11 days to go!

Time has been flying by. I returned from Uganda back in March and started working towards making Morris and I’s dream of a shelter for street kids come true. Thanks to a bunch of awesome people and a great first fundraiser in North Vancouver that dream became a reality and in June we opened the Atin Afrika shelter in Lira, Uganda.

We have 6 kids currently at the shelter, four of whom will be ready to return to school this fall. They are incredibly excited about it and so are we. The other two boys have never been to school and so they will continue to be homeschooled by us until they are ready. Fred has learned how to hold a pencil and write his name. His pleasure can be seen all over the house….because his name is written all over the walls!

In July we were able to buy a trampoline with money raised by the grade six class at Capilano Elementary School. The kids held a ‘Change for Change’ coin rally and over three weeks the school raised more than $1200. I spoke to the students and they voted on how to spend their money. I was totally impressed with their understanding of sustainability and their desire for lasting change. They opted to buy the boys a trampoline which has provided endless hours of fun (Walter is the reigning bounce king), but has also become their sharing circle. At night Richard, Morris and the boys come together on the trampoline and talk about their lives, the day’s events, plans for the future and their goals. Somehow the trampoline has become much more than just a giant toy. The kids also decided to pay for a chicken coop to be built and the boys have built that themselves. Next weekend after all of the mud has finished hardening the Cap Elementary chickens move in. There willl be 30 chickens, one for each student in the grade 6 class. The vegetarian me hopes that naming the chickens will keept them as egg providers, but I have a sneaking suspicion they may make it onto the dinner table for special ocasions! The same kids have also sponsored the creation of a garden which will help us produce our own vegetables, cutting our food expenses and making the project more self-sufficient.

Amazing people and groups have supported us. We have had 2 bicycles donated by Jocelyn and Shelley, Ecole Pauline Johnson did the ‘Read a Book for Africa’ program and decided to use the money they raised to pay for food, while Centennial Daycare in Victoria held a penny drive and bought toys, puzzles and games. All the way down in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico kids were ‘Reading a Book for Africa’. Truly without the support this project would still just be a dream.

So, after 5 months of fundraising $8500 has been sent to Uganda, the start-up budget of renting the house and furnishing the bedrooms and kitchen, plus $2000 operational costs from June until August. Beyond that we have been able to fundraise an additional $13,000. I am heading back to Uganda on August 28th with bags full of treasures for the project. I am going back to implement an English education program, an art therapy program and to work together with Morris to create a street outreach project so that we can also help the kids who are still on the street. I will be there monitoring and evaluating what has been done so far and recording it all to bring back here in 2012.

A wonderful photographer friend of mine has a great photography curriculum that she used with children in low-income areas of Mexico as a form of art therapy. She has generously offered to share the lessons with me so that we can run a similar program in Uganda. I am currently collecting any used digitial cameras and laptops that people no longer want to take over with me. It’s long-distance recycling!

Last but certainly not least, the wonderful Paula Garcia has organized a farewell fundraiser for me on Thursday August 25th at Edzerza Gallery, just off Granville Island at 1536 w.2nd. Tickets are $25 which get you wine and appetizers. The beauty of this event is that all the money for the tickets goes directly to us, so your $25 ticket means a $25 donation to Atin Afrika. It’s eleven days until I head back to Uganda, I am so excited to see all that we have been able to accomplish and to help the project grow. I am also nervous about this next step in the adventure that is my life. My life of a vagabond has become intrinsically tied to the fate of these children and I hope I am up to the challenge. I hope that I can help them change their futures and in turn positively affect the world around them. It would be lovely to be able to say goodbye and thank you all at once to all the people who have been a part of this. I hope you can join me!

Chelsea.

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