May 26 2009

SOS Children's Village Gulu in Uganda officially opened

Ground-breaking ceremony in Fort Portal

25/05/2009 - It was a weekend to remember in Gulu, northern Uganda, as Helmut Kutin, the President of SOS Children's Villages, inaugurated the new SOS Children's Village, the third in Uganda, on 17 May.

Photo: SOS Archives
At his arrival President Kutin greets the children of Gulu with ‘high-fives' - Photo: Hilary Atkins

It was with great excitement that dancing and singing children welcomed Helmut Kutin, worldwide President of SOS Children's Villages, to the new SOS Children's Village Gulu on Sunday 17 May. The inauguration of the village took place in hot and humid temperatures under heavy skies filled with impending rain. The guest of honour was the Ugandan Minister of Gender, Culture and Social Development, Gabriel Opiyo, representing the President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni. Also present were Betty Achan, the local Member of Parliament, and the Resident District Commissioner, Walter Ocholla, as well as SOS Children's Villages Uganda board members, and regional and national co-workers.

Small but important beginnings

Photo: SOS Archives
Children from the SOS Children's Village in Gulu dance during the opening ceremony - Photo: SOS Archives

Although SOS Children's Villages has had a presence in Gulu since 2002, it is only now that they can truly say that they are there permanently. In 2003 as children were slowly being rescued or released from captivity by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), SOS Children's Villages established an emergency relief programme for children either orphaned or unable to find their families. From that initial programme in a small three bedroom house, SOS Children's Villages went on to establish a temporary children's village on land donated by the municipality. The buildings were cramped but the land was spacious and the organisation was also able to open a social and medical centre for the high number of HIV/AIDS affected families in the area and a day care centre for children under five to allow their parents to go out to work.

Meanwhile the number of children in the temporary village grew and a decision was made to build a permanent children's village in Gulu, especially considering the fact that the LRA was no longer operating in northern Uganda and life was slowly returning to normal. There were many children who were victims of the war who could benefit as well as children who were orphaned due to the endemic poverty and the high incidence of HIV/AIDS and other communicable diseases.

Co-workers join in the dancing

Photo: SOS Archives
Cutting the ribbon at a family house during the inauguration - Photo: SOS Archives
So the recent commissioning of the new children's village on land not far from the temporary village was cause for real celebration, especially for the mothers and over 100 children who had been living in the temporary facility. It also allows the SOS Social and Medical Centre and the SOS Day Care Centre space to expand if necessary.

Speeches from guests were punctuated by singing and dancing from many performers including the children and their SOS mothers and members of the local community. Warrior dances as practised by the local Acholi people provided great drama especially when local co-workers, including the accountant dressed in suit, could not resist joining in; and at one stage all the children were invited to dance as a Ugandan singer sang about the situation of children in Africa, especially those still in captivity or living in war torn regions.

Acknowledging the donors and volunteers

In his speech Helmut Kutin acknowledged the generosity of the donors who financed the new village especially those of SOS Children's Villages Netherlands (SOS-Kinderdorpen). He also mentioned the young Canadian volunteers from Concordia University who have been assisting with the SOS Family Strengthening Programme in Gulu for the last two years, especially in building houses for the community.

It was a dynamic and energetic day for all who attended as the people of Gulu welcomed the opening of the new children's village and the children and mothers proudly showed them around.

The ground is broken at Fort Portal

Photo: Hilary Atkins
Children from the community gather to watch the celebrations in Fort Portal - Photo: Hilary Atkins

Only a day after attending the inauguration in Gulu, President Kutin drove west to the town of Fort Portal where he officiated at the ground-breaking ceremony for the fourth Ugandan SOS Children’s Village.

Three hours from Kampala, Fort Portal lies in the traditional Ugandan kingdom of Toro, on the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), marked by the unbroken line of the Ruwenzori Mountains. Despite the fertile land with large tea plantations and the old colonial buildings dotted throughout the town, the area is poor and the need is great due mainly to a high incidence of HIV and other communicable diseases (including ebola), rebel activity in the area, and historic imbalances that have left many impoverished people in this land of apparent plenty.

Strong involvement from the community

Photo: Hilary Atkins
Helmut Kutin is planting a tree at the planned site of the new village - Photo: Hilary Atkins
The ground-breaking ceremony was a special occasion in the area of Butebe, just outside Fort Portal, and was attended by many people from the local community including district and council officials and the local Member of Parliament. The leader of the local council, a young man called Chrisa Manyire, delivered a welcoming speech in which he said, to much applause, that the local government recognises civil society as partners in development, giving the Butebe community, a “sense of ownership in this project”.

President Kutin welcomed the strong community involvement for the project which has already begun with the SOS Family Strengthening Programme in Fort Portal, which plans to target about 1,600 children across the region. He committed SOS Children’s Villages to sustainable action for the benefit of vulnerable children and others who may be at risk. In addition the SOS Children’s Village Fort Portal will provide a home for at least 120 children without parental care.  The proposed SOS Children’s Village is expected to open in 2010.