Future nurses and former child soldiers
All kinds of Ugandan children receive support from Big Sky
Don and Diane Lundsten embarked on their 11th trip to Uganda on Oct. 10, representing the Uganda Orphans Fund, a nonprofit out of Bozeman dedicated to improving the lives of children afflicted by war, poverty or disease. A friend of theirs, Duncan Hill, started the organization 20 years ago. In its beginning stages, UOF partnered with various organizations and built more than 20 orphanages throughout Uganda.
UOF received its NGO status in 2006, allowing it more freedom in dictating its mission and for the ability to build the Kasozi Village in the Kamuli District of Uganda. This was a centralized location that let Hill bring together the other orphanages he was involved in across the country. As a result, the Kasozi Village is home to four dormitories, a primary school, staff housing, a church, a dining hall, a soccer field and a recently finished medical clinic opening this fall.
The Lundstens had been on other mission trips in Africa that focused on church and community development. Hill needed some help as UOF was expanding and reached out, knowing the Lundstens’ experience.
“(We were) given the keys with 250 kids at the school and they said, ‘Here you go!’” Remembers Don Lundsten. In his words, the mission of UOF is to, “equip children so that they can become leaders in their country and also to know God’s purposes for their lives.”
Hill recently stepped down from his position as president of UOF and the Lundstens are serving as transitional directors. They now lead the organization staff in Uganda and are working on combining the two boards, one for the school and one for the clinic, into a cohesive unit.
On their current trip, the Lundstens are looking forward to seeing the progress of the Kasozi Children’s Community Clinic. Its services will be available to children in and out of the village and it will provide employment opportunities to children who have gone onto medical school after their primary and secondary education, supplied by UOF.
The clinic will be staffed by Ugandan clinical officers, nurses and technical support. Resources are a challenge for Uganda’s health care system and the doctors who are there tend to practice in more populated areas, leaving destitute places like the Kamuli District without trained doctors. Young children are the most at risk in the country with half of its population under 15-years-old and one out of every 15 children not making it to their fifth birthday. The UOF has raised over $200,000 to supply the clinic with furniture, medical equipment and a starting inventory of medicine and vaccines. It hopes to treat 1,000 children per month, catering to impoverished and remote situations.
Additionally, this trip to Uganda partnered with ROC Wheels out of Bozeman, a nonprofit dedicated to building wheelchairs for disabled children in third world countries. ROC Wheels worked with children in the Kamuli District for two years—fundraising, manufacturing and fitting the kids to their own wheelchairs, again focusing on the families that lived in great poverty.
“Giving them a hand out way to be mobile is just life changing. The whole family will be raised up,” remarks Don Lundsten.
“It all is a ton of work, but the rewards are wonderful,” says Lundsten. “The kids grow up into adults that have hope.”
Watching the children they directly affected is unforgettable and reaffirms the value of their mission. Don Lundsten remembers a young man they met when he was first brought to the village. He had been abducted from his home and was forced to be a child solider for the Lord’s Resistance Army, a rebel army operating in Uganda, Sudan, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
When he came to the Kasozi Village he was numb, wrecked and unable to move past the tragedies he encountered. None of the children know English when they first arrive at the village, but as this young man learned and healed he was able to release some inhibitions.
“After some time he became known as one of the best dancers of the whole project,” says Lundsten. “He became everyone’s favorite.”
The Lundstens meet all the children when they are young and after their primary schooling in the village some get sent off to boarding schools to continue their education. They return educated and arguably new people. The children in surrounding areas see this transformation and know that the same thing can happen for them since it happened to others in familiar circumstances.
“It just bolstered every child in the orphanage to know they have a chance to succeed in life as their have,” says Lundsten.
The Lundstens have lived in Big Sky for 45 years. Diane works at the Chapel, Don works as a carpenter, and they both established roots and made this community their home. The Big Sky Community Fellowship supports UOF and over 20 people from the community have gone to Uganda. Children in the primary school are sponsored by people in Big Sky, Bozeman and around the nation to continue their education into a secondary school program, which later allows them to go on to vocational training.
The Lundstens are “hoping this is something the Big Sky community wants to be involved with.”
Opportunities as easy as pairing up pen pals in the Big Sky School District with children in the Kasozi Village or putting together donation drives could make an impactful difference for both parties involved.
“It changes lives both here and there and we would like Big Sky to be a part of that,” advocates Lundsten.
Typically, trips to Uganda happen twice a year and past groups consisted of four to six people from Big Sky. This time, just a couple Big Sky locals are going in addition to the volunteers from ROC Wheels.
Krista Boersma and her daughter, Kassidy, were able to accompany the Lundstens on their Oct. 2017 trip and it was a rewarding experience for the both of them.
To prepare for their trip, they collected clothes, sports equipment, craft supplies and tried to get the word out about what they were doing. They could see the effect Big Sky had on the Kamuli District the moment they got there. Some of the kids were wearing Ophir Miner’s T-shirts!
Both Boersma and her daughter were mostly involved with volunteering at the primary school. Boersma substitute taught for three days and, “that was exhausting,” she remembers.
The primary school places kids by skill once they get to the orphanage, not by age, but they are the equivalent to K-8th graders. The educational system in the primary school was highly structured and focused on rote memorization with less emphasis on critical thinking or problem solving. Boersma planned activities centered around small groups and conversation and quickly realized how the Western and Ugandan approaches to education differed. They played games, went on walks, and took the kids to the dentist, which was an hour and a half drive away.
“(For) every child it was their first experience ever,” says Boersma, who witnessed first-time root canals and extractions. “It was heartbreaking.”
Watching the experience change her daughter was perhaps the most profound memory Boersma recalls.
“They have nothing compared to what we have and they are so happy. You never heard them complain,” says Boersma, a concept that struck her daughter. Kassidy was the youngest person on last year’s October trip and she came away from it wanting to continue helping the kids she met. She witnessed the change this program can have on the children and the potential for the program to come full circle, and understood how important that was.
“That’s probably the most significant—that we’re finally starting to see the full circle,” Boersma says.
Demonstratively, a young woman who had lived during a civil war came to the village and went through the primary and secondary school programs. She continued to medical school and now has a job as a nurse in the new clinic about to open. This story is the perfect example of what UOF wants to accomplish in Uganda and how impactful of a difference the organization can make. This young woman was given an opportunity to create a better future for herself, cultivating skills that would be useful to her community. UOF wants to educate and care for these children so they can give back to their people and provide more opportunities and inspiration, completing the circle instead of sending Western doctors to fill the clinics.
UOF now seeks more monthly donations to support the children the clinic works to serve. They are looking for 400 people to donate $50 per month in order to provide $10,000 for the children and $10,000 for the clinic itself. Additionally, there are smaller amounts that will provide direct help to children needing medical attention—$28 per month would provide treatment and medicine for three children.
More information concerning donations is available at www.ugandaorphans.com. Krista Boersma is a great resource for anyone looking for information on trips, fundraising or donations. She can be reached at email@example.com.