Thursday, April 28, 2011

How to Help Ugandan Orphans

Short answer: donate here.
But read more. Listen carefully because this is a difficult one. There are differences of opinion, philosophical debates, historical analysis, and a lot of hyperlinks going into this entry. How DO you help Ugandan orphans?
Unicef estimates as many as 3.5 million children have lost parents in Uganda. Half the population is under the age of 18, due to HIV/AIDS and other diseases, civil unrest, and the ravages of poverty. There are as many people (very young and very old) in need of direct care as there are working-age people capable of supporting them. Statistically this is hugely crippling for Uganda's chance at ever escaping poverty.

In one great class at SFTS this semester we have been looking into the question of poverty. Where does it come from, why is it here, does it help our society somehow? What's the moral quality of poverty - something to be desired, or to flee from? Can one (& should one) voluntarily impoverish oneself as a spiritual benefit? And what about helping? What do we DO? Governmental payments? Entitlement systems? Licensed begging? Church charity? NGOs? International efforts?
It's a dizzying array of uncertainty. Some propose that we can't fix the problems of poverty, but we ought to alleviate them as a good work for the sake of our own souls. Some propose that we CAN fix it, once and for all - but can't agree on how to do it.
States and churches have differed through the centuries as to how to take care of orphans. In some times and places they are taken into institutions for care, but sometimes they are sent out to relatives with a stipend for their care. In Uganda today there are different models among the NGOs. Some run a school for needy children, some simply pay for them to go to boarding school (not an uncommon educational model in Uganda). Some, alternatively, create alternative families - find a widow to be surrogate mom for a bunch of kids - and subsidize their living. Some create scholarships for the most talented, and some take in the neediest regardless of their academic promise. Some just provide microcredit for the adult relatives, and hope the wealth trickles down to the kids.
I have to admit that I do not know which is most effective. I simply have no idea. And there may be no one right answer. You can criticize charity , or look at microfinance critically, or take down the whole bleeding lot with sharp questions. My favorite quote from that last article is Esther Duflo comparing the entire range of aid work (from goodwilled volunteers to the World Bank) to "medieval doctors with leeches. We have no idea what we're doing."

With all this swimming around in my head, one way through it would be to call it all quits, take an intellectual chill pill, and focus on something closer to home. That might seem like the easy way out. But in fact it would be impossibly hard for me to bury my head that far beneath the sand. Even if I de-friended all my Ugandan friends on facebook, they'd get to me in my dreams.
Here are the facts. I support an orphanage - COU - Children of Uganda - because the children captured my heart (on a US tour, and later when I volunteered there), and because I cannot give up on them.
I know that bandages do not cure illnesses,
but I know that lack of bandages is a direct cause for infection.
I know that kids going to school does not solve the problems of the Ugandan economy, but I know that kids being out of school is a huge risk factor for them in terms of HIV infection, and that a small cash handout can keep them safe for at least a few more years (read a study here). I know that I cannot fix the world for the children I love, but I know that maize prices have risen astronomically this year and that if we don't keep the money coming for their support, these children will be the first to go without food. And right now I am fundraising. If you visit my fundraising page you can help me reach my goal of $3,000 this month. The necessary food and tuition fees will not wait for us, while we wonder which charity methods are most effective. The children need food, now.

Please consider how far your $10 donation can go, to cover the basic needs of a child who has nothing.

** For those who are curious about those various models and philosophies of aid, I'll say that COU covers a lot of bases. We run our orphanage for the youngest grades (primary school) like a boarding school, so they receive specialized care from experienced "aunties" and house mothers. We send older students to boarding schools. We have special incentives for the most gifted students (academically or musically), but we also care for the mentally disabled. We send most of the children back out to their extended families during school holidays, so that no one forgets what it's like to live in a family setting. We also work with the people of the village, supporting a women's cooperative by buying their goods, and providing educational opportunities and agricultural training to locals. We try to do everything we can. and my fundraising page
thanks for reading!

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