During a trip to Uganda, Beth Gianopulos, a member of Project:Re3, had the chance to empower girls and deliver much needed supplies and hope.
Having returned just last week, Gianopulos was still recovering from the eight-hour time change, but was full of drive and eager to share about the need in Uganda.
“I went with three women from our church: Jessica Church and her mom Penny Apple, and Melissa Edwards,” she said, noting that they went through Fields of Dreams Uganda, a mission that works closely with schools in Uganda. “Mike Warneke, the executive director of Fields of Dreams Uganda, had shared with us about his organization at our church a few years ago and what struck me the most is that girls in Uganda do not have feminine hygiene products. They don’t have stores they can go to find these things. They only have outdoor markets.”
Gianopulos explained that the girls often use whatever they can find, and often only own one pair of underwear (knickers) or none, and only have one dress to wear to school.
“Because of this, they miss school. They miss 20 percent of the school year compared to boys,” she remarked. “I feel like I am a pretty informed person having gone on other (mission) trips, but I never thought about this.”
Gianopulos explained that during each trip made by a group, Warneke looks at the skills of the group and then uses that to help the people in Uganda.
“The purpose of our trip was a girls’ empowerment trip, boosting their confidence and doing workshops on human trafficking and sharing with them that they are valued,” she said. “We also gave out hygiene kits, which will last each girl a year.”
Gianopulos explained that each kit includes five washable feminine pads, a bucket, two long bars of soap, a drying rack, three pairs of underwear and a bag to hold everything.
“We had a huge campaign to raise over $17,000. I raised $1,500 just to fund the kits, because each kit is $17,” she explained.
Gianopulos explained that the girls she visited were part of partner schools with Fields of Dreams.
“Fields of Dreams has nine partner schools in two places. They have five in Gulu, a very rural part of Uganda and four in Kampala, a bigger city. Fields of Dreams’ mission is to change the lives of K-6 primary school students through the avenues of education and soccer,” she said. “The kids in Uganda love soccer. They love soccer so much that they will make a soccer ball out of about anything.”
Gianopulos noted that Fields of Dreams carefully selects the schools and gives each one a $3,000 grant each year, which they can use for whatever they need, if they promise to pay their teachers on time, so that they don’t leave, and take care of the things that are given to them, such as soccer equipment, instead of selling it and so it will last.
“One school used the money to buy two pigs in hopes that they would make baby pigs they could sell,” she said.
Gianopulos noted that all partner schools also receive a paid education advocate who visits each school once a week to check in on them, which is important since they have exams in primary schools. They also get two social workers in each city since the children have many problems at home whether violence, rape, or hunger, or kids raising each other. The schools also get both a boys’ and girls’ soccer coach.
While Gianopulos was in Uganda, she said they put on a soccer tournament, something Fields of Dreams often does, which is where students can receive scholarships for secondary school since many students often cannot afford to attend. Gianopulos explained that although the schools are government schools, the students must pay to attend and secondary school is three times the cost of primary school.
Also while she was there, they went around to all of the schools in Gulu and passed out hygiene kits and put on a soccer tournament. She also painted moms’ and girls’ fingernails and spent a lot of time just talking with the girls.
Gianopulos said she struggled seeing the hunger the kids had to endure.
“There is no lunch at school and some of the students may have to walk at least three miles to get to school without shoes. Since school is from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., they are often going about 12 hours with no food and the temperature is 100 degrees,” she said. “The location of the school is also where the city well is, so families are always there.”
Another thing Gianopulos said was a struggle to learn was that many of the children are orphans due to the Lord’s Resistance Army, HIV and AIDs, or malaria.
“A lot of these kids are probably orphans because their parents were killed or they were a product of rape during wartime,” she said. “Everything is stacked against them; it’s such a harsh place and everything is hard.”
Even though these children and adults live in such a harsh world, Gianopulos said they are genuinely nice people.
“They are so genuine in their caring and they have so much hope, despite their hardships and what they have been through. They have resilience and love,” she remarked.
Gianopulos said she and the three other women from Project:Re3 spoke as many words of life into the girls they spoke with .
“We would tell them they are loved, that they are important and that they control their future,” she said.
Now that she has returned from her trip, Gianopulos said her priorities are to figure out how to get lunch for the students in the partner schools, since it is their most important meal, and spreading awareness to the people around her.
“I want to raise awareness that these children aren’t just statistics on the other side of the world. They are actual children who want people to love them and want their basic needs met,” she said.
For more information about Fields of Dreams Uganda, visit www.fieldsofdreamsuganda.org. For more information about Project:Re3, visit www.projectre3.org or visit them on Facebook.