The Story of Open Door Project Uganda
by Marsha McGough, founder of Open Door Project Uganda
A Visit to Uganda
In the summer of 2007, my husband, Michael Eastburn, and I, along with our sons, traveled to Uganda for the wedding of one of our son’s close friends, Christian Acemah. Born and raised in Uganda, Christian came to the United States as a teenager to further his education. Christian and our son became friends in college, where Christian would also meet his wife-to-be, Marie Craig. A charismatic unofficial ambassador for Uganda, Christian was instrumental in our son’s decision to take a break from his studies to volunteer in Uganda in 2003-04, and in the decision of our son’s girlfriend to spend the summer of 2007 in southern Uganda doing an internship with a community-based AIDS organization.
When Christian and Marie invited our family to their wedding in Uganda, we felt it was an opportunity we could not pass up. We were pleased to join some 60 other North American and European family members and friends of the couple who traveled to East Africa for the wedding, and were excited to be reunited with our son’s girlfriend, who got time off from her job to join us on our two-week excursion.
Christian and Marie and their families were incredibly gracious hosts, and the weddings were beautiful and memorable occasions. Yes, that is “weddings,” in the plural! Not only did Christian and Marie have a beautiful ceremony overlooking the Nile River near Murchison Falls, but Christian’s father’s ancestral village near Arua in the northwestern corner of Uganda also honored the couple in a village ceremony the next day.
The travel from Kampala to Murchison Falls, and then Arua (a long day’s journey each way), afforded us a glimpse of rural Uganda that was unforgettable. We encountered welcoming and friendly people, and extreme poverty. We fell in love with this beautiful country and its warm and resilient people.
After visiting Uganda, we were left with a new perspective on our own lives in the Unites States. While we would not be considered wealthy by most Americans, by Ugandan standards we are incredibly wealthy, and take our luxuries — warm homes, hot and cold running water, paved streets, plentiful food — for granted. After our trip I was tempted to say it was a “life-changing experience.” But I felt that I could not honestly say those words unless something truly changed in my life. For several months I struggled with wondering just what that change would be. Open Door Project Uganda was the answer, and it was inspired by our contacts with two Ugandan organizations.
The Rakai Community Based AIDS Organization (RACOBAO)
While in Uganda we met David Ssedyabule, then director of The Rakai Community Based AIDS Organization (RACOBAO). Since the mid-1990s, RACOBAO has been assisting those affected by AIDS in the southern Ugandan districts of Rakai and Lyantonde. We learned that, through RACOBAO, a house could be built to house a family of AIDS orphans for just $1,500. We knew through Christian and others that this organization was doing good work, and our family determined to donate the money to build a house.
In September 2007 we sent $1,500 to RACOBAO. By March 2008, RACOBAO sent us photos of the new house and the family who had moved in – Noreda, a widow with AIDS, and her three children.
Noreda’s story touched our hearts, and we immediately decided that we wanted to help other families get their own houses. At first we thought that soliciting donations from family and friends would be enough, but then decided that if we could start a nonprofit business, donations to which would be tax deductible (and eligible for matching gifts), we could raise far more money and help many more people. Open Door Project Uganda was born.
Namuwongo Women and Youth Group
Over the last two decades, the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda has killed some 12,000 people, and kidnapped between 25,000 and 66,000 children for sex slaves and child soldiers. Two million Ugandans have had to flee their homes in the countryside due to this violence. Forced from their farms, many flee to Kampala, Uganda’s capital city, seeking a new way to make a living. Many are women with children to feed, and they are often also supporting the children of family members who were killed in the violence, or died of AIDS or malaria.
While in Uganda, we met a group of these women living in Namuwongo, one of Kampala’s shantytown slums. They were learning to survive by making and selling jewelry made from discarded paper. They first make the beads out of magazine pages, and then string the jewelry. We suggested that the jewelry might be successfully sold in the U.S. Open Door Project Uganda is pleased to offer this lovely handmade jewelry for sale in person in the United States. Learn more about the Namuwongo Women and Youth Group and their paper-bead jewelry here.