JOURNEYS

Broken by War, Restored by Love

Richard C. Shermer, along with Today’s Children, Africa’s Future, journeys to give new hope to Uganda’s children

Richard Shermer captures children stopping for a moment in their play time in the village of Opit near the Sudan boarder. Kids like these, seemingly with nothing but full of hope, inspired him to start Today's Children, Arfica's Future, which sponsors children in Northern Uganda. © Richard C. Shermer 2009

Richard snapped this at an Intenally Displaced Person (IDP) camp south of Gulu , Northern Uganda. Due to the civil war sparked by Lord's Resistance Army, more than 1.5 million people have been placed in IDP camps. While a safe haven, the conditions are so terrible there, that it is estimated that about 1,000 people die per week in the camps. © Richard C. Shermer 2009

More children from the Gulu IDP camp. © Richard C. Shermer 2009

I went to Africa for the first time six years ago to Tanzania on a photo safari, to the Serengeti. I had dreamed about a trip to that wildlife region most of my life. However, I was captivated by the people and the level of poverty. After leaving the Serengeti, I spent weeks wandering the in the villages and poorest areas of the cities photographing the people and their conditions. I was stunned by the plight of the ‘have nots,’ their meager living situations, and the hope they displayed in their eyes though they were in dire circumstances.

Africa and those have nots captured my heart during that Tanzania trip and with what seemed like God’s urgings, I would return on a handful of occasions to Africa to continue to photograph their struggles (and donate the shots to in-country non-governmental organizations).

On one particular journey to Africa, to northern Uganda, the location of Africa’s longest civil War, and where the Lord’s Resistance Army has killed hundreds of thousands in cold blood, I was so moved by what I saw that I decided to sponsor about 6 children. With the help of a local volunteer I started paid for a the children’s school fees , their uniforms , shoes and annual school fees. .

That sparked the forming of what is now the organization called Today’s Children, Africa’s Future (TCAF), which is dedicated to providing a education and the other essentials of life for the most vulnerable children in Northern Uganda. We have 20 children sponsored at this time and look to have enough funds/committed donors to sponsor another 30 by the end of the year. Full sponsorship is about $40 a month and pays for school uniforms, school fees, books and supplies for the children.

We also recently solidified an alliance with KickStart International, to distribute their human-powered irrigation pumps to the farming families so that they can cultivate crops, even if water resources are scarce.

One step into the devastation here and your heart will most assuredly be yearning to help as mine was. There are no words to describe the events that took place, where a sector of Uganda was ruined by an unexplainable war. An estimated 1.5 million people were forced into the IDP (Internally Displaced Person) Camps for protection from the rebels who abducted an estimated 30,000-60,000 children and killed hundreds of thousands of people. The conditions in the camps may have killed more people than the rebels were able to wield directly. Approximately 1,000 people each week died due to the squalid conditions of the camps. For most people, the camps were the only safe haven they could count on. But the lack of sanitation there bred diseases which were almost just as fatal as facing the LRA.

I’ve had a chance to visit many of these camps and saw the look in the children‘s eyes there. I can’t imagine what they’ve been through, but I know it is the harshest of harsh conditions.

For most of my adult life, I’ve worked in the corporate world, specifically the development division of some big-name companies. My role was to create strategies and explore new markets that would help those companies get richer…now I want to give the poorest of poor a stepping stone to lift themselves out of poverty.

I truly feel that KickStart International, our newest partner, is the answer to that equation. We are set to start distributing the pumps to people in northern Uganda and in turn give them the ability to irrigate their land. Through this effort, we feel it will increase their productivity and help to rebuild their lives.

My father owned a ranch and my mother grew walnuts. I worked in farming throughout high school and the early part of junior college, so I know the value and have a passion for agrarian work. Such a history in working in the fields gives me confidence of the impact that one’s own crop’s can bring to self-esteem and to personal finances.

I am certain God is at work in all of this, from the starting of this organization to the alliance of KickStart International to sometimes the unexplained moments. One of those moments was when I gave a ride to an 80-year-old woman back to her town in northern Uganda. When I dropped her off, I could feel an urging, much like the one that originally sent me to Uganda, to go back and bring her food. I did and when I did, I discovered that thieves had taken all the food she had previously stored in her hut. The food I brought was badly needed to replenish her stock.

Experiences like these confirm for me that I’m on the right path, as He is leading it.

All we know is that those children and those families need help – and we are committed to giving it.

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Richard C. Shermer is the founder and president of Today’s Children, Africa’s Future (www.4tcaf.org). He can be reached at rcshermer@4tcaf.org. Those interested in sponsoring a Ugandan child may do so through the website.