Thursday, 28 March 2013

1000 what?!

When I tell people about my Girl’s Empowerment Project, most cannot believe how much it costs to send these girls to school… It is Uganda after all.  In a country that has so little, you wonder how anyone can afford to go to school! 

Since our girls are in boarding school, this project not only pays for their tuition, it also accommodates all their living needs.

To sustain one girl for one year costs roughly $1,000.

Yup. One thousand dollars. And this is why:

Tuition fluctuates, but is between $200 and $250 a trimester, and therefore $600 and $750.

At the beginning of each year, they are required to bring the following:
  • a mattress!
  • bathing bucket
  • towel
  • underwear
  • school uniform and sports uniform
  • shoes for school, shoes for sport, flip flops
  • lantern
  • sheets
  • pillow
  • blanket
  • mosquito net
  • trunk for their things, with lock
  • 2 brooms (one to sweep outside, one to sweep inside)
  • a plate, bowl, cup, knife and fork
  • a peeing bucket (for nights)
  • sweatshirt or sweater (a “luxury” I believe they need)
  • required textbooks (these can be up to $25 each, and because of the lack of funding, they often share, making studying more difficult)
  • a notepad for each of their ten subjects
  • calculator
  • dictionary
  • an eraser
  • a certain number of pens
  • a certain number of pencils
  • a sketch book
  • colored pencils
  • cement (to continue building the school?)
  • printer paper
  • cornmeal
(If they don’t bring such things, they are sent home)

Living necessities to be replenished each trimester:
  • toilet paper!
  • tooth brush
  • toothpaste
  • sanitary pads
  • soap for bathing
  • soap for laundry
  • fuel for lantern
  • tea
  • medicine (they all have ulcers, some have other conditions)
  • an allowance to buy snacks since they are only fed beans and cornmeal twice a day.
Medical: Since disease is a part of life in Uganda, it is common for the girls to need to go to the hospital to get treatment-which is unjustly expensive.

Holidays: Since the educational system allows one month holidays between trimesters, the girls that go back to their villages (which are often hours away) need money for transport to and from, plus an allowance to sustain them. Since a few of the girls have nowhere to go, or do not feel safe returning to their villages during their holidays, we rent out a hut for them to stay in.

I’m sure there are many things I have left out. I just wanted to highlight the fact that because these girls have nothing and no one, this project supports them entirely. If they had to work, they would not be able to focus on their studies, and this project is about giving them a chance. 

If you are willing and able, please consider donating (any amount) via PayPal to:, or contact me for more information.

With much love and gratitude,


Tuesday, 26 March 2013

My Girl's Project in Uganda

Imagine if in Oregon State (the size of Uganda), 25,000 children under the age of five died each year from preventable waterborne diseases... It would be an epidemic! Now, imagine if in Oregon, a rebel army abducted over 30,000 kids forcing them to be soldiers and sex slaves...

Imagine you were one of these kids.

Now that the twenty year war is over, a generation is left without parents, and trauma wounds too deep to understand. I've met these young people. They are resilient  compassionate, hopeful and determined... if only given the chance.

My project in Uganda focuses on a group of young females, all of whom were abducted and escaped. The aim is to begin by psycho-socially supporting them, and empowering them by sending them back in school. 

These girls stole my heart, and I hope they will impact yours too.

Alimo Joyce was shot in the leg during the war. The only family member she had after escaping captivity was her brother, who committed suicide shortly after. His wife disappeared one night taking everything they owned, and leaving Joyce alone and desperate. Though Joyce has had an incredibly hard life, she is still one of the kindest, and most genuine people I have ever met. Naturally shy, I have seen her confidence noticeably grow over just one year. Imagine what a lifetime of people believing in her could do.

"I don't know whether I am going to stay hungry or not. And I want to give thanks because you have brought us here, to a good secondary school in Uganda, and I thank God for that."

Limpe Grace is a strong, beautiful, and very capable young woman. In a letter she wrote me describing her life, she shared how her mother and father met in captivity, and that she was born in the bush of the War. During their time in the bush, her mother had three other children. In 2000, her father was killed, and a year later, her mother escaped-without Limpe Grace. After her mother left, Grace stayed in the bush for another two years before escaping and reuniting with her mother. “In that year, as a result of killing, looting, and doing other bad things, her mind got confused and she became a mad person. She doesn’t want to see her children around her, and keeps saying that she is going to kill us.”

"Auntie, my life was very hard. Even at our home there. Nobody is possible to help me. They just see me, ‘ah ahh let that girl just waste her time.’ Then I sit down and I think, how am I going to study? How am I going to stay in this world? Who is going to help me? Even I lose the hope. Maybe I am going to be poor until I die. So, my best thing is just to thank you.” 
During the insurgency, Brenda's father was killed by the rebels. Her mother was later infected with HIV/AIDS, but didn't realize her condition until it was too late. When she died, Brenda was left with her grandmother who is now too old to care for her and her young siblings. With all that she has been through, Brenda is the natural leader of the group. Confident without even realizing it, and always the one to speak when no one wants to, she has so much potential, and I keep envisioning her getting into politics or activism. 

“My life was hard. But now, I am looking forward to have a great future.”
Apiyo Scovia was left by her mother when she was only 2 weeks old. Her father, abducted by the rebels, never returned. When her mother finally did come home, she was very ill with HIV/AIDS and died soon after. 

"For me, when I sat for my primary leaving examination, I even lost hope that I’m not going to continue with my studies because nobody is there to help me."
Akii Sarah was abducted by the Lord’s Resistance army in 2000 from her village. After escaping, her father died of AIDS and her mother, too sick, couldn't care for her. Upon sending her to school, some people in her village have tried to poison her out of jealousy. This makes it even more crucial to keep her in school.

“Auntie, I think that no one can help me like you. I thank God so that he give you more and more life in this world.”


If you would like more information on this project, or if you are willing and able to donate, please contact me for more information.

Love, Jenna

Friday, 8 March 2013

"Jenna, why do you only care about girls?!"

Given that today is International Women's Day, I thought this would be an appropriate topic.

My project in Uganda focuses on the girl child. But why not the boys?! I get this question all the time. It’s not because I’m a man-hating separatist. In fact, it’s much the opposite. 50% of Uganda’s population is under the age of 18, and if I still have any math skills left, that means 25% of Uganda’s population is girls under the age of 18. In empowering girls, we strive not to be better than boys, but rather we strive to be equal. Feminism has taken on a negative connotation. But what is feminism really? It is the desire for women to have equal human rights-as humans, period. With my girl’s project, we are not aiming to only empower individuals solely, we are aiming to uplift a nation. If 25% of the future population were to have the opportunity to be educated, the country would begin to thrive economically and socially. This is not just for us. This is for everyone. 

So why else should we support the education of the Ugandan girl child?

-In many countries like Uganda, boys are innately born the superior gender. Thus opportunities naturally are given to them. Often in Uganda, if a family can only afford to send one child to school, they will inevitably choose the boy.

-Since dowry still exists in many communities like these, girls are often seen as property that one family sells to another through marriage. Culturally, boys take care of their parents in their later years. Thus, many families of girl children don’t see the need to educate the girl child, since “she is just going to leave anyway.”

-If a girl is not in school, she is often seen as “eligible” for marriage, regardless of her age, and her opinion.

-Because of the lack of reproductive health education in many parts of Africa, as well as the stigmas surrounding condom use, and the patriarchal pressure that prevents girls from having the right to refuse sex, many girls end up pregnant very young. This is one of the main reasons I chose to put my girls into boarding school. 

-The role of women, especially in rural villages is much like what you would imagine the role of women would have been 100 years ago in the States. They are born with little option to stray from the duties expected of them. Women in the villages spend their days walking miles and miles to fetch water and firewood. They tend the fields, digging and cultivating rice and corn. They take care of the chickens and goats, and make meals from scratch. They wash clothes in whatever water source they can find. They are in charge of raising the village children. And generally speaking, and I hope I don't get poisoned for saying this, they need to be available to sexually satisfy their men when expected. I’ve never met a more harder-working and under-valued population. Such cultural expectations are one of the main reasons girls are not given the opportunity to go to school.

-If women are in charge of raising the children, imagine what an educated woman can do.

-A girl that is determined to go to school might be seen as “stubborn” or “trouble” because culturally, many men might believe that such a girl is trying to “overtake” them.  Such feelings of insecurity result in the emasculation that is often the root cause of domestic violence in the home.

-Girls are human beings and deserve equal respect and opportunity.

Why else do you think it's important to educate girls?

The fact is that although all Ugandans (and most Africans) are deprived of many of their human rights, and are oppressed on a global level, Ugandan boys are still born with privilege and opportunity and girls are simply not. They are the lowest on the chain, a
nd it's about time things changed. Given that this has been 'the cultural way' for generations, the solution as I see it is to focus on the youth. The only way out of this oppressive cycle is through education. If we empower the girls, and educate the boys on the importance of empowering their female counterparts-beginning with supporting them getting an education, the future of the country-and of our world, will thrive. 

“But Jenna! You’re white. Aren't you imposing your Western beliefs? …This is their culture.”

Human rights are human rights, period. Because I, (like many of you), was circumstantially born into privilege. I believe that it’s my moral responsibility to use the rights I was unjustly granted to empower those who were unjustly granted less to see-and fight for their human rights too. 

What do you think?

If you are interested in making a donation to support the education of one of my girls, you can do so via PayPayl:, or message me for more details.

"Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much." -Helen Keller

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Letters from my Girls

It’s that time of year again. My girls in Uganda have just begun their second year of Secondary School, and as you’ll read below, they are happy and grateful for this opportunity in their lives. I too am grateful for what they have done for me, and am constantly in awe of their selfless compassion. All these girls were abducted at a very young age by Joseph Kony’s  “Lord’s Resistance Army,” and  all of them escaped. They have little to no living family members, and are still the sweetest, most kind-hearted individuals I’ve ever met. The chance for them to go to school gives them hope for a better future, since the only alternative is to be married off in their villages. With school being so expensive, (Boarding school is roughly $1,000 a year!) it is rare that an average family living in poverty sends their girls to school, since the opportunity-if there is one, is usually only given to the boys.  The reason I chose to send them to boarding school is because for the first time in their lives, all they have to do there is focus on themselves, their studies, and their own well-being. Additionally, since they are all at school together, they have built a support system within each other; a community, a family.  Since I believe in being open and raw, I’m going to tell you that each semester we struggle to find the funding to meet their needs. In a world where you can’t trust so many charities and NGOs, I am telling you that you can trust us. I am the only middle woman, and 100% of the money we raise goes directly to the girl’s and their needs. I am in the process of creating a board, and registering as an NGO (let me know if you would like to be involved in any way), but until then, I’m calling on those of you who are willing and able to contribute any small donation. A little goes a long way, and anything-I mean anything would be deeply appreciated. Of course, if you decide you’d like to sponsor one girl’s education-that would be okay too. ;) It’s hard to ask for assistance, but I truly believe that if we all unite in whatever way we can, it is possible to move mountains… one girl at a time.

Thank you so much. Apwoyo Matek.

Love, Jenna

Below are the letters I just recently received from the girls. There are only four letters because at the time they were written, Melissa was in the hospital with pneumonia, and Joyce was sick with influenza.


Hi Aunt,
This is just to inform you and give thanks to you, and I want to tell you the school has begun well and its still going on well.
Secondly I would like to remind you that I am not felling so well and I want to give thanks for all what you have done in my life.
Now you have made my life easy to look like other people’s children, thank be to you and your family and the donors thirdly. I would like to tell you that my relative are proud seeing me at school. Thank you for putting me in school.
I want to tell you that I am missing you so much.
I don't have much to say only thank you to you my dear lovely aunt.
Greeting to family and others who have helped.

Oh my Aunti Hi
                I such a great blessing to me to have this opportunity to say the word of Hello to you. And Aunti I believe that you are find and the family at large.
                Now, I want also you to know that schooling is going on well and am so grateful because you have made me to look ahead that am so important and have a future.
                Aunti, you have made my grand mama very very happy and the family and Aunti you are now maber (good) to me because the love you have shown to me and my friends no one can tell.
                I now praise God to have a good control of you and your family.
                May God Bless you too. (LOVE BRENDA)
                Atimango Brenda Ruth

Letter to Jenna
Sarah says
                Auni I want to thank you for your work you have done for us at the beging of 2013
                Aunti we also miss you and also we are going to pray for you and your dad also we are going to pray for him so that he can also get quick recover and your family member. So we are very happy for your work done congratulations
                May God bless you and your family and the people helping us.
                From your lovely daughter SARAH AKII

Dear unti
I am so happy to share with you with you in this piece of paper. This just to greet you unty. How are you over there? Hope is okey. From my side is okey. Everything is going well. But unty we are missing you unty that is the only thing we are worry about unty. Bless you ad all your family and I too. Lastly be bless by God. By Grace Okema

From left to right: Olympia Joyce, Akii Sarah, Me, Apiyo Scovia, Limpe Grace, and in front: Atimango Brenda. Achiro Melissa not pictured.

Donations can be made via PayPal: Thank you for taking the time to read this, and for considering helping in whatever way you can. One Love. -J