One of the non crafty things I've been doing this year is helping to organise a fund-raising dinner for Watoto. Watoto (which means "Children" in Swahili) was started in Uganda as a response to the terrible impact of AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. By 2010 it's projected that there will be 60 million orphans due to the HIV/AIDS crisis. That is an unimaginable number.
I love the Watoto model - rather than having a large institution - they build a village which consists of houses, a medical centre, schools and community centre which doubles as a church. The houses are headed up by mothers who have been either abandoned or widowed by HIV/AIDs. They have their own children plus others - there are eight kids to each mum in a house. These mothers become the mothers for these orphans for life and the kids lives are completely turned around. It's brilliant.
Apart from the HIV/AIDS problem (as if that wasn't enough) - in Uganda there is an ongoing civil war between a man called Joseph Koney and the Ugandan Government. Koney has "recruited" his army by raiding villages and kidnapping children aged between 8 and 12. Girls are forced to become sex slaves and servants of the older men and boys are forced to become child soldiers. They are made to kill friends and/or siblings or be killed.
The movie "Blood Diamond" (which was set in Sierra Leone) gives a fairly accurate portrait of how this process works. It really is diabolical in the truest sense of the world. If the children escape (they are executed immediately if caught) they generally can't go home - the boys because they have invariably been made to kill people from their village and the girls because they usually end up pregnant with a "bush baby" as the result of being raped.
So - the good news is that Watoto has gone to the north to Gulu (which - ironically enough means "Heaven") and is setting up a Watoto village up there which will take in the boys and girls and provide long term rehabilitation for them. I personally can't think of a more worthy cause in all the world. It costs $38,000 AUD to build a home (that includes all the supporting infrastructure like water and power). We are hoping to raise enough funds to build at least one home - maybe more. So - say a prayer that the people who are coming to the dinner will be open hearted and generous.
If you want to get involved you can check out the Watoto website or another great organisation called Invisible Children. But please - don't think "how terrible" and move on. Get mad - and get involved. If you raise enough money to build a home - you can even travel to Uganda to help build it - how totally cool would that be?
PS - I should mention these photos belong to Watoto - one of my jobs is to do a looped slide presentation that will run during dinner!