Adam Rothman first got involved with Children of Hope Uganda (COHU) when he was a fifth grade student at The Sterling Hall School, where COHU co-founder Lorna Pitcher was a teacher. He’s stayed active in the organization since transferring to Upper Canada College and, this summer, he travelled to the African country with his mother Diane on behalf of it.
“The reason I have remained involved with COHU is perhaps the small, community-based scale of the organization,” says Rothman, who’s entering IB1 this year. “After each project I helped with, I could see the tangible changes that were happening, which doesn’t always happen with bigger charities.”
COHU is a non-profit organization formed in 2007 which works to empower war-affected youth impacted by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in northern Uganda. From 1987 to 2006, the LRA was responsible for the displacement of 1.8 million, the killing of more than 100,000 villagers and the abduction of more than 20,000 children who were forced to be child soldiers or sex slaves.
COHU has helped transform the lives of more than 1,100 youth through a two-part development model that aims to promote self-sustainability through supporting social enterprise and education. COHU uses various income-generating activities (IGAs) to operate a nursery school and a vocational school in Barlonyo, the site of the 2004 massacre of 301 villagers. It has also financed the university education of 12 abducted girls and the school fees of their 18 children who were born in captivity.
UCC’s Entrepreneurial Club has become involved with COHU by selling its crafts as well as baked goods at various school events to raise money. The most recent UCC-hosted Ontario Model United Nations conference also chose COHU as its charity and donated more than $400 to the cause.
Diane Pinsky Rothman was so impressed from what she saw from COHU that she became its marketing director and is involved with everything from fundraising to product development. And after her son had spent the past six summers at camp and wanted to do something different, the pair met with Pitcher and decided to travel to Uganda for two weeks in July in support of COHU.
They spent most of their time in Lira, the home of COHU’s main offices. It’s located about 200 kilometres from the the border of South Sudan in territory formerly held by the LRA during Uganda’s civil war.
“My mom worked with COHU’s artisans and seamstresses to develop new products to sell in Canada,” says Rothman. “COHU products include paper-bead jewelry, stuffed animals and now backpacks and aprons.
“I helped work on COHU’s income generating activities, learning about their operations and working on budgets and grant applications. There are eight IGAs, including forestry, a piggery, tilapia farm and crafts.”
While Diane encouraged her friends to donate money to COHU in lieu of gifts for her recent 50th birthday, she and Adam collected laptops, iPads, a digital camera, Polaroid cameras and film, school uniforms, gym uniforms, toothbrushes, toothpaste, children’s books and toys that they took to Uganda and distributed.
The Rothmans also went to Barlonyo, where they met students and staff members and got to see choir performances, a school play and a netball match. They also visited the Abayudaya, members of an isolated Jewish community in Uganda’s eastern region, and Murchison Falls National Park.
“The greatest poverty we saw was in an extremely remote village where local elders hand-craft baskets that COHU sells to support the village,” says Rothman. “The whole community gathered when we visited and showed us how they make the baskets.
“Education is low there and malnutrition is high. We were told that, without COHU, many in the village could go months without any money, especially given the drought that was occurring.”
Rothman said he was impressed with the relationships he was able to forge with COHU organizers in such a short time.
“They are some of the most kind, generous and intelligent people I have ever worked with. The poverty and daily challenges they face are never enough to stop them from smiling.”
In speaking with the locals, Rothman learned about their perspectives on topics including aid, development, neo-colonialism, rap music and Donald Trump.
“COHU is a small, local organization but has done an incredible amount,” says Rothman. “Even if it’s just helping one person, anyone really can make a difference and change someone’s life.”