by Sarah Craighead Dedmon
Kristen Johnson said that a chance meeting with a stranger led her to create a charity that cares for Ugandan street children. “It’s a strange story. I actually met a person that became a very dear friend of mine on Facebook, he lives in Africa,” she said. “His name is Moses and his parents had died, and left him to care for his younger brothers and sisters when he was only 14.”
“We got chatting, and I just felt in my heart that I needed to help. So I went over by myself,” she said. Moses served as a youth pastor in Uganda, where Johnson travelled in 2013. “Just to check it out, and see what the needs were. I thought, no one here is going to believe me unless I go and see with my own eyes,” she said.
What she saw made her want to help the street children, who are treated as menaces in their communities. “They just live out on the streets and don’t have anybody who loves them,” she said. “My husband and I thought, how can we [help]?” Johnson posted on Facebook about the need she witnessed, and the charity grew from there. Little Hands of Hope is now a registered 501(c)(3), based in Machias.
The charity feeds and cares for street children in the town of Nyendo, Uganda. “Most of them are AIDS orphans,” said Johnson. Right now the organization provides food for anywhere from 40-100 children every night of the week.”
The costs associated with one week’s worth of food totals $155, before administrative fees such as Western Union costs. A local doctor donates his services on behalf of the children, and Little Hands pays for their medicines and medical supplies.
Last month, the charity completed construction of a building to house the children in the small village of Bulando, located approximately 7 miles from Nyendo. The home sits on 5 acres of land. “The big house is completed, they’re working on the pit latrines now, and they’re working on the shower rooms,” said Johnson. “We’re going to start with 20 kids. When we get more caretakers, we’ll bring in 20 more. How can you turn kids away?”
Last week the children at the Larrabee Baptist Vacation Bible School (VBS) in Machiasport worked to raise funds to provide 20 beds and enough bedding for the children’s home, with each bed costing approximately $100. Paula Maker runs the week-long VSB. “Through the collections that the kids brought in everyday, we raised $1,020, which covers ten of the beds,” said Maker. “We have a closing program on Friday evening, and that collection amount was an additional $1036. The kids were so excited!”
Maker said that Johnson visited the school every day to show the children videos of the children in Uganda, and to teach them some of the language spoken at the children’s home, Luganda. “
“[Bulando] is a very poor village, there is no well for clean water in the whole village,” said Johnson, “So one of things we want to do soon...is to construct a well so the whole village can have clean water.” Johnson said estimates range between $4,000 and $9,000 for the well, depending on the required depth.
The charity also hopes to build a kitchen for the home, which could cost as much as $11,000.
This November, Johnson will travel back to Uganda with Aura Moore of Machiasport and three other people. “We are hopefully going to be able to go and welcome the children into the home,” said Johnson.
Moore said they hope to do a big mural on the home’s walls, using the handprints of the children who will live there.
For more information, visit www.littlehandsofhope.com.
Construction on the new children’s home in Bulando, Uganda was completed last month. The home will initially house 20 street children, but Johnson said she hopes to expand quickly. “How can you turn kids away?” she said. Photo courtesy Kristen Johnson.
Kristen Johnson of Machias posed for this picture during a trip to Uganda taken in March, 2015. “The kids made the sign as a sweet surprise for me to say ‘thank you’ for feeding them every night.” Photo courtesy Kristen Johnson. Story on page 5