Paul Bogere was born in Buwala, Uganda, in 1969. When he was about 5 years old, his father, a farmer, was killed during Idi Amin’s rule, a horrifying time among many when violent conflicts have plagued Uganda. His mother died shortly after of cancer, leaving him orphaned. He was taken in by a kindly family friend who provided for him until he was 15 and finished A-Level school. A few years later he met and married a strong young woman who worked with an international justice organization, aiding widows in their district. Together they had four children. Paul had been taught farming by his adoptive father and had worked hard to earn enough to purchase several acres of land in his native village of Buwala, near Jinja where the Blue Nile is sourced from Lake Victoria. Over time the village widows began to ask for help with their children’s schooling. Feeling the need to repay God for the help he had been given as an orphan, Paul agreed to take in three children. Soon it was another three, then another three until by 2007, they had 18 children. Among these children were Paul’s niece and nephew; his brother and sister-in-law had died of AIDS and there had been no one to take care of their little ones.
Help from New Friends
Around this time they were introduced to an organization called the Uganda American Partnership Organization (UAPO) which was helping another orphanage in Kampala. This organization helped them build their first dormitory, develop their gardens, and purchase a cow. UAPO also brought in doctors to treat the orphans for skin disease and worms, and provided some used clothes and shoes.
In 2009 Paul was introduced to the organization Development in Gardening (DIG). DIG taught Paul improved sustainable farming methods and continues to support the orphanage as a DIG site. By 2010, the orphanage was supporting 26 children. That same year DIG hosted its first “donors and friends” trip to Africa, visiting DIG partner sites in Uganda and Kenya. One of the DIG travelers was Ann McStay. For her, the St. Paul children’s home was a highlight of the trip, with the children eager to read for their visitors, proudly presenting talks on the areas of the garden they were responsible for, explaining why there are so many orphans in Africa–malaria, HIV/AIDS, traffic accidents, violent conflicts and other causes–and singing their “Visitors, We Love You” song after thanking their guests for the soccer balls and books they had been given.
After returning to the US, Ann McStay, responded to Paul’s letter of thanks to the group by asking what would be of most help to the home. Paul responded that school fees were by far the most important, as he and his wife could not afford to send all the children to school. Ann felt this was something she could support, and by 2012 all the children had become enrolled in school. Three sewing machines were then purchased to teach sewing and produce household items as well as some clothing. As new mattresses and pillows were purchased, bed sheets and pillow cases became the first sewing project–with the boys joining in alongside the girls to learn this valuable life skill.
Projects to Strengthen the Home
By 2013, the population of children had increased to 35. Solar panels were installed for lighting and evening study sessions were begun for all area children. The first goat herd was then started as an income-generating project, and the first wooden goat shelter was built.
The following year, the number of children increased to 45 and a new dormitory for girls and a new latrine were built by a donor through an area church. A government-authorized well was built on the property, providing a water source for the 450 matooke shoots (banana trees) which were planted to provide the children and staff with one of their favorite staple foods.
Also in 2014, the home became a member of the One World Children’s Fund partnership, which helps to fund grassroots organizations serving vulnerable children around the world, and for the first time the home had a fiscal sponsor through which US donations could be received. This significant relationship gave the home access to additional US donors and funding sources, and led to the awarding of a grant from Project Redwood (PRW), an organization run by Stanford Business School Alumni to provide support to programs focused on alleviating extreme poverty. As an additional watershed event that year, the first secondary-school graduates moved into career-training programs–salon skills and hairdressing, baking and cooking, auto mechanics, and sewing/tailoring. From these programs they would graduate into self-sufficient living, the home’s goal for each child it supports.
In 2015, the grant funds from Project Redwood were used for the construction of a piggery, a cow shelter, a new kitchen/storage building, a water-catchment system, and fencing to protect the children, staff animals and crops. The number of fruit-producing trees was increased to more than 100. At year end 55 children were supported.
In 2016 a new sewing/tailoring building was constructed by the previous church donor, and an additional land purchase was initiated with a gift from Ann’s PRW co-sponsor of the home, Kermit Eck, allowing more staple crops to be grown to feed the children and to be sold at market for cash income. The population grew to 65 children.
In 2017, government-authorized electrical power was installed in Jinja’s rural surroundings, so the home was able to link into the national power grid to supplement the home’s solar panels, and a stronger, weather-resistant goat shelter was built to replace the earlier simple structure which had been destroyed in a storm. At year-end the home was awarded a second grant from Project Redwood to fund the construction of a community training center where as many as 200 of the 500 local residents would be able to receive training in business basics, sustainable agriculture, animal husbandry, culinary skills, tailoring/sewing, and hairdressing. The home’s year-end population was 72 children.
New Higher Education Initiatives
n 2018 the new Community Training Center was completed. Classes were held to teach sustainable agriculture, tailoring, baking, cooking, and hairdressing, with the first 20 hairdressing students graduating in 2019. (Unfortunately, the COVID crisis and two-year lockdown in Uganda stalled the center’s training programs, but tailoring/sewing classes have begun again, and others will be resumed over time.) The center is also used for community meetings, such as a training by health professionals on hygiene, HIV/AIDS and malaria prevention, and other important topics. As additional funds are raised, improvements to the center will be made including solar panels, interior improvements, and additional equipment for all the classes. The long-term plan is to offer computer-skills classes as well as the traditional farming and artisanal skills described above.
In 2019, a young man who had grown up at St. Paul and Rose's, Collin Mukisa, who had excelled in school and trained in medical technology for his vocational career education, was accepted to Kampala International University (KIU) for its bachelor’s program in medicine and surgery, which takes five and a half years and leads to the equivalent of an M.D. degree in the United States. Collin hopes to help create a clinic in the home’s village for all the people in the surrounding area. With donors having begun to help support all the children’s education, a special campaign was developed to fund education in critically needed careers, such as medicine, and Collin was the first recipient. He’s now in the second half of his fourth year, working as an intern at a regional hospital, and he has three more semesters to complete. To date, $26,000 has been raised to cover tuition and living expenses for Collin and two more university or college students. Donors include classmates from PRW, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Mt. Lebanon, PA, family and close friends of Kermit and Ann, and generous supporters of OWCF’s mission.
The Impact of COVID
2020’s COVID lockdown was devastating for the economy in Uganda, and its extension through 2021 brought hunger to much of the population of over 40 million. With help from some of the home’s supporters, the steep rise in costs for household staples such as beans, flour, sugar and oil were offset so the children continued to have a good diet, and although there were drought and unseasonal weather problems, the gardens continued to provide greens, tomatoes and other essential foods. Paul hired teachers to tutor the children, so they did not fall behind in their classes.
Fortunately, the COVID crisis did not stop efforts to continue improvements at the home to benefit the children. In 2021, funded by gifts from Kermit’s family and their friends, a new boys' dormitory was built to replace the deteriorating original dorm, along with a second latrine, solar panels and a water-catchment system. Donors who were already supporting the children’s education contributed the funds for new beds, mattresses, pillows, bed linens, blankets and mosquito nets. A video of the children helping with the new bedding is found in “Our Projects”.
Adding to the Home's Partner Organizations
2022 brought normalcy again, after two years of isolation. The children returned to school full-time, and plans for acquiring several acres of excellent farmland near the home were initiated. At the same time, the home started a relationship with Agape Heart International Organization (AHIO), a Uganda-based NGO focused on education for vulnerable children, especially orphans and refugees. AHIO has begun providing management and administrative guidance to help the home with financial reporting, annual audits, staff policy development and implementation, and other organizational issues. AHIO now also acts as a fiscal sponsor for the home, with a US 501c(3) registration, facilitating donor funds distributions on a monthly basis that OWCF’s structure cannot provide (OWCF distributions are made quarterly). And AHIO has helped Paul and the staff to implement the government’s current policy of limiting the number of children at a given location to 28, finding guardian homes (extended family, family friends or approved others) for 28 of the children who will still have their education supported by the home, so that the home itself houses the maximum of 28. OWCF will still be the fiscal sponsor handling funds donated for education and major projects, while AHIO will be the fiscal sponsor handling shorter-window funds for operational needs.
All of the projects completed so far have been the building blocks of a long-term plan to increase the home’s security, self-sufficiency and ability to give the children in its care a loving “forever” home where they can learn and thrive and become independent, self-supporting citizens of their country. To complete this plan, acquisition of a van (or other large transport vehicle) and construction of staff housing will be the remaining projects. Yet there will always be a need to raise funds for the children’s education, so the help donors give so generously and consistently is an invaluable, infinitely appreciated gift that the children will benefit from for all their lives.
With a committed donor base, stable leadership and staff at the home, and a succession plan in place, the above developments, plans and accumulation of past projects – a deep clean-water well, residential and operational buildings, animal husbandry, expanded land for cultivation, on-site water-capture and -retention facilities, solar panels and the national grid for power, training facilities for teaching essential life skills and useful vocations, and other endeavors – the home’s future is more and more secure, and the children continue to thrive.