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The children of Sonrise

For more than two years, Henkel employee Gabriele Haak has been a volunteer in the three orphanages of the Christian initiative “Sonrise Ministries” in Uganda. Several times a year, she devotes herself there with great compassion to children without parents.

Gabriele Haak with one-year-old Betty, who lives in the Sonrise Baby’s Home. The volunteer work obviously gives her great joy.

A 15-year-old girl becomes pregnant unintentionally. She never reveals the name of the father. The young mother dies during the birth of her daughter. The child is given to her grandmother. However, she herself must take care of her own children and her husband, who is suffering from cancer. She has no regular income. The pastor of the church learns of the severely undernourished child and informs Sister Damali, the director of the “Sonrise Baby’s Home,” who saves the child. Without this initiative, this tiny child with the name “Gift” probably would not have survived.

As many families in Uganda live in extreme poverty, Gift’s fate is not uncommon. Such families are often unable to find any solution other than placing their children in the care of orphanages.

The facilities of the Sonrise initiative are located in Jinja, a city in the southeast of the country with a population of approximately 100,000. Due to its location on Lake Victoria, the city is economically fairly well developed. In comparison with the surrounding region, there are many jobs. But innumerable people who come to Jinja looking for opportunity land in the slums of Masese, in the outskirts of the city – a place laden with hopelessness. Many of the orphans who have found a new home in the Sonrise residences also come from here. 

The infectious joy of the children in the Sonrise Children’s Home. Henkel employee Roberto Pela won this year’s photo competition of the “MIT – Make an Impact on Tomorrow” initiative with this picture.

For Gabriele Haak, the time she spends there means more than just social engagement: “In the course of time, the children and their caregivers have become a second family for me.” When she was in school, she most wanted to become an aid worker. But she lost track of this plan for a while. Haak has been working for Henkel for 27 years now. She is currently an assistant in adhesives development. She especially likes the diverse tasks her job involves. But the desire to do something for other people still remained. As a volunteer helper at the 2014 Special Olympics in Düsseldorf, she learned of the “Make an Impact on Tomorrow” (MIT) initiative from her co-workers and of the possibility that Henkel could support her volunteer work.

“When my 14-year-old niece was giving English lessons as a volunteer in Ghana, I said to myself: If a young person can do this, then I can, too,” says Haak. “But the first step is always the hardest.” An agency for volunteering helped her to put her wish for social engagement into practice and took over the placement process. By now, Haak organizes her trips independently.

At the beginning, she found it very difficult to decide on a project. “You can hardly tell who is most urgently in need of help.” The connection with the Sonrise orphanages was more of a random choice. But the friendly and open-minded people in Jinja did away with any doubts she might have had. “The children were so much in need of love.”

“Sometimes you just don’t have enough fingers for all the children who want to hold on to them,” says Gabriele Haak with glowing eyes.

After a short briefing, she could immediately begin to help in the orphanages. “This is so necessary, too, because every helping hand is urgently needed.”

Early in the morning, she usually helps Auntie Peace, a 62-year-old woman who is selflessly devoted to caring for the youngest infants at the Sonrise Baby’s Home. The caregiver sleeps in a room with as many as six of the 30 small children, whose ages range between a few weeks and three years. “There is no way to get any sleep,” explains Haak. “The children are often left here shortly after they are born. The smallest of them need a great deal of affection and intensive care.”

Gabriele Haak’s help is also needed in the construction of the new buildings. She helps the construction workers with smaller tasks and assists them with laying bricks or painting the walls. “I also help out in the kitchen. Usually there is rice and beans for lunch,” reports Haak. “With so many children, things can get really chaotic at lunch.” In the afternoon, she helps the children in the Children’s Home with their homework.  

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Four children from the Sonrise Baby’s Home (from the left): Joshua, Tumwebaze, Robert and Mercy

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Secondary school lessons and help with homework at the Children’s Home

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Gabriele Haak and the caretakers sort the donated clothes from Germany according to their sizes and then distribute them to the children. 

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Gabriele Haak helps wherever she can – such as here in the construction of the new school building.

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“Is it real?” During a visit in Masese, the children examined Henkel employee Roberto Pela’s nose.

Gabriele Haak not only became fond of the children. She is also convinced of the value of the project: “I found the work with the children to be a rewarding experience from the very beginning. I admire the dedication of the founders and the caregivers, almost all of whom grew up without a family themselves. They nurture the children as if they were their own.” In her spare time, Haak collects money and clothing donations in Germany. “I think of the project every day. And I stay in touch with the caretakers all the time through phone calls or texts.”

Haak is especially pleased at how quickly the organization has grown. At the present time, several additional construction projects are progressing in Jinja, as well as in neighboring Wakikoola and in Abutanula, two hours away by car. One of these is the development of the “Mirembe Cottage of Street Girls” orphanage, a girls-only home. Twenty-seven girls are living in the building which is currently being rented. Almost twice as many young women could live in the organization’s own new building. The Sonrise Children’s Home, which was founded in 2010 and currently accommodates 48 children between the ages of four and twelve, will also be expanded with the new building so that it can offer more children a home and an education. This will include a new school building, for example, that will have space for eight school classes. 

At the moment, Haak is involved in a project that is especially meaningful to her: the construction of a well that will ensure that the Sonrise Baby’s Home will have a constant supply of clean drinking water. The prize money won in the MIT photo competition by Haak and her co-worker Roberto Pela, who is also committed to the Sonrise Ministries, will be used completely for the well project. Pela works in technical customer service for industrial adhesives at Henkel and heard of the project through Gabriele Haak. He was so impressed by the project and Haak’s dedication to it that he began supporting the Sonrise Ministries himself in 2015 as well.

Haak will be flying to Uganda again in December 2016. “I am already excited about seeing how far the construction work on the various projects has progressed. But most of all, I am looking forward to seeing the children.”   

Additional information: www.sonrise-uganda.de