Intern Update: Return and Reflect

By Mia Hodges

It is hard to believe that just about a month ago I was finishing up my 5 weeks in Gulu. In some respects, it feels like ages ago that Allison, Saelar, and I visited the endearing community of Okumu and were given a chicken as a gift to thank us for what HCU’s micro-finance program has done in their lives. At home in Atlanta, it feels like even longer ago that we sat bemused and surprised as we then ate that chicken the next night for dinner. Yet, a few nights ago, when showing pictures to my family and describing the experiences I had in Gulu, it felt like just yesterday that the three of us were meeting with the children and women that are a part of the HCU community.


Although I loved working with HCU’s students on the weekends, I found that interacting with the women that HCU’s micro-finance program, Uplift, is currently supporting was the most rewarding part of my experience. While Allison, Saelar and I were in Gulu, we met with women in all three of the HCU-supported communities, and were welcomed into their homes with broad smiles and gracious hospitality.


As I told my family about the women who care for at times as many as eleven children through selling produce or working in quarries, they marveled at the diligent work ethic and passion these women have for supporting their families. As I showed them the pictures of these women in their huts, I remembered how they never failed to offer me a chair and express exuberant generosity to ensure that I felt welcome. After leaving, it was extremely rewarding to know that our time in Gulu helped contribute to the expansion of the Uplift program, thereby continuing to support the hardworking women of these various communities.


Upon reflection, I look back on my time in Gulu as an incredible learning and perspective-widening experience.  It is so great to see the continued developments that the current interns are making now, between the opening of House of Hope and the new computer classes that are being conducted there.  I am so fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with the amazing HCU executive team and I have no doubt that Kevin, Ella, and Jamie will continue to lead HCU to an incredible future. I look forward to helping HCU expand, both in the USA and in Gulu!

Construction Update: Walls, Roof, Doors!

We are so excited to share our progress with you! Thanks to donations to our Globalgiving crowdfunding campaign, our team in Gulu has almost finished construction and we are looking to officially open the first Hope Center for classes in April. Since we hit 2018, we’ve finished walls and roofing for the building. Finishing touches like paint, electricity, and plumbing will be completed in the next few weeks.


Our Youth Literacy and Girl Power Gulu programs are continuing in rented space unitl our new center is officially open. We have seen a steady increase in particiption and success from the children enrolled in these programs, and look forward to expanding when we’re in our new space. Project Uplift, our microfinance and business training program, has also been doing very well, and is supporting 2,100 people in Gulu area with small loans and financial education.

We look forward to keeping you updated with our progress, and could not be more grateful for the impact your support has allowed us to make. We’re proud to show you the attached photos of the amazing things we’re accomplishing in Gulu!

Construction Update: Ground Levelling & Foundation

Because of many generous contributions to our GlobalGiving crowdfunding initiative, we raised $15,403 to build Hope Center Uganda’s first resource center. We have already begun construction, and by April 2017, HCU will be able to reach hundreds more children through education courses in a brand new facility!

In late October, funds were disbursed to our Program Director, Kevin Okumu, who is overseeing the levelling of the land and the construction of the Center. With the help of our hired engineer, Kumakech Denis, and the Denflo construction crew, we hired machinery and bought fill to level the land.

The construction team started working on the foundation the first week of December, and Denflo estimates that the walls of the structure will be completed before the end of the year. In the meantime, HCU’s programs continue in our rented space. The 70 children enrolled in our literacy program will continue to recieve English, computer science, and arts classes, while the adults and families enrolled in Project Uplift, which impacts 2,100 people in Gulu, receive monthly loans and personal finance trainings. And our monthly Girl Power Gulu sanitary pad distribution and menstrual health education program continues to impact the lives of 130 local girls and teens.

We look forward to keeping you updated with our progress, and could not be more grateful for the impact your support has allowed us to make. We’re proud to show you the attached photos of the amazing things you’re accomplishing in Gulu!

Intern Update: October

My first few weeks in Gulu have been great to say the least. Although my attempts to learn the local language have stalled I’ve learnt plenty more. I think  I can say that I know my way around town and have slipped into a good routine. Ive begun to sink my teeth into a draft strategic plan for HCU after getting a grasp of the organisation on the ground; what it does, how it functions, who’s involved etc.

Like anywhere else, weekends are the best part of the week. Not because I get to blow off some steam at a party but because I get to teach my HCU class on Saturday and Sunday afternoon. I wont lie and say I wasn’t a little nervous with my first solo classes over the students but any sense of nervousness dissipated on my second weekend when I arrived to find a few of the kids having spelt my name out on the blackboard – whether or not they meant it I took it as a sign of affection.

I did encounter one challenge that I didn’t foresee when teaching the class. In an attempt to curry some favour for myself (and also because I need any excuse to eat some chocolate myself) I told the class that I’d bring some chocolate to the next weeks class. When the day finally came, to great anticipation, I brought in some chocolate for the class. What I thought would’ve been an easy and happy enough task turned slightly sour as some children from the other class got wind of it and came down to get some as well. I tried to accommodate as many as possible but some went without which left a bad taste in my mouth about something that should’ve been a happier event.

Resolute to fix the issue next weekend I brought in some more chocolate for myself and the class but distributed it in a lot more controlled fashion. While this solved the problem it reinforced a thought of mine that good intentions aren’t always enough when it comes to helping. You need to have a plan and implement it correctly to avoid unforeseen consequences and achieve your desired outcomes – a good lesson when approach future programs within HCU I’m sure!


Written by Harry Marshall

Intern Update: First Impressions

By Harry Marshall

I’ve always found arriving in a new city or country at night is unsettling. You struggle to get your bearings because everything is either dark or lit up by brownish-yellow florescent streetlights. So arriving in Kampala at 9:00PM at night and the subsequent 6-hour drive to Gulu didn’t really allow me to get my bearings until morning.

Uganda was infinitely different to what my mind imagined the night before. Saying that, I honestly don’t know what I was expecting before I arrived and I prefer it that way when I’m going to new places. It allows you to enjoy every new aspect you’re faced with instead of making comparisons to some made up place in your mind. The one thing that my imagination would never have been able to think up was the sheer beauty of the natural environment. The landscape was contrasted between the green of the environment and the brown soil of the earth, all against the backdrop of the immensely blue African sky.

This isn’t my first trip to Africa however something that I must’ve forgotten in the last 10 years since I was last here was how friendly everyone is. Always eager to ask how your and laugh at a joke; if sometimes are your expense. Innocent, Kevin’s husband, is a fine example of this. I don’t think he can manage a sentence without laughing mid-stream at one thing or another.

The first weekend’s HCU classes with the kids was a genuine treat. Kevin introduced me to the older class first then took me to the middle and young class afterwards. After jumping the first hurdle with the kids as to how to pronounce my name Kevin and Mirriam left me armed with nothing but a red pen to manage the class and do some marking of their earlier work. Immediately I remembered the power of a red pen to primary school children from my own school days; a tick here, an enthusiastic ‘100%’ there and I was fairly sure I would manage the next hour or so.

The next day on the Sunday was my baptism by fire. Kevin and Mirriam left me with the older class for the entire class running through a few English exercises. Surprisingly I absolutely loved it (and I hope the kids took some enjoyment from it as well). Kevin seemed to think I did a good enough job to merit taking the upper class more regularly which will also free Mirriam up to take more specialised technology classes with small groups of the students.




Fundraising Update: WE DID IT! Let’s Keep Building Together!

We are so happy and proud to announce that thanks to over 70 generous donors, we have successfully surpassed our fundraising goal! This means HCU will be able to build our first-ever youth resource center, providing vocational training, public health, and arts classes to at least 400 additional youth every year in Gulu.

Our target of $8,403 ensured we would be able to build a bare-bones basic structure, but raising the additional money since then is key as it allowed us enough funds to cover plumbing and toilets- pretty crucial infrastructure costs we are glad to have out of the way. Any additional funds donated from now on will supply furniture and classroom materials to the center, so that when we open, it will be a beautiful space for learning and creativity.

GlobalGiving disburses the money in late October, so we will plan to begin construction in early November. The primary stage will be levelling the land, followed by transportation of building materials and of course, covering labor costs. Levelling the land will be done in a very cost-effective way: thanks to our program directors’ close links with the community, we have secured a low price for the dirt and debris used to level the land, since we will be buying it from local construction companies working on clearing land for roads.

To everyone that shared and donated, thank you so much. To those who weren’t able to, we are still grateful for your support. We look forward to taking on this next step in our journey with the support of this huge family, and we cannot wait to keep you updated over the next few months!  For anyone looking to get involved or reach out to us, please don’t hesitate.

Fundraising Update: Race for Matching Funds Starts TOMORROW!

We’re overjoyed with pride and gratitude to announce that we have been awarded a BONUS DAY through the GlobalGiving Accelerator!

Tomorrow, Sept. 19, from 9am-11:59pm EDT, every donation made to our project through this link will be matched by 20% from funding provided by corporate sponsors. If you haven’t donated yet, this is a great time to see how far your money can really go!

There are only $10,000 available in matching funds, so the earlier and more you donate, the higher the impact you will have on empowering young people in Uganda. Beyond that, there is a $1,000 cash prize for the organization who raises the most during the bonus day- a bonus bonus that we would love to put to good use for classroom materials, furniture, and additional laptops for our children.

Thanks to you all, we are ranked #9 out of the 629 projects competing in this program! In only 8 days, we have already raised $5,466 from an incredible 34 donations- our goal of $8,403 is looking more attainable every day! We look forward to keeping each of you updated with the impact you’re helping us to make on the future of Gulu.


Fundraising Update: $5k in 2 Weeks. Let’s Build a Youth Center!



Hope Center Uganda has grown so much this year, adding new children to our literacy program, starting a women’s health/education program, Girl Power Gulu, and partnering with local artists to provide drawing, dance, and fashion classes to our kids. However, our programming development has to be matched by fundraising development, and we are excited to be in our final step towards achieving the sustainable revenue model that will allow us limitless potential for future growth.

August was a deadline-driven month spent balancing duties on the ground in Gulu with fundraising responsibilities. We applied to GlobalGiving’s September Accelerator program, submitting all our financial documents, legal documents, testimonies from local community members, and several past reports for vetting.

Finally, at the end of the month, our work paid off and we we were accepted to the program. Now, we have to raise at least $5,000 from at least 40 donors between September 11 and September 29. If we don’t hit these goals, we won’t receive any of the money and Global Giving will not allow us to remain on their platform until we pass through next month’s Accelerator.

It’s crucial that we pass the accelerator because the sooner our project is funded, the sooner we can build the first Hope Center, achieving our goal of creating self-sustaining education programs and community. We will be able to bring in revenue through a wifi café and artisan shop, which will provide vocational training for local adults as well as a way to sell handmade crafts that we teach our students to make. It is key that we pass the accelerator because GlobalGiving offers learning tools and opportunities for growth, providing accepted organizations with access to corporate sponsors, matching funds, and more.

Donations are tax-deductible and are accepted starting September 11 at 9:00am EDT. The closer we are to reaching our fundraising goal, the higher our ranking on the website, so the sooner one donates, the better our chances of reaching our goal. Thank you for your support, please consider sharing or contributing to our project to help us reach our goal!

Follow or share the below link to help change some lives!



In the Classroom: Annual Field Day!

By Kate Culbertson:


On Sunday, August 6th, HCU had its annual field day and I am so happy that I got the chance to take part. This year the team had Hope Center t-shirts made for both the kids and the staff. The t-shirts turned out great and have promoted the values of HCU throughout the Gulu community, turning heads and giving the organization a little bit of extra publicity. Before arriving to the classroom, we picked up some snacks and refreshments for the kids, which for many of them was the only food they received that day. As soon as we walked in and carried the supplies with us, the kids were overjoyed.

Field day is a way of rewarding the kids and giving them a balance between work and play in the HCU program. In the field outside of the classroom, we organized different games such as soccer and tag for the kids. I was so excited to see that all of the kids were playing fair and with a great deal of enthusiasm. Field day is important in teaching the kids how to work well in teams and support each other’s achievements in an environment outside of the classroom.

We continued to pass out each of their Hope t-shirts, which many of them continue to wear on a daily basis. We loved this opportunity to provide positive reinforcement for the children who continue to attend classes at HCU, when they could easily skip. One of our main goals as an organization is to keep these kids wanting to come back with a drive to learn, and maintain a regular attendance rate.

A few older boys who had stopped attending HCU classes several months ago showed up at the field day, trying to take advantage of the fun day of games, free t-shirts and snacks. They realized that learning at the Hope Center isn’t just about sitting in the classroom but is a fun, fulfilling program with numerous activities to encourage growth. We told them that these gifts and activities were only for the children who had been attending lessons, and that if they started attending again they’d be eligible for next year’s field day. The next day we held classes and every day since, these boys have had perfect attendance. This is the kind of encouragement we aim for in the long run; encouragement that gets more and more kids returning to their classes and off the streets. It is key that they stay motivated and determined to get the best education possible for whatever opportunities that lie ahead of them.


In the Classroom: Mental Health

By Kate Culbertson


Arriving in Entebbe Airport on July 29th was extremely exciting and quite nerve racking. I couldn’t wait to meet all the HCU kids and get the chance to work alongside the inspirational team of women making this educational vision a reality here in Gulu, Uganda. Walking into the classroom, I couldn’t fight the large grin that stretched across my face.

These kids show a contagious excitement and drive to learn in this class environment. Instead of finding seats in the back and hiding themselves from the teacher, these kids attending the Hope Center fight for their place in the front row. As I began teaching my first lesson, the kids fell into complete silence and stared up attentively.

We started discussing the importance of expressing our emotions and understanding mental health in our day-to-day lives. With everything that these kids have gone through, it is key to eliminate the negative stigma here placed on revealing “unfavorable” mental health. By this, I mean we aim to teach them how valuable the freedom of expression is for their well-being. Especially for the boys who feel a certain amount of pressure to maintain a “manly” image by keeping their feelings and concerns to themselves.

Throughout the lesson, I was continuously impressed by their knowledge and ability to think critically in a language other than their own. It is extremely important to the team of HCU that these kids have a comfortable learning environment where they can voice both their feelings and opinions within the Gulu community. An open discourse of mental health is essential in the process of academic growth, especially for these young kids in such a vulnerable stage of life.

It is also crucial that each of the kids understands the ways in which their own frustrations can directly and indirectly impact those around them. Nevertheless, I have found since being here in Gulu, there is a mutual respect within the community that is often hard to find elsewhere in the world. When the class was over, we asked how the kids feel when they come to Hope Center Uganda: they applauded in appreciation and some of them even got out of their seats, dancing and waving their arms in joy.