Volunteer, donate, sponsor

After mission in Kenia and founding of Organization Blue Angel, the Organization raised some funds for children in Franciscan mission. After that, I went to Uganda, in a small, very poor town called Bugembe on the Victoria lake and started with my humanitarian mission. The entire day was filled with activities, getting up at 7 AM and having breakfast, than heading for nearby Elementary school „Bugembe Blue“ where on a daily basis two other volunteers and I interviewed children with one or no parent. That would last until lunch time and after lunch we would return to school to pick up that same children we interviewed in the morning, take them by their hands and go to their houses and visit their families. We would walk for miles and miles sometimes, just like I did in Kenia. There are no streets or house numbers in those villages. But the children know where they live.
We heard all kinds of heartbreaking stories, from them being molested by their relatives, brothers or sisters to not having a meal for days. Those were days filled with emotions, our hearts were breaking. Children opened up to us and cried and we were supposed to be brave and show no emotions. Coming into their homes, we saw firsthand how they manage to survive all that and yet be calm and happy, without any requests whatsoever. Their main preoccupation is whether they will have a meal that day or not. We talked to grandmothers who were left by themselves with grandchildren because their parents died of AIDS. They, unfortunately, cannot afford to pay tuition fees so the grandchildren could have basic education.
In those times I only knew that I was in the right place and that there is a reason I was there. I decided when I come to Croatia to try to raise as many funds as possible and help out as much as I can. I knew that I would do my best to make it happen, to invest my time, my energy, my money for others. It is just who I am. Every day was so long and then after dinner, all data were needed to be entered in the computer, for each child separately.
We immediately started buying blankets, mattresses, school uniforms, mosquito nets, food for some families. We took children to stores and bought shoes and sox for them so they don’t walk bear feet. Who could resist doing that? Many children were sick, had all sorts of diseases but couldn’t afford medical help so we paid for medical help and bought needed medicine. It is so easy to befriend those kids; they just crawl under your skin and that makes leaving even harder. I arranged everything for our volunteers to visit those children.
So in the past year several of our volunteers went to Bugembe and I believe came back with some new thoughts and views on life. Africa changes people and many of them return. Who knows, maybe some of them will go back there or to another place with completely different expectations from those had the first time they came. For most people it is not easy to get used to a new culture, a way of thinking and communicating that is completely different from Western culture and to coexist with natives. Therefore it is my suggestion for first time to volunteer for a month, not more, not less and after that, if someone wishes to go again, they can stay longer if they like. Conditions for volunteers are very modest, there is no luxury, often enough there is no electricity or water. However, that is the only way to feel and experience original Africa, the Africa hidden behind fancy 5 star hotels and heavenly beaches. If you stay in one of those hotels, it is impossible to see how those people live, to feed them, to feed animals, to visit local schools and orphanages, to get a real picture of actual life for those children. Volunteers live and work in villages, use local transportation and “boda-boda” and get to meet local people.

In our country some people have a hard time surviving or at least they think it is hard for them and they complain all the time. In reality, if we are healthy, all is well. So I recommend to many to go and visit Africa if possible and to see how those children fight for a hand of rise or posh, what they are capable of doing to get some food, what women do to feed their children, no health insurance, no social aids or various compensations for unemployment, women giving birth at home and many die like that, families with small children who have AIDS. You can never really know until you go and see for yourself.
Even so, they smile and laugh, are able to feel happy and work out problems in their own way. Often enough a family of 20 members (uncles, aunts, relatives) live in one small room, sleeping on the floor because they have no beds (nor could they place one anywhere if they had it), no drinking water and electricity. They have no bathrooms and have never even seen a shower. Instead they wash in an open area. It resembles our locker rooms on beaches, only they look like 4 plastic poles covered in nylon. They use outhouse toilet with hole in the ground somewhere far in the village and it is for everyone’s use. I lived that way too. They cook outside in the yard on small cooker running on coal or woods. It is one meal per day, posh-corn flour with water or plane rise or maybe some vegetable gravy and beans. One bag of these supplies is enough for one family to make it through a month. There is a market in the centre of Bugembe, many of inhabitants who have at least a piece of farmland, go to the market and sell tomatoes, green beans or some other vegetable in effort to make some many for their children and maybe put them through school. They are forced to sell their own vegetable while their own children are starving. That reminded me on my childhood when my father would go to Zagreb to sell chicken, eggs, chestnuts etc. on the market trying to make enough money to put my sisters and I through school while back home we were often enough hungry.
Bugembe is well known for fish called tilapia from Lake Victoria; they cook it and sell it on the market. Many families fish to feed their families. Did you know that in Africa many children have to walk almost 6 km each day to get to drinking water that isn’t even that clean? Do we have such problems? And yet people complain, they are dissatisfied, wanton beyond belief. They say they barely survive. I strongly recommend to those people to visit Africa but not in expensive hotels. Although, after visiting poor villages, one should go and see all of Africa’s natural beauties, national parks, lakes, plantations of tea, coffee, bananas.

Approximately 40 million live in Uganda, 2.5 millions are orphans from which 1 million have AIDS. They barely survive with 1 $ per day if they succeed in earning it. Many cannot earn that 1 $ and stay hungry for days. I am convinced that all children are born with equal potentials, but these children do not have the possibility to attend elementary or secondary school not to mention college. Many families give those small rooms in which they live for rent for 35 $ per month. On the other hand,most can’t afford that because if by any chance they work and earn some money it is not more than 30 $ per month. When they don’t pay the rent, they get kicked out and are forced to search for another place to stay.

My vision is to help those poor children in villages through sponsors so they can go to school because that is the most important thing – education and then later to try to get a job so they can feed their families. It is crucial that those kids have 1 assured meal a day and for that meal not to consist of only posho but more diverse food such as potatoes, beans, carrots, matoke, different fruit and vegetable. It is also very important for them to be able to sleep on mattresses, to be covered by blankets and to have a net as prevention from malaria. Besides AIDS, malaria is the biggest killer in Uganda and in Sub-Saharian Africa in general. People can’t afford doctor’s exam or malaria test and often it is too late for cure that they cannot afford anyway.
I am inviting you all to join the battle against poverty in Africa. Invite your friends and families and donate.
I am inviting schools to join us in helping. I am inviting local clubs or some other clubs to join this program by donating or sponsoring. You can organize an event and donate funds to help children in Bugembe and make their lives a little bit better. We are also working on bigger connection between the child and the sponsor.
I suggest that you donate the amount you spend for monthly coffee, donate it for children, mattresses, blankets, nets and one meal for one family. Partner up with some school in Uganda and collect donations for them. You can donate drinking water containers for schools in Bugembe. Also include your family to help another family in Bugembe. Donate for a new house made of bricks and mud, donate for purchase of one goat so one family can provide milk to their children.

Dragica Kopljar
Zagreb, January 5th 2014

“God did not create poverty. We created poverty out of our lack of will to share”
Mother Teresa