As the Communications Chair for ChangeALife Uganda, I can say with certainty that the enthusiasm, commitment, and energy of this organization is boundless. The two founders, Jean Semler and Dave Thelen, have taken an issue near to their hearts – education for Ugandan children – and made it a reality for countless sponsored children. The organization continues to grow and meet both its short and long term goals, while returning almost all raised monies back to the communities in Migyera and Nabbingo. Encompassing healthcare and microfinance projects has benefited the families of these sponsored children as well. ChangeALife Uganda serves the needs of the community as it empowers its residents.
ChangeALife Uganda accomplished a major goal in 2014 the completion of a water project which we started in 2009. Now our school, health center and the local community has clean water from a 512' well and a 50,000L water tower. A big thank you to all who made this happen. This summer was our first to host university students from GlobeMed and graduate students doing research on water issues from Duke's Nicholas School of the environment. We appreciate their contribution. This summer our medical volunteers completed physicals on 460 of our children attending St. Lawrence School. Many more happenings but this is just a highlight of how ChangeALife Uganda is changing lives.
Ever since I was 10 years old, I dreamed of helping those in need in Africa. On a relaxing day in August 2006 – three years after I retired from – I was inspired to help in an even bigger way and really fulfill that dream.
It began with a visit in my New Jersey home with Father Lawrence Kimbowa, a native of Uganda. He shared the story of his childhood there – the civil war, the refugee camp and the Chicago couple who sponsored his education and changed his life. He also shared the promise he made to himself – to give the children of Uganda the rare opportunity he was given as a child: the gift of education.
Inspired by Fr. Kimbowa’s story, my husband and I traveled to Uganda and witnessed great need. Many children have lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS and others were unable to attend school because there parents could not pay school fees. For most of these children, a quality education was not an option. We recognized the opportunity to truly make a difference.
Beginning with the sponsorship of 10 Ugandan children by friends who wanted to help, we created ChangeALife Uganda (CALU), which was formally incorporated in March 2007, followed by a 501 (c)(3) non-profit classification in April 2008, CALU was poised to make a difference.
ChangeALife Uganda focuses on education, health care and income-generating opportunities and it concentrates on children, because ‘children, are the catalyst for change. Our goal is to provide these children and other children living in poverty with the education and skills they need so that they and their families have the opportunity for better futures.” We now have almost 300 children in our sponsorship program.
One of the most fulfilling accomplishments took place in August 2012. CALU opened a new health center in Migyera – a truck stop town on the way to the Sudan. In partnership with Mildmay Uganda, the health center began providing testing, HIV care and antiretrovirals to 167 patients diagnosed with HIV.
I remember back in 2006 when a nurse here told me about the large number of people dying of HIV because of a lack of medication. I immediately recalled the 1996 New York Times headline highlighting a 50 percent reduction in mortality because of the new protease inhibitors. Here it was 2006 – 10 years later – and people here were still dying of AIDS in large numbers. Now – 16 years later – the treatment and medication are finally available here, thanks to Mildmay Uganda.
Our 2013 trip brought new surprises. Our women are attending a Literacy Program where they are learning to read and write English. They surprised us with their new crafts - exquisite handcrafted baskets and stylish women's handbags. The children in the micro-enterprise program have pigs, goats and chickens and are paying back their loan and saving their money in bank accounts. Our volunteers shared their talents through their gift of education on how to sew, play chess, write journals, brush teeth, use listening techniques and inspire children with new educational approaches. It was an outstanding trip and the bonds of friendship and sharing enriched everyone.
It was a pleasure joining you, Dave and the rest of the CALU Team on your 2013 Trip to Uganda. It was an eye-opening experience and I now see why my wife is so dedicated to your cause. I look forward to returning with you in the future.
Jean and I went to Uganda to see how we could help as part of another organization. we came back with a mission. When we looked at the model that existed we realized that the model would work in only a limited way and would not lead to self sustanability. the model Father Lawrence designed with the input of our Ugandan staff is sustainable and the changes we seen can be dupicated. Education is the starting point which porvided us to change our lives. I am so excited to see the children and their families progress each year. Our most important challenge is to get the water project done so that santation and health can be achieved. With the help of so many caring folks and the local know how we should see that dream come true. this organization grows presents a personal model that works. What a gift to those working for it the sponors and those getting a chance to suceed through the generous support of our donors