The children of Sonrise – News from Uganda

Henkel employee Gabriele Haak from Germany supports orphanages

Commitment Culture Apr 11, 2018

For more than three 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.

Children and their caregivers learn the right techniques for brushing their teeth

Equipped with their own toothbrush and toothpaste, children and their caregivers learn the right techniques for brushing their teeth.

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 his 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 in Jinja, a city in the southeast of the country with a population of approximately 100,000 as well as in a town named Kamuli that is a two-hour drive from Jinja. The city of Jinja, where two initiatives are located, is economically well developed due to its location on the Lake Victoria. 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.

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 29 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 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 immediately did away with any doubts she might have had. “The children were so much in need of love.”

Playing with the visitors in Masese

Playing with the visitors in Masese always brightens the children’s day which is normally rather dreary.

After a short briefing, Haak 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, who gave her name to the association Peace’s Hope e.V. founded in 2017, 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 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.

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 caregivers all the time through phone calls or texts. When we established the Peace’s Hope initiative, I found many volunteers who support me in all respects.”

Haak is especially pleased at how quickly the organization has grown. At present time, several additional construction projects are progressing in Jinja, as well as in neighboring Wakikoola and in Kamuli. 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. Furthermore, the construction of another building belonging to the organization is almost completed. There will be room for up to 60 girls. The associated school has already opened its doors, but its bathroom facilities and a church are still under construction. “There is also a canteen kitchen and a dedicated building for the sewing class”, Haak reports. A new well that ensures a constant supply of clean drinking water is also already installed. Haak is optimistic that the remaining operations will be finished on schedule.

The new building for girls of the Mirembe Cottage of Street Girls

The new building for girls of the Mirembe Cottage of Street Girls.

The interior of the girl’s new residential building

The interior of the girl’s new residential building already looks promising.

The recently completed school building of the Mirembe Cottage of Streets Girls

The recently completed school building of the Mirembe Cottage of Streets Girls is already being used for classes.

The young pupils could hardly wait to attend the new school

The young pupils could hardly wait to attend the new school which was finally opened in February 2018.

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 and offers more children a home and an education. This includes a new school building, for example, that has room for eight school classes with 40 pupils each. Its construction was completed at the beginning of 2018. “By now, a well, two semidetached houses for boys, one semidetached house for girl, bathroom facilities and shower rooms were built”, said Gabriele Haak, visibly pleased with the developments.

Three semidetached houses belonging to the Sonrise Children’s Home

Three semidetached houses belonging to the Sonrise Children’s Home have been inhabited since February 2018.

The new school building belonging to the Sonrise Children’s Home

In Kamuli, the new school building belonging to the Sonrise Children’s Home offers room for eight school classes with 40 pupils each.

Wells for the Sonrise Baby’s Home

Haak is getting involved in the construction of wells for the Sonrise Baby’s Home – a project that is especially meaningful for her. Once enough money has been collected, the project can be completed.

In December 2017, Gabriele Haak visited Uganda again where she witnessed the huge progress of the different projects. “This time, we were in Uganda with a team of eight people of which six are working for Henkel”, Haak explained after her one-month visit in Africa. In the past few years, colleagues from China, Portugal, Spain, France, Italy and Germany stayed in Uganda as well. “The project is evolving into a real ‘Henkel project’.” 70 percent of Peace’s Hope’s members, for example, are working for Henkel. In addition, the number of volunteers for a team visit in Uganda or for active participation in Germany is increasing constantly.

Gabriele Haak is optimistic but has high expectations for the future as well. “I already planned my next visit.” She and her team are going to travel to Uganda again in December 2018.

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