A team going from Pittsburgh to God's Love and Care School in Kabwoya, Uganda, has a long flight followed by several hours of overland travel to Hoima, Uganda, and finally a grueling 22 mile, 90-minute drive on a dirt road.
The excursion and the team's work in Kabwoya require stamina, good humor, flexibility, a spirit of generosity, a willingness to serve and, especially, faith and an ability to listen and respect individuals who are culturally very different.
Les Gutzwiller of Harmony learned about the Ugandan school when he helped drill a well there with the nonprofit Christian East African Economic Development.
“What makes a community go is a school, a church and a well,” Gutzwiller said.
“My heart just went out to these kids. The parents loved them but couldn't afford to feed them,” he said.
Other people live in the vicinity of Kabwoya.
“Build a well and an average of 700 to 1,000 people come out of the jungle,” Gutzwiller said. “The well at the school has changed life there.”
The Rev. John Kitalibara, an energetic retired Anglican priest, is the school's director. He started it, eventually purchased 10 acres and built rudimentary structures.
Inspired by the school, Gutzwiller came back from well drilling and in 2016 formed a new nonprofit Healthy Communities Unlimited to develop Christian schools in Uganda.
The group now provides monthly support for the school/orphanage in Kabwoya through a nonprofit formed in Uganda with its own board of directors.
When the U.S. board of directors asked the Ugandans what was needed, the answer was structures.
“We solicited more funds and started building buildings at the facility,” Gutzwiller said. “Right away, we built a dormitory.”
Now there are two dormitories with concrete floors and roofs sheltering bunk beds. Ninety children sleep in each dorm on individual mattresses.
A new kitchen and dining pavilion followed. New staff quarters made it easier to attract and keep 16 staff members.
“The teachers actually get paid now and the kids are actually getting food now and uniforms and shoes,” Gutzwiller said.
He wants to find ways to make the school more self-sustaining through agriculture, perhaps with produce and animal husbandry.
“I would like to have a smart farmer on our board and an engineer,” said Gutzwiller, formerly an engineer who was the director of research and the president of Robinson Fans in Zelienople.
The majority of the area's people are Catholic and Anglican, he said. God's Love and Care School is a Christian school that includes a secular education for its 350 students, most between ages 4 and 15.
One-third of the students live with their families and two thirds are orphans who live at the school. The students do well on standardized tests but many lack support to continue their education, he said.
Gutzwiller's wife, Barbara, a former home economics teacher, is part of the project team. She started teaching Ugandan women to sew after realizing the community lacked those skills. Some of the new seamstresses now make the school's uniforms, mostly by hand.
“You get an idea and you need to work on it and re-evaluate based on the needs of the people and their reception to it,” Barbara Gutzwiller said.
She also discovered a great need for feminine hygiene products and has found several sewing patterns available for reusable products. She and others are simplifying and testing a pattern that will require only hand sewing.
“We're going to empower them to make the product they need for themselves and even for a small microfinance business,” Barbara Gutzwiller said.
“We're building relationships with these people and we're sitting down and listening to them so, hopefully, they feel a part of it instead of just a receiver,” she said.
Peter Martin, a retired North Allegheny School District teacher from Sewickley, said that the size of the school in Kabwoya makes this mission different from others at St. Stephen's Anglican Church where he serves on the mission committee.
“We're impacting so many people,” Martin said. “There's a residual impact since we're building things and ordering things and that has to be done by people in the area.”
While the project goal is to make the orphanage and school self-sustaining, Martin said the team has to get them on their feet first.
His assignment is to create a library.
“We're going to use Amazon Fire which is a notebook,” said Martin, who has taught computer literacy, robotics, computer-assisted design and other courses.
The notebooks will already be loaded with books when they reach Uganda. Solar panels planned for the school will generate energy to recharge the notebooks. The team will train teachers to use them.
Martin said children younger than third grade will have access to paper books. All the books have to be culturally appropriate, for example, featuring animals, colors and shapes without illustrations of people.
The team is looking for additional organizations to help supply the library. Martin said a future school librarian will have to be a motivating, upbeat and energizing person.
“It's an awesome mission. It's nice to help your neighbor with his lawn mower but just think about how good it would feel to help hundreds of people,” Martin said.
Board member Ken Wilson, a civil engineer and bridge designer from Zelienople, will travel with his wife to Uganda in June. Previously, they helped build a bridge in Haiti and helped in orphanages in Russia.
Unemployment is high in Uganda. He is working with Healthy Communities Unlimited to plan vocational learning for Kabwoya.
“It can be hurtful to help people if you make them dependent on you and if you don't treat them with dignity and respect,” Wilson said.
He's looking at current job skills training in Uganda. In June, Wilson and the school's Ugandan board members will focus on three things.
“What would the market demand? What skills are there teachers for there? What would be the cost to teach them these things?” Wilson said.
“We can't do everything at one time,” he said. “So we pick the things that need to be done first and then we pick the next thing.”
Les Gutzwiller said, “These 350 kids, who were hopeless, now have a hope and a future, and will have a chance to be active and productive citizens of Uganda, the country they love.”