We at African Promise Foundation have made a promise to the people of Uganda to bring attention to their suffering and help them find solutions to their weighty challenges. Our school fees initiative connects donors in the United States to disadvantaged and vulnerable children, providing them with education, housing, and nutrition. Through the sale of African Promise Beads, Ugandan women are empowered to become heroes in their communities, providing for their families and supporting orphaned children’s education and nutrition through their skill and productivity.
The Birth of African Promise Foundation
Before 2005, I was pretty much a typical soccer mom. In December 2005, I had the opportunity to work first-hand with a family of Somali refugees. When they arrived, they were all malnourished and many were suffering from malaria. I began researching the refugee camps that they had lived in previously as well as the bloody civil war they left behind. From that experience, I started looking more closely into the lives of people in Africa and eventually learned about the children in Northern Uganda. “Night Commuters” they called them. I learned about their struggle to avoid abduction by a rebel army called the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). They “commuted” on foot for miles every evening to towns where they would sleep under the verandas of police stations, hospitals and other safe areas. In the morning, under the protection of the light, they would walk back to their villages and then repeat the process the next day.
I was outraged that this could happen in our world and, worse, that I had never heard about it. I continued to learn about Uganda and the thousands of children who were abducted and forced to become LRA soldiers.
Although I was outraged, I didn’t know what I could do. In 2006, the LRA moved out of Uganda to the Democratic Republic of Congo, taking about 900 Ugandan children with them. “Peace” was restored in Uganda, but in the wake of the war was total and utter devastation.
When the war left Uganda, I knew I needed to go to the people. I didn’t know what I was going to do; I just knew I had to go. I needed to see and touch the children that for so long had been invisible to the world. I got my chance in 2008, when I travelled to Uganda to provide service in orphan homes and refugee camps. I used my background as a soccer coach to train and work with impoverished and orphaned youth. I saw many young girls who because of cultural barriers and social stigmas were left to fetch water while many of the boys had opportunities to go to school and play soccer. This work was rewarding, but I wanted to go back the next time with a larger purpose.
I returned to Uganda in 2009, this time as the coach of the first American girls soccer team to travel to the region. We called the project “Goals for Girls” and used soccer as a tool to promote health and education among Ugandan girls. We focused on impoverished youth and formerly abducted child soldiers and conducted assemblies and soccer clinics where we talked to girls about goal setting both on and off of the soccer field
While in Uganda, we also had the opportunity to spend time in Internally Displaced People (IDP) camps. During one of those visits, we came upon an old man named Tiger. When he recognized us as Americans, he began shouting angrily and asking, “Why have you not seen the suffering of our people??” With tears in his eyes, he went on… “My people have suffered for so long, and you people have not seen our suffering. Please go back and tell Obama that we are suffering!” I was moved by Tiger’s words. What had he seen in his lifetime? When he was done speaking, I felt something inside of me stir. I looked him in the eye and promised Tiger that I would not forget what I had seen. I would tell the American people about the suffering of his people. African Promise Foundation was born out of the promise that I made to Tiger, and I will keep that promise.
~Suzy Benson Gillies, Founder and President, African Promise Foundation