Uganda was the first ever African mission undertaken by Caritas of the Archdiocese of Prague. In 2001, the Child Sponsorship Programme (Adopce na dálku®) was launched in Uganda, following its successful implementation in India. Soon, additional development programmes were established with a view to providing assistance to entire communities with respect to sources of livelihood, healthcare, and education. We spoke about the two decades of work done by Prague’s Caritas in Uganda with Director Jaroslav Němec.
What are the results of the two decades of providing assistance in Uganda? What has Caritas of the Archdiocese of Prague accomplished during that time?
We have three priorities in Uganda. The first is education. That gives individuals from poverty-stricken areas a chance for a better future. Help in this area is reflected in the development of entire communities and society as a whole. Over the past two decades, we have assisted 9,640 children from the most impoverished conditions to obtain an education. More than 7,000 of these children have now graduated, and the schooling they have received has allowed them to find employment. The rest are still studying. It is a staggering figure. Sometimes I imagine what it would be like to take all these kids for a field trip by bus. The convoy of buses would be stretched over two kilometres. In addition, we have made education available to numerous adults as well.
Healthcare is another key area in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2006, we built St. Charles Lwanga Buikwe Hospital in the Buikwe rural region. Every day since then, the facility has been saving human lives, educating people, and providing prevention that improves the health of tens of thousands of inhabitants of the catchment area, where a large part of the population lives below the poverty level. After several years of running the hospital, we handed over its management to a local diocese, but we continue making contributions to its operating costs thanks to donations from Czech donors.
The third priority is sources of livelihood. We have supported dozens of projects under which people received resources and know-how to carry out a specific gainful activity – breeding animals, growing bananas, coffee, drying pineapples, manufacturing footwear, clothing, hairdressing services, and much more. Our efforts in this regard are based on the Chinese proverb that says, „You give a poor man a fish and you feed him for a day. You teach him to fish and you give him an occupation that will feed him for a lifetime.“
Tell us more about the students who have completed the Child Sponsorship Programme.
There are a number of graduates of our programme in Uganda, and we are proud of them. They work in hospitals as physicians and nurses, serve in the military, police, and local governments, run their own businesses, and have successful careers in management positions with various corporations. Some of those who have undertaken social studies have joined our ranks, and work for us in the capacity of social workers. Here is a list of examples that speaks for itself:
Thousands of young people. Thousands of fulfilled dreams of a better future. Thousands of thanks to all of the generous donors who have made it possible!
Can you provide some statistics demonstrating the level of education of individuals who have graduated from the Child Sponsorship Programme?
Roughly 43% of the children who take part in the Child Sponsorship Programme complete elementary education, 41% finish secondary school, and 15% continue studying at specialized academic institutions, such as vocational schools and colleges. One out of a hundred is admitted to university. Considering that the parents of most of these children are illiterate, it is an extraordinary achievement.
What fields of study are the most popular among children?
Boys often choose to train to become car mechanics, carpenters, cabinet makers, plumbers, electricians, various construction trades, welders, and metal workers. The most popular occupations among girls are dressmaker, cook, hairdresser, and cosmetician. Popular fields at higher levels include education, social work, development studies, business administration, nursing, and others.
An apprenticeship certificate or a diploma is the gateway to stable employment.
Absolutely. Likewise, we are proud of our graduates who have been able to build their own business. An interesting fact is that many of our graduates become involved in charity work. They say that they want to give other children the same chance that they received thanks to the Child Sponsorship Programme.
How easy or difficult is it to organize aid with such an extensive scope?
I would be lying if I said that it is all easy and that everything always goes according to plan. Uganda is very different from what we are accustomed to in our neck of the woods. It is not only a matter of cultural differences and a different mentality. The main issue in Uganda is the low degree of societal development, which complicates the organization of projects. At the same time, that is the main reason why we want to distribute aid there.
I want to use this opportunity to emphasize the great amount of aid provided to Uganda by the Catholic Church, with whose representatives we cooperate on nearly all our projects.
Could you give a specific example?
I could write a book full of examples. For instance, buying a piece of land, which is a straightforward juridical act here, can be a task lasting 10 years in Uganda, necessitating countless legal consultations and meetings with government officials. We experienced that first-hand when we were buying land to building St. Charles Lwanga Buikwe Hospital. It is because Uganda has two land registers – the current official one and, simultaneously, one that was established when Uganda was a kingdom. A problem occurs when the two registers contain contradictory data, which is what happened in the case of the plot on which we wanted to build our hospital.
Difficulties in Uganda include the non-functionality of government authorities and institutions, corruption, power outages, poor transport Infrastructure, omnipresent poverty, and, no less importantly, health risks that need to be taken into account while traveling.
What are your future plans in Uganda?
We want to expand the Child Sponsorship Programme and bring it to other communities. The programme has proved to be highly effective over the years. The more kids that we save from poverty, the more educated parents there will be in Uganda who will want to provide education to the young generation. This is the most effective way of helping both individuals and society as a whole that we know of. Incidentally, our aid responds to concerns about uncontrolled migration from the world’s poor regions to wealthier ones. People who are able to live a prosperous life in their home country have no reason to leave.
There is another vision I want to share. We want to build another hospital in Uganda or „adopt“ an existing medical facility that faces problems with an inadequate quality of healthcare. It would be a pity not to put to use all of the experience that we have gained in building St. Charles Lwanga Buikwe Hospital. We want to invest it into better service, and to make everything that we have learned available to other patients.
I am well aware that our plans can be carried out only thanks to the support of our donors. They deserve our endless gratitude for their trust in us over these past 20 years. Your unselfish support for a good cause is highly commendable and appreciated!
„One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the Lord, And He will repay him for his good deed.“ (Proverbs 19:17)
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