A trip that will see a local school group visit northern Uganda over spring break took shape back in 2006, when Westview Secondary teacher George Farkas was moved to tears while visiting a friend.
Over 12 days, the Ugandan town of Jinja, an hour out of Kampala, will welcome the Maple Ridge contingent that includes students Brodie Turner, Carly Spence, Dayle Edwards, Elyse Murillo, Megan Watson, and Reilly Viveiros along with Farkas, fellow Westview teacher Susan Sarai, and Thomas Haney Secondary teacher Michael Devita.
“These guys [the students] are called the ‘Jinja’ kids,” Farkas said. “That’s their nickname.”
The group will be visiting orphanages and helping out at a school that’s being started this month by a 22-year-old teacher who lost her parents in Uganda’s ongoing conflict.
The Canadian crew plans to paint the building and bring much-needed school supplies.
Farkas helped organize the trip that’s been about seven years in the making, and originated when he watched a trailer that his friend’s nephew was commissioned to create about the warfare in Uganda.
What Farkas saw shook him to his core.
“I didn’t even realize that there was this ongoing, 15-year war at that point,” he said.
While the trailer was only 10 minutes, its graphic images remain imbedded in Farkas’s mind.
“It showed kids with their ears cut off, their lips sliced off,” Farkas said.
He broke down.
“I couldn’t believe the brutality that men would do to kids,” he said.
The perpetrators are members of the Lord’s Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony, which abducts children in northern Uganda, south Sudan, and Congo and turns them into child soldiers to fight in the conflict involving the LRA and government forces in Africa.
Moved by what he saw, Farkas was at a loss about what he could do to help these children.
A year passed and Farkas received an email informing him about a “GuluWalk” in Vancouver.
In northern Uganda, children known as “night commuters” walk from their homes for towns, such as Gulu, to escape being kidnapped under the cloak of night by the LRA.
“They would do this at night and come back in the morning to go to school,” Farkas said. “They would do this every day.”
A bus load of 35 students from Westview took part in the walk, raising $4,000 for the cause.
“We were the only school that went that year,” Farkas said.
A fundraising campaign was set in motion.
Farkas’s goal was to raise $30,000 to help children in Africa over the next few years, and the totals to date has exceeded that, with more than $40,000 generated through various fundraising activities.
A large portion of the funds have already been sent to northern Uganda to help feed and teach trades to children at the Baby Cottage Orphanage.
Humanitarianism runs in Farkas’s family. His 30-year-old daughter Rachael is joining the group.
Rachael has been to Jinja twice before.
“That’s why we’re going there,” Farkas said. “She has connections.”
Assisting Farkas are the Westview students including Edwards, who said she’s always wanted to visit Africa.
“I found out about it through announcements, and Ms. Sarai and Mr. Farkas advertised it a lot,” Edwards said.
She attended a meeting about a trip, and received her parents’ blessing to go.
“I’m happy to go to help the less fortunate,” she said. “We have so much here in Canada and I’m just really excited to give back and looking at the different way of living.”
Viveiros is looking forward to spending his spring break in northern Uganda.
“I think it’s awesome because usually I just spend spring break chilling out at home and not doing anything useful,” he said. “So I might as well use my time wisely.”
He hopes to return home with a new appreciation for everything he has in Canada.
Spence said the fundraising will be well worth the effort.
“It’s something that you’re not really ever going to experience again,” she said.
Turner’s motivation comes from when she was a young child, watching World Vision commercials on TV.
As she grew older Turner researched the topic and had a better perspective of the plight many of the African people, and which of its countries needed the most help.
“Now that I get a chance to go, it doesn’t even compare now that I know that I’m going,” Turner said.
Once she experiences the country first hand, all that she thought she knew about Africa will likely “totally change,” Turner believes.
Sarai said the trip will create a bond for the participating students, and hopefully inspire their peers to help those less fortunate.
“I feel like each of these kids, they’re going to have stories to tell all their friends, and videos, and photography, and stories, that hopefully will inspire other people,” she said. “It might not be Uganda, but maybe it will be helping out people in Guatemala or going to India, or visiting Mexico and helping people out.”
On Tuesday, Feb. 12, Westview is hosting a major fundraiser for Ugandan orphans.
Elementary school students throughout Maple Ridge and Pitt Meadows are invited to the Give Your Heart Valentine’s Carnival at the school at 20905 Wicklund Ave.,
Supported by the Westview PAC, the event runs from 4:30-7:30 p.m. in Westview’s multi-purpose room.
The goal is to raise $5,000.
The carnival is geared towards kindergarten to Grade 5 students with activities such as Puppy Love (a petting zoo with exotic animals, including a boa constrictor, supplied by Cinemazoo) a Henna tattoo artist and facepainting, a silent auction for parents, and a bean bag toss, among other activities.
Westview woodshop teacher Andy Strothotte built giant games for the carnival.
Admission is $5 and each game costs 25 cents to play.