From Gorilla Trekking to Education: Italians Change Lives in Bwindi
In the remote areas surrounding game parks, critical social services are often lacking, especially in education. The underprivileged in these regions face even greater challenges as they are unable to access services beyond their immediate localities.
One such place facing these difficulties is Ruhija, situated on the outskirts of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park in Rubanda County, Kabale District. However, a positive change is now unfolding for the underprivileged children in Ruhija, thanks to a group of Italians who visited the area for gorilla trekking and pledged their support to an orphanage called Little Angels Orphanage and Primary School located in Ruhija.
Thirteen-year-old Comfort Akatukunda, a student in Primary Seven at the orphanage, expressed her joy when the Italian team visited and inaugurated a new dining hall, built with their financial support. The dining hall and kitchen, valued at approximately UGX 100 Million, are essential additions to the orphanage’s facilities.
Comfort shared her story, saying, “I didn’t know anything about myself, but when I grew up, I was told that both of my parents died when I was still a baby, and I have been under the care of the orphanage. I am happy to be able to study. I want to thank the Italians for supporting us. They have done a lot for us, and today they have brought food and clothes for us. We are happy, and we pray to God to bless them.”
She also expressed her hopes for the future, stating, “I now have hope, and in the future, I would like to be a nurse. The fact that I don’t have parents or any relatives, I need someone to be there for me. I plead with the Italians to continue supporting me even after joining secondary school and up to when I finish my studies.”
Nestoria Nuwagaba, brought to the orphanage as a baby and now in Primary Six, also shared his gratitude for the support. He said, “I want to appreciate our directors at the orphanage and the Italians for the support they extend to us. They have since installed electricity in the orphanage, and we are now able to read at night. My dream is to become a doctor, but issues with school fees after here, I don’t know.”
The director of the orphanage, Happy Kyoheirwe, initiated this project 16 years ago after witnessing the suffering of underprivileged children, especially orphans, in her village. “This is the village where I was born, and I saw how children without parents were suffering. I saw young girls and boys involved in child labor, including working as house girls, and some men taking advantage of them. I said I wouldn’t allow this to go on, so I decided to start an orphanage. In the beginning, there were 20 children, and as we take it now, there are over 430 children in the orphanage,” she explained.
The orphanage faces various challenges, including the lack of a sickbay for treating sick children and the need for offices and more suitable classrooms. Kyoheirwe shared the difficulty of paying teachers’ salaries since the children do not pay school fees. They engage in gardening to supplement their resources by planting and selling Irish potatoes, but they lack sufficient land for large-scale farming.
Their long-term plan includes constructing structures for dormitories, classrooms, and housing for teachers and other staff. Additionally, they aim to acquire a school truck to facilitate transportation for various needs.
Giacomo Albrieux, the honorary consul of Uganda in Italy, has played a crucial role in mobilizing support for the orphanage. Giacomo first visited Uganda in 1987 and has been Uganda’s honorary consul to Italy since 2001. After observing the challenges faced by Little Angels Orphanage during a gorilla trekking trip in 2016, he decided to support the orphanage and has continued to visit and provide assistance.
Giacomo, along with his family and friends, launched a fundraising campaign, leveraging social media and Italian networks, to raise funds for the orphanage. Their efforts have already funded essential projects, including bathrooms, latrines, and the dining and kitchen building.
Moving forward, their focus is on ensuring a consistent water supply for the school and the orphanage, along with effective health treatment for the children. Giacomo, a father of three sons and three grandchildren, emphasized his deep love for children and his commitment to supporting underprivileged children’s well-being. He also expressed a desire to bridge the Giannina Gaslini Hospital in Genoa, an excellence facility for cardiopediatric surgery in Italy, with Mulago cardio pediatric hospital to assist children with congenital heart disease and those in need of urgent surgeries.
To ensure sustainable support, they are planning an income-generating project in Ruhija, with the proceeds benefiting the orphanage and the surplus going to the community. Giacomo expressed his belief in the importance of helping less fortunate children, emphasizing that children are the future of the global community.
Henry Banyenzaki, the former legislator representing Rubanda West County, praised Giacomo and his Italian colleagues for their dedication to helping underprivileged children, particularly orphans. Their efforts have brought hope to these children and provided access to education.