It never ceases to surprise me how often I find noteworthy philanthropic endeavors from people that I would least expect. The best part of my job sometimes is simply listening to my clients’ passionate interests in sustaining diverse charitable causes within their community and then passing these interests onto other clients. It thus came as a surprise to me when I learned about a unique charitable endeavor in Uganda (not exactly a country on my radar screen) called SIXTY FEET* (www.sixtyfeet.org) while travelling on an extended business trip in Europe with of all people one of my Atlanta-based partners at SGR, Scott Harty.
Sitting on a very long train ride our conversation meandered onto philanthropic interests of our families at which point he told me about a small religious- based charitable organization that he and some of his friends in Atlanta started in 2010 to care for a group of children in Uganda. I was skeptical at first. I mean isn’t there enough suffering and need right here in the United States? After listening to him for 30 minutes I became mesmerized not only with his passion to help others, but the mission itself.
I couldn’t even point to Uganda on a map if you asked me to do so before speaking with Scott. But after speaking with him I learned some staggering facts. At over 48 million, there are more orphans in Sub-Saharan Africa as a percentage of children than any other place on earth. According to the most recent estimates, there are approximately 2.5 million orphans in Uganda, over one million of whom suffer from AIDS. Roughly one in six children under the age of 17 are orphans in Uganda.
Deep in the bush outside Kampala, in an obscure place of the world, is a facility where some of these abandoned, unloved and neglected children are kept, which is where the story begins.
Not long ago a Belgian woman (Nathalie) was driving out of Kampala when she passed a dilapidated old sign that read “Rehabilitation Center for Children.” Something didn’t feel right so she turned down a long, winding dirt road until she came to its end. To her horror, she found rooms of children locked up, young kids chained to windows, children whose only medical care is rendered by adults practicing horrendous acts of witchcraft. She saw hundreds of children with little food, no supervision and living in conditions that we in the United States would not find fit for our pets.
After learning about the extreme suffering endured by the children at this facility, some local Atlanta businessmen, including my partner, mobilized a team to respond. They were convinced that someone needed to do something, and why not them? So they organized a non-profit organization called SIXTY FEET to respond to this orphan crisis.
Along with immediate relief, such as food and medical care, initially their goals were simply to construct a well that would provide a drinkable and sustainable water source.
However, after visiting Uganda four times in eight months, and spending time on the ground at the facility and with other local partners, they realized the mission was broader than relief. They were drawn to rehabilitate. So the vision has now expanded to include capital improvements to the facility as well as the transfer of orphans to loving homes where they can be nurtured. As I write this, the hope is that two of the children will be in the US in a loving home before the end of 2010.
So far they have hit very few roadblocks, other than the sheer distance which can create issues and locating reliable partners on the ground in Kampala.
Fundraising efforts were off to a roaring start earlier in 2010 when one of the children of the families here in the US decided to sell cupcakes to raise money for the cause. The first “Cupcake Kids” was launched in April and went viral after that. Cupcake sales started popping up across the US and after a few matching donations the kids had raised nearly $14,000 from cupcake sales. They are planning a national Cupcake Kids sale in 2011 and will have a website up soon.
The story behind SIXTY FEET is gripping. On several of their trips, the men were able to take video equipment into the facility to document the suffering and the conditions. The footage was recently converted into a 30 minute documentary called “Bereaved: The Abandoned Children of Uganda.” Since it’s release the film has been shown all over the country from Georgia and Tennessee to California and Texas. Additional showings are being scheduled in Florida, Minnesota, Idaho and other parts of the world.
In spite of having made a lot of progress there is much work to be done. The global orphan crisis is heart wrenching. Special thanks to SIXTY FEET and many others who are shining a spotlight on an important area of need. SGR will continue to inform our readers of other noteworthy philanthropic initiatives.
*At the turn of the 20th century, Winston Churchill described Uganda as “the Pearl of Africa”. He was illustrating the beauty of the land. Indeed, in this lush African country, there is no shortage of water. Yet much of the water in Uganda is polluted. Experts say that often less than 60 feet down they find crystal clear, clean water that changes these peoples’ lives forever. Less than sixty feet below the dusty little feet of these orphans is the purest water they could ever drink…waiting for the children… just out of their reach. Everything does seem just out of the reach of these children, but SIXTY FEET is doing something about it.<i/>