Spartansburg resident, Ugandan native, works to make kids’ lives better
June 1, 2019
By: Sara Jukes
Willy Ouma, born and raised in Uganda, made his home in Spartansburg in 2016, but has kept Uganda in his heart, through his efforts and actions, to improve the lives of orphans in Uganda.
Ouma is the founder and CEO of Give Hope Ministries, an educational nonprofit in Busia, Uganda. He started Give Hope Ministries in 2012, and was able to build an orphanage, which can house 150 children, as well as a school that currently serves 316 children.
Proverbs Junior Academy is the name of the orphanage and private school.
While orphanages do exist in Uganda, the facilities rely on donations to run, primarily from western organizations, Ouma said.
Ouma's goal is more than giving a home to children who need a home and care, it is to make the orphanage self-sustaining.
Students from Proverbs Junior Academy are pictured boarding a bus that was purchased in May 2018 with the help of fundraising efforts.
The academy is open to all students with paid tuition. Tuitions collected pay for food, lodging and tuition for orphans who live on campus in small group homes.
The team at the academy works with the community to ensure that tuition costs are affordable for Ugandan families.
Ouma said his motivation started at a very young age from his own tragedy.
“I lost both of my parents when I was a little boy and God impressed on my heart the children who were going through similar experiences,” Ouma said.
Ouma is a former Compassion child who qualified for the leadership development program, which supported him through college.
Compassion International is a nonprofit that helps pair sponsors with children in need all around the world. More information can be found at www.compassion.com.
“I got challenged and overwhelmed by the love of the families that sponsored me, one from Michigan and the other that sponsored my college education from Oregon,” Ouma said. “And I knew to break through the poverty cycle back home in Uganda, you needed education and I was inspired to give back to my community in whatever ways God would enable me to change the lives of the needy children, like I was, given an opportunity.”
Ouma earned a bachelor's degree in social work and social administration from Uganda Christian university in Mukono, Uganda and then moved to Chicago in 2010 to go to school at Moody Bible Institute to pursue further education. He moved back to Uganda and started Proverbs Junior Academy, orphanage and school, in May 2012.
Ouma spent the next four years traveling back and forth between the states and Uganda to work on fundraising and the construction of the school.
“There are a lot of orphanages in Uganda, especially the central part of the country,” Ouma said. “Busia is a small town in eastern Uganda that lacks widespread access to quality education and is home to one of the country’s most serious orphan crises as a result of the AIDS epidemic.”
Students of Proverbs Junior Academy gather in front of construction taking place to build a second story on a school building.
In 2013, his fundraising efforts brought him to Wyoming, where he met his wife, Autumn Baker. She is a Spartansburg native who was in Wyoming at the time as a paid volunteer for Big Brothers Big Sisters.
The two were married in Wyoming and then proceeded to Uganda to be married in front of family on Sept. 14, 2013.
Ouma continued to travel back and forth raising funds and working on constructing housing and classrooms, until 2016, when the family, which then included a nearly two-year-old daughter Zoe, moved permanently to Spartansburg to be closer to Autumn's family.
To date, Ouma's fundraising efforts have helped build many buildings and facilities for the children of the orphanage and school, including an orphan home building, two two-story school buildings including one library, two one-story school buildings and a kitchen was constructed with a storage area.
To protect the children at the compound, a wall was built in December 2015, including an entrance gate. The wall and fencing help provide added protection from road traffic.
In February 2016, a chicken coop was built and 1,000 chickens were bought to help feed the children and give the compound another source of income through sales of chickens and eggs. Students learn to care for the chickens and gather eggs.
A deep freshwater well was drilled in April 2016 to provide a source of clean water. To get water previously, 5 kilometers had to be walked before a clean water source could be reached. The well also made possible construction of a restroom facility with flushing toilets and a septic system to replace an old military style latrine.
One of the most recent purchases was a school bus. Some children previously had to walk 4 kilometers to school. As of May 2018, kids could be picked up by the bus and then brought back home.
Pete Melnik, of Cincinnati, is the finance and marketing director for GHM. Melnik visited the school the summer of 2018 and stayed for two and a half weeks to help school administrators transfer the schools' record keeping from paper to electronic.
When Melnik first learned about the school and talked with Ouma, he said he was really struck by the way the school runs. He was impressed that the school is able to charge tuition and make a profit from it enough to use the money, from those who are able to pay tuition, to provide tuition for orphans and economically disadvantaged children from the community.
Melnik revealed while he visited he had, what he described as a “cool cross-cultural experience” with the differences of educational practices between Uganda and the United States.
Melnik said that during his visit, he was impressed by the compound and facilities.
“Willy and the other board members, and Willy's brother, have put together a really nice facility and a great place for the kids to learn,” Melnik said.
Melnik described how friendly the children were when he first arrived, saying that a little crowd of kids surrounded him and he was able to take time to play soccer with them.
“One of the things that makes the school unique is, first of all, it is founded and run by a Ugandan native, Willy, and also, just the financial model that we were able to use — essentially a self-sustaining model,” Melnik said.
There are still building projects that the school wants to complete to allow for more children to attend, so while the school can run with the funding program it has developed, fundraising is still needed for construction of future projects.
The facility has a 300-child capacity, which has been reached this year. Give Hope Ministries wants to be able to help as many children as possible, and has plans to construct a new orphan home building. It is projected to cost $9,000 to complete.
Other projects and funding needed are $2,400 for internet connectivity and a computer lab, $5,000 for new desks, tables and chairs, $225,000 for construction of a multi-use building and $2,500 to purchase 500 Bibles for outreach.
There are also discussions for purchasing land for a vocational education center and a skills training center, plus materials and equipment for both.
Ouma explained that adoption of children is not high in Uganda because of restrictions placed by the Ugandan government and its legal system.
“Every child would be best raised from a home and not an orphanage but sometimes it's just what it is,” Ouma said.
Proverbs is not just an orphanage, however, it is a high quality school, Ouma said.
“Our students at our school have been performing really good at the national examination,” Ouma said.
After students receive seven years of primary schooling, they are assessed at a national level with an exam, Ouma explained.
“Last year, we had 33 percent of our children, who sat for the national exam, pass in grade A and the rest of the class in grade B,” Ouma said.
While still fundraising for the school and orphanage year-round, Ouma maintains a job in Corry, working at FXI, located at 466 S. Shady Ave., as a machine operator. He also travels once a year to stay for several weeks in Uganda interacting with the teachers and children and helping to build more classrooms and housing.
Ouma is planning on going back to Uganda this July, he said.
The Oumas now have three children, Zoe, 4; Zach, 2; and 6-month-old Audrey.
To find out more information about Give Hope Ministries, or to donate, go to www.givehopeministries.org.
Editorial Staff, The Corry Journal
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