The story of Heart for People begins with another nonprofit, the Christian Drama School of New Jersey, and a graduate named Cindy Garrison Donough.
The Christian Drama School, or CDS, is a nonprofit youth program for children and teenagers. Cindy graduated from CDS and then from college with a teaching degree in 2006. Though excited to start a career as a teacher, she felt called to do something bigger with her life. So in 2008, she found herself volunteering at an orphanage-school in Uganda run by a man named Segawa Ephraim.
Cindy soon recognized that there was a uniqueness about Segawa. He possessed a tangible selflessness and passionate energy for the children in his community. You can read more about him here. In 2008, the first group of children was about to graduate from his primary school and had nowhere to go afterwards. He called a meeting of the volunteers and asked them for help. He could not afford to pay for secondary school, but he also could not allow them to go back to the streets.
Deeply moved, Cindy promised to help. Segawa thought little of it: she was a small, young, white girl. Many of the international volunteers who taught at his school over the years had promised to help him. Few ever did.
Cindy returned to the United States with a fire in her heart. She told the director of CDS, Reverend Kim Urbanik, of the joy of the children and the desperate need for a secondary school. Rev. Kim, herself inspired, decided to write and direct a play that raised over $30,000. She sent that money to Segawa in Uganda and he purchased land for a secondary school. Over the next year, CDS hosted fundraisers to pay for cement, beams, nails, roofing, windows, doors, and a well. In Uganda, Segawa asked his students to help build the secondary school during their holiday breaks. They knew they needed this school if they wanted to have a future. The students made bricks and learned how to build. They built the school with their own hands.
The school officially opened in the summer of 2010. Rev. Kim, Cindy, and another CDS student, Sarah Harrs, flew to Uganda for the official opening ceremony. All three were awed by the joyous children who, in the midst of extreme poverty, generously shared their food and gave gifts to each other and to the American visitors.
Sarah went to college in the following fall with serious questions about the state of education in Uganda. She learned of a United Nations mandate that every child should have access to primary education, a mandate that Uganda agreed to enact. So why didn’t Segawa’s students have access to the other schools?
Sarah returned in 2011 with Rev. Kim and three other Christian Drama School missionaries to travel around the southern part of Uganda conducting research on the relationship between the free government schools and the communities that needed leaders like Segawa to provide something more. They learned that children were not permitted to attend the “free” government schools without shoes, pencils, books, a uniform, and lunch money every day, making them not very “free” at all. These requirements, intended to ensure that students had the tools to perform well in school, actually served as barriers for children in poverty.
In the midst of this research, Sarah and Rev. Kim met hundreds of children in desperate poverty. They also met three more local leaders just like Segawa who had already started schools to meet the needs of the children in their respective communities. Each of these leaders asked Rev. Kim and Sarah for help. They could barely pay their teachers and feed their students; they needed aid.
But the Christian Drama School was too small to help everyone. The need was too great.
Sarah realized that the connection between Segawa and the Drama School was so successful because it was a relationship; it was personal, it was long-term, and it was direct. What if they could find other groups to link to these Ugandan leaders?
And so Heart for People was born.
We are not an American charity that builds schools in Uganda. We are supporting local Ugandan initiatives to fight poverty and give vulnerable children an opportunity for education. We accomplish this by connecting them with schools and groups in the United States. We are supporting, not governing, our Ugandan partners who already know far more than we can ever hope to learn about the poverty in their communities.
Heart for People supports nearly 1,000 children at five Ugandan schools. And we need YOU to continue supporting them. Consider becoming a sponsor, organizing a Read to Roof fundraiser, or starting a chapter with your school or church to foster relationships, engage youth, and to make an incredible impact in Uganda.