In comparison, Uganda has 0.3 hospital beds and 0.1 doctors, according to the factbook.
“We had a friend there who went to the dentist because he had a tooth hurting,” she said. “And the dentist pulled the wrong tooth.”
Furthermore, some Ugandan parents Kimberly has encountered see teeth care as “an American thing,” and some Ugandan children have never seen a toothbrush.
“They have a lot of issues,” Kimberly added.
Kimberly sees no end to their work in Uganda. And that’s the way she likes it. Once terrified of the idea of going to Africa, she dreams of seeing 25 acres of self-sustaining land become 25 more. And then 25 more.
Encouraging signs exist, like Ugandans using bricks instead of mud. Discouraging signs exist, too, like the firm belief that if you’re white you are rich, or if you sleep with virgins, certain things happen.
The key, she said, is in turning Ugandan children into self-reliant, educated adults.
“When you bring hope to a place where there is no hope,” she said, “that’s an amazing thing to watch.”