LEHMAN TWP. – She talked of walking hours, not to go to school, just to be near one.
She spoke of children dying of malaria as the family walked for hours to get the nearest medicine.
She recounted a mother dying from HIV begging her family to adopt her daughter, lest she be raped and infected herself.
During a presentation at Penn State Wilkes-Barre Friday, Winnie Kiwalabye Namboyera painted a picture of life in her native Uganda, and of the help her project Mama Africa has given to the rural poor there. But she didn't ask for money.
I'm not fundraising, she said with a contagious smile, I'm friend-raising.
Raised in a slum with seven other siblings, a father in exile and a mother who turned increasingly to alcohol, Namboyera talked of how she would rise early and go to the school even though she couldn't attend.
A headmistress spotted her and ultimately got her into the classroom, but when school administration changed, she was denied access. That changed when her mother joined a Christian church and Namboyera exuberantly participated, particularly in singing.
A man at the church took notice, asked her to come to his office, which was a three-hour walk, and got her back into school. She went on to earn a degree in customs import and export, landing a job at an airport that paid $25 a month.
The East African country of 35 million has been the victim of wars both internally and in neighboring nations, as well as extensive political corruptions, an epidemic of HIV infections, and a backwards – by western standards – attitude toward women. We are abducted, Namboyera said. We are raped.
That $25 per month wasn't just her chance to break the cycle of poverty, it was the chance for her family, as she bartered with schools to let her siblings attend, then used the money to pay for books and supplies.
When a woman dying of HIV convinced Namboyera's mother to take her daughter Rita, she got a chance to go to school, as well.
The foundation of Mama Africa was built in my home, Namboyera said. Now the organization seeks donations as small as $25 to send a child to school for one month, or $50 to buy piglets for women who raise them, sell them to buy bricks and then sell the bricks to pay for their children's schooling.
Bigger donations help buy simple presses that let families make charcoal-style briquettes from waste paper and sawdust they can sell, a knitting machine so they can make clothing to sell, or land for Namboyera's ultimate goal, a vocational training center.
My dream is to see Mama Africa go on with or without me, she said.
While donations are welcome, Namboyera repeatedly stressed she wants friends and supporters.
We need people to work with us and to pray with us, she said. If you drop by in Africa you are more than welcome to come visit us.
To learn more about Mama Africa or sponsor a child, log on to: mamaafricaorganization.org.
To make a tax deductible contribution, log on to: globalgiving.org