EDUCATION TRANSFORMS LIVES. This Holiday Season we are celebrating a decade of changing the lives of children living in extreme poverty by sharing some success stories with you.
Before i.HUG: Grace’s family could not afford school fees after her father passed.
Today: She is a top performer in her new school and ran for Head Girl student. There is now hope in her eyes for a better future.
Grace was a young student living in the Wakiso District, outside the capital city of Uganda. Her performance in school was impressive, particularly as her home life grew progressively more difficult.
In her small dilapidated home, Grace lives with her mother, grandmother, aunt, 2 cousins and 2 siblings, and sleeps on the floor. There is no running water or electricity. There is never enough food to eat.
Grace’s mother had become the family’s sole provider after her father passed away a few years ago. At one point, she was making ends meet supporting the family as a casual laborer, digging. But as her HIV/AIDS progressed, she lost a lot of weight and became sickly, coughing so hard into a handkerchief that her whole body shook. She could no longer work.
Grace’s grades began to slip, as she felt her future slipping away. Eventually, there was no more money left for school fees.
Grace was lucky enough to be sponsored and enrolled this year into i.HUG’s program and began attending the Saturday club at Tooto Wetu’s offices near her home. She received tutoring, counseling, and a meal to eat. She loved it so much, she came by all the time to play in the grassy compound and take out books and toys from the shelves. When she was there, she felt safe and protected, and she could talk to staff about some of the stresses she was dealing with in her dark and crowded home.
When it came time to start school again, Grace was ready. She joined Good Hearts Primary School this year as a sixth grader.
Rather than shy and nervous, Grace was full of ambition and confidence, determined to make the most of her chance. Just shortly after starting school, she even set out to run for the position of Head Girl. She put together a poster for her school campaign. Her campaign slogan was “All qualities of good leadership.”
Grace didn’t win the elections—but that wasn’t important. What is was Grace’s confidence and ambition to try. She wasn’t letting the burdens of her family, her community, or even of herself stop her. Rather, she was looking forward, to hope, to learn, and to lead. She has hope for the future—and girls like Grace give us hope for the future too.
10 Years Ago: Vanessa’s family fell apart and she had little hope to ever have the chance to go to school.
Today: She is closer to attaining her dream of becoming a teacher—and helping her siblings reach their dreams as well.
Vanessa was the second child to be sponsored by The i.HUG Foundation at the age of 6. She would face tremendous obstacles in her life, but with the support of i.HUG Foundation and its partners, she was able to overcome them and stay in school.
Vanessa lived in a small, dilapidated half brick, half cement shack with no door, in a dangerous slum outside of Kampala. She lived there with her father (a lorry/taxi driver), mother, sister, two brothers and another young child, whom her mother took in, a common occurrence in an area with high mortality rates.
Vanessa would be the first in her family to attend school. After being sponsored, she
immediately began to thrive. Academically, she did very well and physically, she was improving as she gained the weight she needed to now that she was eating a meal each day. Over time, i.HUG was able to find sponsors for her older sister, brothers and the young girl as well. Despite the hardships of every day life, Vanessa was feeling much happier and hopeful.
But then, her father left the family to be with another woman and would no longer provide for the children. Her mother fell very ill and could no longer care for them. Vanessa’s mother moved back to her village, hours away, leaving the eldest sister as the head of household at the age of 16. The four children were forced to move into even smaller, less secure shelter.
Vanessa’s older brother eventually dropped out of school and disappeared into a life of drugs and crime. The children often didn’t know where he even was. To keep the rest of the family safe, Vanessa found herself looking out for the younger children as best as she could at such a young age.
More struggles would arrive when, a few years later, their mother sadly passed away unexpectedly. Vanessa felt even more alone in the world, her grades began to slip and the stress took its toll on her health.
Since her mom’s passing, she would go on to move houses another three times, change schools four times, and was split up from her siblings. This would be too much for any young child to bear. However, Vanessa had access to a supportive network at i.HUG, which helped to guide her and her family through these challenges and deal with the stress that was making her sick.
Today, she is still working hard at her studies and sometimes work, if she can find it, to make a little bit of money when school is not in session to pay for clothes and necessities for her and her two young siblings.
Vanessa is working towards the goal of becoming a school teacher. She is in her fourth year in secondary school—her dream within grasp and i.HUG is there to support her and help her achieve that dream and turn it into a reality in the near future.
10 Years Ago: Patrick spent his days home, alone, there was no money for school.
Today: He has completed his secondary education and will soon complete his training to be a chef.
Patrick remembers when his sponsor’s daughter came to visit him in Uganda. His mother was away at work, as a cleaner at a local hotel, and although he was just a small boy he was home alone.
Patrick had become used to this scenario of loneliness and insecurity. Before he was sponsored, he had started to miss school, as his mother could no longer afford to pay his school fees. He says those days— before he was sponsored and a regular student— are hard to remember, like a person who lived a different life.
But the day his visitor arrived, he said, he will never forget. She brought him some small items— soap, a toothbrush, and three shiny Matchbox toy cars. Patrick had never had any toys. He could hardly believe that he could own something so special. He stored them carefully on a shelf, gingerly bringing them out on occasion, making sure they never strayed too far when friends took a turn playing with them.
Patrick talked for almost an hour about how much those little cars meant to him— not just as a young boy, but throughout his whole life. From his interrupted education, Patrick often struggled in school. He couldn’t always stay focused, especially when his mother lost her job and they didn’t know what they would do for money.
But each day, when he came home, he looked at those cars, and they gave him hope. He felt there was someone out there rooting for him, and he knew he had to keep trying.
Today, Patrick is excited about his daily work and his future. He graduated not only from Primary school but also Secondary school. He began a catering course and is now interning at one of the few restaurants in Uganda that make pizza. Patrick wants to open up his own pizza shop one day. He said when he wears his Chef whites, he feels extremely proud and grateful for the gift of education he was lucky to receive.
For i.HUG’s 10th anniversary party, he traveled more than 7 hours to be there and spent the afternoon entertaining the children, staff, parents and some Board Members in from the U.S. on the drums. He goes back home and teaches music to younger children, encouraging them, and giving whatever money he can to his mother and other children in need in the community where he grew up.
10 Years Ago: David survived by stealing, selling drugs and fighting.
Today: David is still using his fists—but now as a personal boxing trainer. He volunteers and gives back, encouraging children that they too can change their lives.
At first, we were unsure if David would succeed, even with all the support in our program. He had come from an extremely difficult background. His family survived by stealing and selling drugs. And at a very young age, David followed this pattern as well. He got very good at using his fists to protect himself.
David had experienced and absorbed so much trauma in his young life, that it had a profound and negative effect on him.
He was much older than the other children in his primary school class, and he struggled to learn. When he became frustrated, he would fight with the children, with teachers—with anyone that would fight him back. And then shortly after, he would run away and begin working with his brothers, rebelling to a situation that he knew well but could destroy his future. i.HUG’s staff would eventually find him and return him to school where he repeatedly worked hard with the staff to stay put and feel encouraged.
Year after year, i.HUG and its partners continued to counsel, and educate him. He became less angry, stopped fighting, and at last, began to see a future for himself. He managed to graduate primary school and even vocational school. He changed his life.
Today, David still works by using his fists— but now as a trainer at a gym. He teaches boxing for sport and exercise and through that, earns enough money to supports himself.
He also gives back, encouraging other children that can’t imagine a better life for themselves.
At i.HUG’s 10th anniversary party in Uganda last Spring, David was there early, helping set up the event. He had a question he just needed to ask: “What would move a person to help someone like me? To help children that others had forgotten?”
David, who rarely let his guard down, got tears in his eyes. “I couldn’t imagine I would have a life worth living. Please tell them thank you, and that I will never let them down.”
10 Years Ago: Elizabeth had little chance of learning to read or write.
Today: She is nearing completion of secondary school and is poised to take on the future.
By the age of six, it was clear that, without help, Elizabeth would not have the chance to go to school. She lived in a mud house with her mother, grandmother and older sister, all who lived on the wages earned by her mother selling matoke, a Ugandan plantain.
Elizabeth was sponsored in 2006 and was thrilled at the chance to finally be able to go to school. It gave her so much hope. On her sponsorship profile, Elizabeth said she wanted to be a doctor. She also said her favorite job at home was cooking. She didn’t know her birthday.
Elizabeth overcame so many challenges of extreme poverty to stay in school. Each day, she would walk almost 2 miles to get to class. However, through i.HUG’s program, she felt she was walking toward a better future. She benefited from the daily school lunch and other programs i.HUG and its partners offered. Elizabeth has a beautiful smile and had a chance to show it.
Over the decade of support, Elizabeth and her family have improved their lives. That was especially the case since her mother began to earn more income. Through an i.HUG program, Elizabeth’s mom lead the development of a women’s craft group, where mothers came together to learn how to create jewelry and other crafts and also to receive counseling and support one another. The program helped give skills and confidence to mothers. Elizabeth’s mother thrived. She was able to create beautiful things. With that skill, she set up a small business and supplements her income by selling crafts to tourists and other visitors.
Elizabeth is in her fourth year of Secondary School and excited about the future. On weekends, she mentors and helps run i.HUG’s Saturday program, where younger children come for academic enrichment, food and healthcare, fun – and also just to be children for awhile. She sees the possibility of going to University in the near future and beams with pride at how different her and her family’s life is because of the support of The i.HUG Foundation over the past 10 years.
10 Years Ago: Michael was scared and angry, unsure about his future.
Today: He is a top academic performer and a leader at home and at school.
Michael spent his first years of life mostly on the streets of a slum outside of Kampala, a difficult life filled with poverty including hunger, violence, and hopelessness. His parents often weren’t there for the 4 children in his family. Michael’s father was rarely around and when he was, treated the children poorly. His mother couldn’t always provide for the them. Instead, Michael became the man of the house at a very young age.
Unfortunately, this is all too common in Uganda, where parents are not there to care for their children and nurture their basic needs.
In 2008, Michael was sponsored through the i.HUG Foundation and had a chance at a new life—starting with gaining an education.
But Michael wrestled with many challenges. He came to school with bruises or even burn marks from punishments at home. He often acted out in class and fought with other children. He was angry and keeping it inside.
He needed a lot of counseling and support—which he was able to receive, as well as a network of people to help him overcome his challenges.
Today, Michael is a star academic performer. He is considered to be a leader at school and also gives back to i.HUG. For our 10 Year Anniversary Party in Uganda, Michael performed in an acrobatic dance troupe, getting cheers from the crowd for his daring flips and other stunts.
In 2015, he graduated from primary school. He was placed in Division 1 in his Primary Leaving Examinations [PLE] – less than 10% of all children who sit the PLE get a division 1, the highest levels of grades – when Michael sat it was approx 8% of candidates. Now, he is in secondary school and continuing to excel. He also has enough strength to be a responsible brother to his sisters, always trying to protect and help them.
We are still cheering for Michael. We are excited to continue to support Michael and see how successful he will be.
10 Years Ago: Faridah was the first child to join i.HUG’s program and was able to attend school.
Today: She has tackled many challenges and is now studying to become an accountant.
Faridah was a young girl living in a corrugated tin shack with her mother and sister outside Uganda’s capital city, Kampala. Food was scarce and there was no running water or electricity. Her mother sold charcoal to earn money and the family’s living space was so small they had to sleep on top of the charcoal at night.
In Uganda, 75% of the population lives on less than $2 a day. More than 50% of Ugandan children exist in absolute poverty, characterized by the severe deprivation of basic human needs (including food, water, sanitation facilities, health, and information)*. Many children do not attend school, or if they do, they struggle because they are hungry, sick, or lack other basic necessities. With classrooms often filled with 100 or more children, schools in Uganda are not able to support vulnerable children.
Faridah’s situation made her fearful and apprehensive, and she rarely spoke. When she did use her voice, it was a faint whisper. Like many children living in poverty, Faridah was traumatized by her circumstances and suffered from low confidence and self-esteem. She never pictured herself attending school and could not imagine what her future held. She dreamed of maybe one day of selling phone cards or cleaning houses.
In 2006, Faridah was identified by The i.HUG Foundation and was given the chance to attend primary school. This opportunity, coupled with the support she would receive from i.HUG, would change the course of her life forever.
Faridah thrived in the i.HUG program and started to develop a voice, both literally and figuratively. She is now extremely well-spoken and communicates confidently. You can also see much happiness in her, as she now has a vision for her life beyond the shack in which she grew up. But her journey highlights many of the struggles that Ugandan children face; one week before her high school graduation exam, Faridah came down with typhoid and malaria.
With help from an i.HUG-supported nurse and access to food and medicine, Faridah was able to take the test and pass. She became one of a few Ugandan girls to graduate from high school (less than 2% of youth complete secondary school, and even fewer are girls*). She went on to attend university in 2016, and is working to start her own business so she can earn income while attending school. She hopes to employ other i.HUG students and help them achieve similar success.
With the support and opportunities offered by i.HUG, Faridah has learned to use the power of her voice and the power of education to overcome many obstacles. She is now a confident woman who can look ahead with hope, imagining many possibilities for her future.
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of our sponsored children