In 2005, at the height of the devastating AIDs epidemic in Uganda, women severely weakened by hunger and disease began showing up at the gate of the compound in Kampala where Hannu and Milla Happonen lived. These women were often the only surviving adult support for their children, and sometimes grandchildren, nieces and nephews.
Milla opened her home and began to look for ways to help these women survive and get back onto their feet. She learned that food, then a course of antiviral medication, could gradually bring back their strength. One woman showed them how to make colourful beads out of paper, which a group of them began to make for export to Finland and Canada, providing a decent living. That was how Caring Hands Uganda began.
Many of these women have gone on to pull themselves out of the worst poverty, sending their children to school, and in some cases building homes for themselves. The work of the good people at Caring Hands has positively touched the lives of hundreds of people in their community.
In 2008, Hannu and some helpers built a temporary facility out of two shipping containers for Caring Hands. As Caring Hands’ work in the community grew there was a clear need for a permanent facility.
In 2010, friends in Canada established Caring Hand Society (Canada) for the purpose of raising funds to acquire and operate a permanent facility in Kampala. In December of 2013 a 1.2-acre plot of land was acquired in Bweyogerere on the east side of Kampala.
We have continued to raise funds for improvements to the site, for renovations of an existing building, and for building additional facilities on the site. As official opening ceremony was held in August 2015, and the facility now hosts a variety of vocational training and community programs in partnership with the Government of Finland, USAID, Caring Hands Finland, The Finnish Refugee Council, and Ugandan government organizations, among others.
The operation of Caring Hands is largely self-funded through the sale of crafts, and grants for specific training programs. There has however been a cutback in foreign aid from Finland and Europe in general that has placed pressure on the annual operating budget for community programs. We have from time to time provided modest support to help maintain the operations of Caring Hands in Uganda to bridge gaps in funding.
The focus of fund raising at Caring Hands Society (Canada) continues to be development of the Bweyogerere site: improvements to existing facilities (plumbing, electrical, furnishings, etc.) and hopefully, adding buildings to fill the need for classrooms and community programs.
With the new permanent site in full operation with training and support programs, and improved availability of retroviral drugs to combat AIDS, the future looks better for the families in the Bweyogerere neighbourhood. However, there is much more work to be done within the community to fully break the cycle of poverty.
On behalf of Hannu and Milla, Caring Hands Uganda board members Kamunuga Hellen and Wesley Forde, and all of the good people at Caring Hands in Bweyogerere, I thank you for your continued participation and support.
President, Caring Hands Society (Canada)
February 25, 2017