As Christians country wide welcomed the Lent period on Ash Wednesday (February 22), a Facebook page dubbed 40 days… over 40 smiles was birthed. The page profile picture is of a young boy with untidy hair. He is gazing far ahead into space with a smile. It looks like he expects the future to be responsible for his smile and perhaps it is, because that is exactly why this page was opened.
The founder Easter Kalenzi, writes, “During Lent, as you fast or choose to stay away from certain treats, I urge you to save up a little, so we can share Easter with the less fortunate. We shall bake cakes, buy toys, books, blankets and also get clothes to distribute at orphanages…Any help you provide shall make a difference. Let us join hands and give all we can.”
But when she opened the page, Kalenzi did not have a clear direction of which children to reach out to, although she knew what she wanted to do. “I told people to start collecting things. Then two friends suggested focusing on Make the Children Smile, an orphanage in Natete and God’s Grace in Kyebando. When I visited the orphanages, they were in dire need, so I decided it was those that we would help. And after that the campaign to put a smile on the faces of children after the 40 days of lent took a vigorous turn.”
Touched by the hoplessness
God’s Grace orphanage was started seven years ago with two children but is now home to 90 children. Make a Child Smile orphanage which started off under the name Oasis orphanage houses 75.
Orphaned, tortured, raped, abandoned or sent away from home, the children aged between one year and 18, have found their way to either one of these orphanages. At first glance, you will not tell their hopeless condition, because they are dressed in clean clothes that are not in good shape and they even look well fed. But all is not well.
Each of those little ones has a sad tale about their life. Tales so depressing, they will make you shake your head in disbelief and leave you speechless. Eddie Walugembe, 13, who has been at the orphanage for two months could not stop crying as he told of losing his mother to HIV/Aids and having an absentee father. He was left with with his aunt. But one day, she chased him away saying she could not look after him anymore. While on the streets, he was told about God’s Grace Orphange.
Another Violent, 16, was raped while on her way home and left for dead bleeding, until a good Samaritan found her. The people in her neighbourhood said she had brought that onto herself. When she had had enough, she insisted on leaving home. Like Walugembe, someone told her about God’s Grace Orphanage and that is how she ended up there. Violet’s father passed away, while her ailing mother lives in her village, with four of her siblings struggling to make ends meet.
Compared to God’s Grace orphanage, Make the Children smile is in a better state. With better structures and more rooms, the children also have better beddings after a contribution from Stanbic Bank. They too need so many things of course, but the children at Natete, need food and love the most.
“Thankfully, the community is supportive. When a child has nowhere to stay, a family takes them up even if they are not related to them. The orphanage is the last resort. And the same people in the community also supply food to the orphanage from time to time,” Kalenzi says. The problem however, is that all these supplies are irregular and as a result the children sometimes miss meals.
When your bedroom is a classroom
At God’s Grace, the house needs a complete makeover. With old paint that is peeling off and patches all other the walls, the eight rooms of the house serve as classrooms as well as bedrooms. The Primary Seven class also acts as a store. What is meant to be the sitting room is used by three teachers who are also caretakers as bedrooms. They have an incomplete building that would help, but the orphanage cannot afford to complete it.
Each room is shared by two classes because of space. So while the charts on the walls show that it is a class, there are very thin, tattered mattresses piled up neatly in one corner. The window acts as a shoe rack and the room whose floor has so many dents is filled with a faint stench of urine and sweat.
On the day we visited, a boy aged about seven came running to Maria Kiwummulo, their caretaker saying he was sick. He was shivering so much that it was clear he had a fever. The caretaker on determining his temperature using the back of her hand, concluded it was malaria.
She looked so sad, helpless if you like. She had no money to buy him medicine. And she did not even know if they would be able to have supper that day. As the boy cried, she looked away from him with teary eyes and asked someone to give the boy pain killers. Kiwummulo goes through situations like this every day but she has to be strong for each of the children even when all she wants to do is cry her heart out. Kalenzi couldn’t have made a better choice.
Items collected include clothes (lots of these), shoes, bags, blankets, bed sheets, underwear, toys, soap, sanitary towels, toilet paper, Niteo Africa gave 743 books. Kalenzi has also collected about Shs1.6m. “95 per cent of the contributions are from Facebook fans of the page 40 days… over 40 smiles thanks to the noise I have been making about the project. Some are from family members and friends.”
The donations were taken to the orphanages on Good Friday and on Saturday. Like Kalenzi and her friends, well-wishers come to offer help to these orphanages once in a while. However, these efforts are not sustainable so when the clothes, bedding are worn out, they will be back to zero. On top of this, what they need is help that will put them in position to sustain themselves and that can begin with you.