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12 November 2009 

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American Volunteers Recall Gratifying Service at Ugandan Care Facility

12 November 2009

A U.S. couple that spent three months in Uganda, volunteering among underprivileged children, HIV survivors, uprooted orphans, and war victims is encouraging other American volunteers to join in their experience.

Soweto, Uganda slum "playground"
Soweto, Uganda slum "playground"
At first, Maryland residents Lew and Judy Priven said they found it hard to imagine what their comfortable American lifestyle and background could offer to so radically different a culture as the disadvantaged Soweto district of Kampala, Uganda. But they quickly learned from the director of a humanitarian group they served, the Meeting Place, how much the students, staff, and community planners appreciated their skills and suggestions.  

Lew Priven recalls how his training as a business consultant helped the organization evaluate its needs and plan for the future.

“I worked with their administrative group, particularly helping them with the reports that they needed to provide to their donors, and with a five-year plan so that they could have some way of looking at the future,” he said.  

Judy Priven taught writing, reading, and langual guides for international visitors to the United States, says she is proud of the young students’ motivation and appetite for learning, but was also challenged by a shortage of reading materials in Uganda for the youngsters.

“Electricity was another thing. And so we couldn’t use our computers for a lot of time, which were very important, since we didn’t have books. I was always printing out things. So I was surprised at the lack of resources that they had,” she noted.

Classes are just one of several daily operations at the Meeting Point, which also runs a clinic for HIV testing and counseling and vocational training for teenagers. The Privens say the Meeting Point continues to evolve under the leadership of its executive director, Nolena Nemukeza with the funding it receives from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and from donor institutions in Germany and Italy.  

“It’s a wonderful organization. It was started in the 1990’s by a woman named Nolena – everybody called her “Mama” – and her purpose was to help individuals and families that had been impacted by AIDS. She helped orphans. She had teaching facilities. She had also training for getting a job, and they supplied medications for them,” says Judy Priven.
Ugandan children at The Meeting Place in Kampala.
School children at  Meeting Point facility in Kampala, Uganda
 

Other facilities at the center include a foster home and orphanage for more than 56 AIDS survivors and children displaced by conflicts in Rwanda, neighboring Congo, and from the war in northern Uganda. Lew Priven points out that some of these young war victims were subsequently left destitute in Uganda by relatives who had died from HIV, and the survivors were taken in by the Meeting Point’s caring director.

“What happened with most of them is they contracted AIDS and died and then had no relatives or extended family or their tribe, which is an important part of their culture there. And therefore, they would leave these children and others basically on their own. And that’s where “Mama” stepped in and took care of these kids,” he explained.

In addition to recruiting American volunteers to match and repeat their rewarding 2007 experience in Uganda, the Privens have kept in touch with their Meeting Point colleagues, including executive director “Mama” Nemukeza, whom they recently hosted in the United States.  

They find satisfaction in the projects they helped run as volunteers in Africa, and are proud to see the Ugandan humanitarian institution they supported expand its services from some 4,000 clients two years ago to more than 7,000 patrons today.

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