Our Founding Story as narrated by Isaac Ssamba- the Founder
Through what I consider divine intervention, in 2006, I went back to Mbalala an area with poor people from different communities. I visited different homes to find many families were infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. I witnessed the struggles and issues they dealt with and how the infection was destroying families.”
Many Orphaned children were in care of grandmother, aunts, uncles and other guardians. Most of these guardians could hardly take care of the children. After discussions with different church leaders, local chiefs and assistants and interviews with some of the victims, I felt there was a desperate cry for help in the area. I collected what I could from my home: clothes, food and other provisions then asked friends and neighbors for donations. I dropped the donations as I counseled and educated the affected families. Each day I covered as many homes as I could. I went as far as growing vegetables in my garden to boost the food donation. I went ahead to organize the communities to build water sources providing clean water. This however was not a sustainable solution. HIV/AIDS cannot be adequately addressed without addressing poverty.
These people were capable, had solutions to their problems and all they needed was guidance. Furthermore, I did not want to create a dependency situation. Nor did they want handouts all the time, but something more dignified to earn a living and be self reliant. What I discovered from them, they had hidden treasures inside, what they needed was training to equip them with marketable skills to earn a living, to be able to buy their food, pay their rent, take their children to school and care for their infected family members.
My experience with the nonprofit also helped me to come up with suitable vocational training programs. To give them a hope in life, I established a center with facilities for vocational training and where they could feed; receive medical assistance, spiritual and moral support. The choice of the name, Beacon of hope-Uganda reflected this objective. My supportive family helped me so much in getting the premises at Mbalala Trading centre in Mukono district and Beacon of hope-Uganda started off simply in January 2007 at the age of 20 years from almost nothing!! I used all the little money I had to buy facilities to set up the training centre, start a feeding program and hire a trainer.
The daily needs were overwhelming but I struggled through them. Initially about 90% of the trainees in carpets and beads were women, mainly mothers, who brought their children along. We had to provide child care for every child brought to the center. Each child participated in playtime and academic tutoring by trained kindergarten teachers. This marked the beginning of a day care at the center initially with 5 children in class but the number grew each day, while many other from around the center came for the feeding program.
The training was diversified to suit different vocational tastes. Bead work training was initiated followed by spinning and weaving, and some members have been offered bursaries to different vocational training institutions to learn tailoring, carpentry, Art and design etc to became self-reliant. The women still needed to meet their basic needs as they trained. After about 3 months they made items that were marketable. I emphasized on high quality and the items found ready market. All the training gave them more than the token they had earlier received and had transformed their lives. After 12 months, some of them got jobs in other workshops in Kampala, Mukono while others were retained at Beacon of hope-Uganda workshop. Three of them are now trainers.
A network with Mr. Mark Williams and Mrs. Leslie Montgomery in Canada also assisted in selling these products abroad. We are also encouraging those who need to corporate with us to come. We encourage those wishing to start their own businesses by marketing the products for them or helping them find other markets. Seventy of them have today been assisted to establish their own community workshops.
We pay them on delivery to boost their morale. Further, compulsory business management training is offered to help them in all aspects of money, budgeting and so forth. Our aim is to get the people into self-help groups then form a marketing cooperative for the products. By the end of the year 2013 we hope to have organized revolving fund to be managed by financial institution to benefit them.
DREAM COME TRUE
Beacon of Hope-Uganda’s dream of expansion of its programs to provide enough facilities for the women, youths and children as well as increasing efficiency of its operations will one day come true. Plans and construction (under way) for a new comprehensive centre are on the table. It will provide health care, counseling, education as well as vocational training and a production enterprise for both adults and the youth. The facility will include a comprehensive health care clinic, day care centre expanded vocational training facilities to accommodate more trainees, a new production department and a youth resource centre equipped with computers and research facilities. We are happy that the stigma associated with HIV infection and poverty is drastically going down since we started our operations in Mukono and the infected and affected have been empowered economically and technologically. They are now living beyond their particular circumstances.
REACHING OUT TO OTHERS
It is not enough to feed and teach vocational skill to an infected/vulnerable person. Community members must be encouraged to know their health status. We started voluntary counseling outreaches and planning to start a testing centre at the Hope Center by early 2014, where individuals in the community come and learn their health status and be counseled regardless of the results, to understand how they can continue to live their lives to the fullest. A mini-clinic will be started simultaneously with the VCT through assistance of a dedicated volunteer nurse who will continue to visit the center weekly to monitor the medical condition of the HIV positive client, both adults and children.
Those who will test positive will be counseled before being referred to our support team for the HIV to help them learn to live positively with the virus. We continue counseling and teaching them about proper nutrition to manage the infection and encourage them. This program has benefited many people from as far as Jinja, Mpigi and Iganga. BoHU is planning to network with Mulago, Mildmay hospitals and TASO Uganda to provide free antiretroviral drugs [ARVs] to those diagnosed in our clinic and cannot afford them.
INCORPORATING THE AFFECTED
We also realized that those spouses, sisters or relatives caring for the infected or their orphaned children needed help to enable them carry this burdens and we incorporated them into the training program. By blending the infected and affected together at the centre, we shall also help to de-stigmatize the disease.
HOME-BASED CARE PROGRAM
We also trained some people in the community on aspects of caring for HIV patients in their homes. Now a three months intensive course on this will also be open to those at the Hope center. Currently all the trainees are community members so far, 265 people have been trained under the program.
A number of people previously taken care of by BoHU have died, leaving many orphaned and needy children. Others are alive but too weak to support their children. To ensure these children are not destitute. BoHU initiated the child sponsorship program. With over 345 children in this program, finding sponsors for this growing number of children has been very challenging.
Some are in primary schools and others secondary schools while others are still awaiting sponsorship. Those whose circumstances at home are too difficult are enrolled in boarding schools. During holidays they have their meals and tuition at BoHU children homes but spend the night in their guardian’s home most of whom are grandmothers and cannot afford to provide them with supper. Instead of giving them a food basket every day, we introduced a basket-making projects for grandmothers from which they are earning an income.
I am a philanthropist among very many things. I come from a humble background and therefore no stranger to the hardships of life, which is why I choose to give back as generously as I can afford. I have bragging rights to a number of achievements and can confidently say that, in spite of my youth, I have attained some of the goals I set out to achieve. From my experiences while traveling, usually on business, I constantly ask myself how I can help Uganda portray a more positive and welcoming image and how can afford to help more youths and disadvantaged children. I’ll let my deeds do the talking. Of course there is a lot more in life I can still achieve and the quest for success never ends.
My main work as the Executive Chairman is fundraising. Beacon of Hope Uganda’s operations rely fully on donor support and raising funds is therefore a major area of my work. I also serve as the main Administrator in all the organization’s aspects and I also frequently address parents, teachers, and different community members within the institutions where our programs are run in order to create understanding on the objectives we seek to achieve among teenagers and adults who are our primary audience.
What I love most in my work
What I love most in this job is that I get to help people. I remember one day, I listened to a song in the Ghetto, whose main message was how a young child is born alone in disadvantaged circumstances, learns to fight and steal and is eventually killed, and as he lies dying another child is born in the ghetto. That song inspired me and I have always wanted to make a difference and always to be remembered for that. I think helping people is also a God’s gift to me and I find great joy in it.
I would like to grow Beacon of Hope Uganda’s role influence so that it is felt worldwide. My dream is to have an office in every district of Uganda with teams that reach out to people in these places. I also have passion to sell the dream of helping women, youth and orphans and saving lives for others. This way our vision’s influence will be extended and not be so heavily dependent on availability of funds.
My greatest source of inspiration is and has been the heritage of growing in a Godly home which my parents, especially my mum provided. Her commitment to ensure that we all have a loving heart is something I cannot forget.
My brothers and sisters have also been a great source of encouragement to me. I looked up to them and depended on them while growing up. To this day my family is very close to us.
I like helping others, football, swimming and watching an educative film, and I like taking walks for exercise and I love reading I always have a book with me at any given time. I usually have weekends off work and I use this time to be alone or with my family and have some “me” time.