When two UAE-based holiday makers travelled to Uganda in September 2011 for an adventure of a lifetime, little did they know that they’d end up making such a difference to the lives of the children they met along the way. After a week of exploring the country’s natural beauty spots, Yasemin Saib and her travel companion Najla Al Midfa, asked their guide to help them visit the slums in Kampala, so that they might be able to give a little back at the end of their holiday.
It was there that they encountered Jaja, an indomitable 72 year old, who had made it her life’s mission to care for the city’s abandoned and orphaned children, turning her tiny home into a make-shift orphanage, and caring for the kids as if they were her own. With 28 kids under her roof, ranging from babies to teens, this unconventional family was subsisting on the most basic of means, with Jaja relying on the occasional kindness of strangers to ensure the kids’ next meal.
After scrabbling together as many essential supplies as they could muster for Jaja and the kids, the ladies found that they just couldn’t stop thinking about the children, and the terrible conditions they were living in. And so, Live It Up Uganda was born, with a pledge to not only help these 28 kids survive in the slums, but to elevate and nurture them through love and care, and through access to healthcare and education, to become dignified, productive members of society by the time they become adults.
‘People often ask us why we only focus on this particular household,’ says Yasemin. ‘Right now, that’s the only capacity we have. There are an estimated 147 million orphans in the world, 1.2 million in Uganda alone. You’ve got to start somewhere. It is one thing to keep a child alive, in fact, it costs a lot less money and effort just to help them survive from month to month. But we don’t believe in just survival. We want to create future leaders, the kind of people that may one day be overseeing the care of 28 vulnerable children themselves.’
The idea is to invest in the children a sense of belonging, she explains, to nurture them through mentorships, quality education, vocational training, activities such as computer lessons, soccer training, or arts and crafts such as basket weaving – all of the experiences that the average orphan from the Kampala slums would not have during their lifetime. Since that first visit, the kids have moved into a new, bigger home, while medical files were created for all of the kids, meaning that they could be treated for a range of illnesses, from malnutrition and pneumonia, to malaria and polio. All of the older children have since been enrolled in local private schools, and a staff of full time caretakers has been hired to make sure all of their needs are met along the way.
To meet its aims, the Live It Up Uganda has a permanent board of 12 members who continue to support the children along the way, along with a hard-working team of volunteers who dedicate their time and skills to helping out in any way they can. One such volunteer is Anouchka Lucas-Carter, an Emirates crew member who has been involved with Live It Up since the very beginning, staying at Jaja’s house whenever she can, doing everything from organizing staff and resources onsite, to looking after the kids, taking them for medical checks and scrubbing floors. ‘It’s impossible not to get drawn in, meeting the kids really does change your life,’ says Anouchka, who visits Kampala whenever she has leave, as well as continuously drumming up support and more volunteers here in the UAE.
There are a myriad of ways in which people can get involved in Live It Up Uganda, Anouchka explains, all of which can make a huge difference to the kids’ lives. Gifts can be given in kind, such as clean clothes or toys, books, shoes and bedding, or specific items, such as food and hygiene products can be sponsored through the Live It Up website. Supporters can also sponsor a child, a school, or even a chicken, a popular choice, says Yasemin, and one that will ultimately help sustain the household, as surplus eggs can be sold at market.
Live It Up also offers opportunities for people to be a ‘conscious traveller’, combining holidays to Uganda with days volunteering. And one of the organisation’s most unique initiatives is ‘conscious dining’, where 12 diners can purchase a seat at a moderated dinner party in support of the cause, which hosts prestigious guest speakers, from hip hop artists to global CEOs and comedians. ‘They are a huge success,’ says Yasemin. ‘It’s not like a normal dinner party, we stick to a focus, and it really elevates the experience.’
At its heart, the organisation’s entire philosophy is based on ‘elevation’. ‘We want to elevate the children’s lives, which is why we called it ‘Live It Up’ in the first place,’ says Yasemin. So get involved, you might just be able to give a child one of life’s most important gifts: hope for the future.
For more information about Live It Up Uganda, including sponsorships, conscious dining and conscious travelling, visit www.liveitup.org