Fishers organization provides financial, educational and emotional support to orphans in Uganda
By Ann Craig-Cinnamon
The pictures of beautiful, smiling children belie the ugly truth. These children of Uganda have seen terrible pain, have experienced hunger and loneliness and have been victims of horrors that most of us cannot imagine. Many of them are completely alone in the world. They are orphans who may have watched as their parents die of AIDS. They may be homeless, have no food or clothing and no one to turn to. It is a fate that most of us living in Fishers can’t fathom. But it does exist and Laurie Kroll is trying to fix it, one child at a time.
Kroll’s husband was the long-time pastor of a church in Vermont 11 years ago when a young man from Uganda came to visit. He showed church members pictures of orphans in his village of Serere in the northeast part of Uganda, which is about a seven-hour bus trip from the capital of Kampala.
Wanting to help, church members sent clothing and supplies to him.
“When we sent gifts to his extended family he sent pictures back that involved orphan children watching those gifts be opened. And it was really heartbreaking. So, I casually said ‘maybe someday we can help.’ And by Tuesday, I had the names and stories of nine children that were heartbreaking and it was hard to walk away at that point because it became personal,” she said.
Kroll, whose twin daughters were 11 at the time, said one of the stories was of an 11 year old girl who literally had no clothes. Other stories included that of a man who lost two wives and 11 of his 18 children to AIDS and as a result, was the caregiver to his grandchildren.
So, four of Laurie’s friends gave her $25 each to help the orphans, and with that money Village2Village was born.
“With the $100 we bought a big bag of rice and a big bag of beans and on July 4, 2003 we gave those out and we bought nine school uniforms and nine backpacks with no idea whether the next month we’d have another $100 or what we should do with it. Just that we wanted to help them,” said Kroll. “One of those original kids from that year, 11 years later, is graduating with a degree in law from university at the top of her class in Uganda.”
The nine children became 48 by 2006 and Kroll and her organization were able, through donations, to hire one staff person. Today, there are 100 children in the program with two locations and five staff members in Uganda.
The program provides two meals a day, tutoring and all school fees and supplies while the children live with whatever family they have. Kroll said it’s a unique concept designed to nurture family ties.
Kroll, who moved with her family to Fishers about a year ago and has made Launch Fishers her headquarters, said she and her organization have been embraced by the residents of Fishers. She has gained many new sponsors here and, in all, has approximately 150 around the world.
Tom and Jen Searcy of Fishers recently adopted Rachel and Osteen who are brother and sister.
“For less than the cost of supporting one child in Fishers for a month, I can save the life of a child in Uganda for a whole year!” said Tom Searcy on why he decided to get involved in the Village2Village program.
Of sponsors, Village2Village asks for emotional commitment as well as a monthly financial contribution.
“Basically this child has no parents. So they see the person that is paying their school fees as their parent; their family. We don’t like to change it every year. And we don’t like to do it with a group. We like to have one person with one child and hope that they will be in it for the long haul,” said Kroll.
Only 30 percent of the needs of the child are paid for by the sponsors and the rest is paid for with donations. Village2Village has also funded a water tower and electricity projects and hopes to build an infirmary in the district.
For Kroll, helping the orphans has become a life mission.
“Outside of my faith and my own family, it’s the most important thing. It’s what I think about when I go to bed. It’s what I think about when I wake up. When I’m struggling to make sure there’s enough money for all those kids to go back to school at the same time, it’s the thing that keeps me awake at night. It’s significant,” she said. “There’s so much need there. We’re just scratching the surface.”
Uganda has 2.5 million orphans.
1.2 million have been orphaned by AIDS – UNICEF
Sponsor: $55/ month for primary-age students