Healing Focus Orphanage Centre – The early days
Healing Focus Orphanage Centre is a registered Ugandan charity founded in 2004 by Tom Bagoole and Esther, his wife, to care for the orphans of his home district, Luuka. There are two types of the orphan in the Ugandan definition, single or double, both are present at the Healing Focus Orphanage Centre.
Tom was a Bank employee in Kampala and Esther worked for the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, a Ugandan Humana Rights Organisation. Tom was picked from the streets by a good Samaritan (at the age of 9) who helped to pay for his education and eventually attended University. Esther was homeless from a young age. She undertook serving positions to pay for her education, before receiving a scholarship to attend a university where she gained an M.A.
Because of their deprivation as children, when Tom and Esther married, they felt moved to do something to address the conditions of orphans and street children in their village.
The Healing Focus Orphanage Centre was set up with friends and was funded from their own salaries. Tom travelled to Iganga from Kampala once a month to pay for the upkeep of the orphans, carry clothes to them and maintain communication. They were desperately overstretched, caring for about 60 orphans at the time, divided between three centres.
So when, in January 2008, Paul Freeman and Maggie Scott from England were introduced, (by their daughter Lucy Freeman), to Tom and Esther they were delighted to get the chance to visit the orphanage centre and made their small contribution to the project.
The first centre was in Iganga and consisted of a one-room workshop, where older children/girls and young women were taught machine sewing on 8 treadle machines. Some of the students travelled 10km on foot to attend. The workshops provided vocational skills and students graduated with their machines, which enabled them to provide for themselves and their dependents. Certified students were enabled to make a living and returned to their villages to teach others. The workshops were designed to be sustainable. Students produced school uniforms for local schools under the instruction of a local teacher.
However, when Paul Maggie & Lucy arrived at Iganga, there were no sewing machines. Unfortunately, all the equipment had been stolen during the Christmas holidays. Several of the machines were with the Police who were demanding a fee for their return. Leaving a lot of forlorn faces, they then visited the second centre, an hour away on a dirt road to Busiiro, the village where Tom grew up,
Here 10 orphans lived with Tom’s uncle, a retired sugar factory worker. This was an ad hoc arrangement; Tom had been asked to help the street children and turned to his uncle out of desperation. Tom paid for their clothing.
The Third centre was a further 15 minutes drive on a dirt track to St. Andrews, a large school, a barn really, with bench seating for at least a hundred people.
Of the 100 pupils, 30 were orphans whose school costs had been paid for by Tom.
Officially, Uganda provides free primary schooling for all children under the Universal Primary Education scheme act; however, the materials for teaching have to be found, (paper, textbooks, pencils, uniforms, etc.), as does food. Approximately 50% of schools in Uganda are residential. These schools also require payment for pupil’s maintenance. It seems that there are not enough state-run schools in rural areas, although there are private schools, which require fees. Thousands of children in Uganda go without basic education.
Impressed by Tom and Esther’s dedication, Paul and Maggie decided to support our efforts and offered to pay the relatively small sum needed to rent more secure premises and re-establish the sewing workshop.
Returning for their next visit to Busiiro in 2009, Paul and Maggie were flabbergasted to find a fully functioning school for 250 orphans!
Paul & Maggie talk to the new school. Younger children waiting for the 1 cup of porridge
It transpired that on one of his visits, Tom had found that the school, in which he had placed some children, was without teachers, so, along with Francis, now our Shool administrator, we started our own school for orphans in the old barn, St. Andrews and a nearby brick building. All this was secured with the small donations given the previous year by Paul and Maggie. “At that point, our friends were faced with the choice of jumping in and helping the situation as they found it or walking away”.
They returned from this 2nd trip determined to support the orphanage and school and rally their friends to help.
The challenges have been great. Apart from maintaining the school and improving the welfare of the children, it became necessary to negotiate with the Department of Education, (in what was Iganga district but became Luuka district), to license and register the school.
Registration meant that we had to erect new buildings on a site which the school now owns, thanks entirely to Tom. We have also employed qualified teaching staff, bought agricultural land, thus preventing children from going hungry, ensured a viable healthy water supply and supplied a solar lighting system. Working in collaboration with UKHF, Healing Children School, a free school for 250 orphan students, has, in the view of the local Ugandan education department, become “the best school in the district”. It has a 100% pass rate amongst students taking the Primary Leaving Exam. We are also proud to now have excellent relations with the Department of Education who have informed the school: “your efforts are our achievements”.