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Ugandan children on a mission to say thanks

Kids to sing at several churches to show appreciation for sponsors

POSTED: August 10, 2013 1:00 a.m.

One student brought his notebooks from school on his trip to Gainesville so he could keep up with his studies while he’s away.

The notebooks are bound in cardboard torn from the edge of a box. The pages are stitched together inside. It is one example of the life students from Uganda live.

Four of those students traveled from their African home with Helping Hands Foreign Missions this week to meet their sponsors and spread the word about what the organization is doing with its Village of Eden project. For the next month, the students will visit local churches and perform some of their favorite Ugandan and English gospel songs.

Susan Aguttu, 12, Arafat Musa, 13, and Isaac Mukiisa, 12, sing songs while Isaac Matanyi, 20, plays the harp-like Adungu and piano.

“We’re excited because we’re going to our friends and our sponsors; we’ll visit churches and schools, and we have a gala,” Matanyi said.

At the mention of the word “sponsor,” the younger children leaned in and smiled, shaking their heads to show they share his excitement.

Sponsors provide a monthly donation of at least $25 used to purchase necessary items for the village children.

Isaac said he’s looking forward to meeting his sponsors in person for the first time because they make a difference in his life.

“They give us a mattress to sleep on, blankets, shoes to put on,” Isaac said. “They provide us uniforms for school and even food at school.”

Dr. Brenda Kowalske, co-founder of the Gainesville-based organization with her late husband Richard Kowalske, said meeting the children face-to-face will help people better understand what the organization is trying to do with the village.

“Everybody hears stories about third-world countries,” Kowalske said. “About how everyone is poor and this and that, but the thing is I think what we want to do is put a face on that. These kids are not just statistics. They’re not just a face in the crowd. They’re kids.”

Students live in a space the organization has rented while the village is being built. The young children all shake their heads and agree once the village is complete, it will be “a blessing” to their community.

The village, a 133-acre complex in Uganda near the border of Kenya, is being constructed and will provide a home to 800 orphans. The village provides a ministry opportunity to more than 2,000 children in the communities nearby. The village also will provide schools, a medical center and a church.

Helping Hands Foreign Missions Executive Director Stan Bell said the need for the medical center’s construction is urgent. The two closest hospitals are 20 miles in either direction from the village. Most people have to walk to the hospitals if they or their children need medical attention, but costs are often too high for families to afford treatment.

“The medical care is so scarce and the medical care that is provided in Uganda is so basic that a lot of things like malaria and some of the very preventable diseases are even on the rise,” Bell said. “We hope to provide medical treatment for a large area there around the Village of Eden.”

Building and furnishing the medical clinic are expected to cost $1 million. Bell explained funds raised at the gala will go to “building something” of the medical center immediately. The building plans can be constructed in stages, allowing the building to grow as more funds become available.

“It will be a sort of blessing, having better medical care to the community,” Matanyi said

Kowalske said the organization is also focused on the children’s mental and spiritual well-being too. Literacy is important to the children’s futures.

“Just being able to have them read, so they can read the Bible and read the newspaper to know what’s going on in their country. That’s enormous,” Kowalske said. “Education is one of the big things the sponsors help with”

Matanyi agreed. He wants to become a lawyer to make sure the communities in his country are being fairly represented. He added his salvation is the reason he’s performing well enough in school to consider the career.

As a pastor’s son, Matanyi was always involved in church. He played music for worship, but would go home before the preacher even started his message. He said everything changed when he heard another pastor explain just participating in church doesn’t mean he’s a follower of Christ.

“I confessed to the pastor and he prayed for me and I accepted Christ,” Matanyi said, smiling. “That’s when I became wise and since that day I am performing well at school.”

Students said they’re excited about the opportunity to play music at the organization’s sold-out annual Legacy of Hope gala Healing Hearts fundraiser Saturday night. The event is at 6 p.m. at the Legacy Lodge at Lake Lanier Islands in Buford.


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