I recently returned from an inspiring visit to Uganda. My eleven days in the community were jam-packed with festive celebrations and intense meetings. We had two wonderful shabbatot (one entirely led by the youth of the community as part of their youth conference), a brit milah (circumcision) for the son of Israel and Tehilla Siriri, and the birth of a new daughter to Rabbi Gershom and Tzippora Sizomu. We got to see the outcome of these Kulanu-funded projects: the new food storage building, new classrooms and the new staff house at the Abayudaya Elementary School; we also joyously dedicated the new grain mill in Namutumba.
Kulanu volunteer Jeanne Bodin and her daughter Gail delivered two suitcases of carefully selected books that her granddaughter, Emily, had collected for her bat mitzvah project (they had already shipped five other boxes of books and still have more to send), and the children gleefully unpacked the books and started reading them. We met the librarians who staff the library thanks to funding from the South Peninsula Jewish Community Teen Foundation of the Jewish Community Federation in San Francisco, California.
To extend our library/literacy support project, Jeanne Bodin and her daughter volunteered at the year-old Sarah Horowitz Memorial Library at the Abayudaya Elementary School, brought hand-made books created and donated by sixth-graders at MJCBY in Morristown, New Jersey, and helped the Ugandan seventh-graders make their own books in return.
I led an intense workshop on computer maintenance and typing skills for about 15 eager and attentive students, Kulanu board member Judy Manelis led a creative writing workshop, Laura Wetzler and Steve Gray both led workshops for young people on business planning, and volunteer Tara Parks, an industrial engineer, led a workshop on careers in science and math. Judy Manelis also spent a day at the Kavule School for the Deaf, where Kulanu supports six deaf students from Namutumba with the help of Kulanu fundraising campaign leader Dr Elizabeth Feldman of Illinois, who has been tirelessly raising funds for the school for five years. Laura Wetzler did amazing work connecting the school for the deaf with resources for deaf-blind students.
Laura Wetzler and I met with the board and project directors of the Abayudaya community to report to them on our work in the past year (we had donated $135,000 to the community in 2011) and to hear their concerns and suggestions for our future work together.
Throughout these days, community members thanked “Kulanu” over and over — we accepted their thanks on behalf of all of you who have supported this work over the last 16 years. At the music and dance festival, villagers from many of the villages sang and danced their gratitude to Kulanu. At the women’s conference, all the women stood and lifted up imaginary baskets of flowers and tossed them to Laura and me. At the grain mill dedication, they made speeches about how different their lives were and how much more hopeful they were because of Kulanu’s support. At the youth-led service, Yosef Kalema, the outgoing chair of the Abayudaya Youth Association, talked about his memories of Kulanu’s first visit in 1995 when he was a child, of having been in the very first class at the Semei Kakungulu High School, having been part of the Higher Education program supported by Tufts University Hillel. Now he has graduated from university and is beginning a career in technology. It was clear that our long-term commitment to this community is bearing fruit.
To learn more about the Abayudaya of Uganda and Kulanu’s work with this inspiring Jewish community in the heart of Africa, check out www.kulanu.org/abayudaya
I hope you’ll consider joining us on the next Jewish Life in Uganda Mitzvah Tour – so you and your family can share the joy of what “all of us” can achieve together. Visit www.kulanu.org/trip for details about this life-changing excursion!
Harriet Bograd, President
Photo Credits: Tara Parks, Jeanne Bodin, Harriet Bograd, Steve Gray, Irene Orleansky – January 2012