A couple of years out of university, most young ladies are occupied with thoughts of good jobs, further studies, the latest fashions, relationships and the best hang outs. But 24-year- old Esther Kalenzi is no different, except for one other thing; her compulsion to make a difference in the lives of orphaned children.
Inspired by her desire to do more and her inherent love of children, an idea was born to Kalenzi. She would contact as many of her friends as possible, and request them to donate all that they could for orphanages and pediatric wards during the Easter weekend.
The Facebook page, 40 Days over 40 Smiles, took a turn of its own. She had invited her friends, who’d invited their friends and those had also invited their own friends. She did not know everybody, but she figured, the more the merrier. These are young people, barely into their first jobs with so little to give and yet so much, as she was yet to realise.
By the Easter weekend, the 40 Days 40 Smiles campaign, mainly being operated on Facebook had collected Shs3.1m, along with food, clothing and the utilities, which they shared between two orphanages “Make the Children Smile” and God’s Grace Orphanage”, which Kalenzi had discovered. It was a happy Easter for the children, but it was also clear that God’s Grace Orphanage of Kyebando was going to need more help. Sporadic donations were all they had depended on in the past, unlike the other orphanage which had a Church Cell dedicated to it.
The 40 days had come and gone but the needs of the children had remained and so had Kalenzi’s compulsion. “The children had real needs…and now they had my number. I could not ignore them,” she says. The facebook page stayed open. Monthly breakfasts with the children were set up, to “give the children a touch of the outside world, of family” as Kalenzi explains. But they did not cater to the interim needs of the children.
Soon, Kalenzi and her group found themselves thinking of new ways to garner support, which yielded the charity bazaar idea, held on August 4. In between, she had had to store the items at a nearby bakery and borrow her mother’s car to ferry the items to the auction grounds. Thankfully their efforts paid off with a little over Shs5m after a day selling secondhand clothes at Lugogo.
A year later, the children have grown from 70 to 118, some of them sent over by parents who cannot take care of them but the host, Maria Kiwumulo, never turns anyone down, and neither can Kalenzi, who strives to match up to the growing numbers’ requirements. “These days when my phone rings, I worry; it could be anything from a chicken pox outbreak to the flu. There are days when I will openly guilt trip my friends into donating at least Shs5000, so I can take a child to hospital from Kyebando,” says Kalenzi, adding,
“Most days we have wonderful volunteers, other days are not so easy, people are busy; understandably so. Beginning of school terms can be overwhelming because the children will need at least Shs3m for school fees alone, then there are food and classroom requirements. We are managing the best way we can. It is all about friends of friends and general goodwill…and Facebook.”