2018-02-01 / Life in Leelanau

Local women lend helping hand, inspire hope for Ugandan families

By Jen Murphy
Of The Enterprise staff

WAVA HOFMANN learns about the craft of weaving from Ugandan woman. WAVA HOFMANN learns about the craft of weaving from Ugandan woman. Mary Taylor first journeyed to Uganda in 2010 with her birth daughter who was adopting a baby.

That’s when she knew she had to help.

“That was my first time in the (Bunga) slums. It was really eye-opening,” Taylor said. “I went to my adopted daughter Aggie’s house. At that time, she had four or five people living with her in the 10-by-10-foot space that was her home.”

When she returned to the U.S., Taylor became involved in a number of different organizations and finally found Kids First Uganda (KFU).

“It’s my kind of organization,” Taylor said. “It’s very grass-roots. It’s local. It’s me.”

At the time, the organization consisted of five or six Ugandan women who wanted to improve their lives. They taught crafts to one another.

JUDY YODER and Wava Hofmann walk back after visiting the slums of Bunga, Uganda. JUDY YODER and Wava Hofmann walk back after visiting the slums of Bunga, Uganda. What began as half dozen women trying to help each other has evolved into an organization spanning three countries on three continents: Uganda, New Zealand and the U.S.

Taylor started the non-profit KFUMichigan in 2015 and has been striving to change lives ever since.

“You can get overwhelmed,” she said. “There is so much need. I decided just one woman, one child at a time. That’s where I started. And we don’t give handouts. We give them a hand up. We make sure they learn a skill that will help them.”

After 40 hours of rigorous travel, three Leelanau County residents — Taylor, Judy Yoder and Wava Hofmann — recently returned home from a trip to Uganda for a first-hand look at the women and children they are helping through their work with KFU.

CHILDREN IN Bunga slums play in sewer water while containers holding drinking water balance all around them. CHILDREN IN Bunga slums play in sewer water while containers holding drinking water balance all around them. Locally, a seven-member board guides the efforts of the organization. Casey Bogart and Tamara Broad of Lake Leelanau, Hofmann and Sue Trumbull of Leland, Yoder of Suttons Bay and Joan Ursu of Cedar all serve on the board, which is chaired by Taylor, who lives in Lake Leelanau.

KFU programs, which serve more than 200 women and 235 children, currently have five initiatives.

Craft skill building involves a group of about 200 women who meet weekly to teach each other crafts. Finished crafts (bead necklaces, handbags, placemats and baskets) are shipped to Taylor, who sells them at local craft shows and events for $10 to $35. The women in Uganda who produce the items receive 100 percent of sales.

New this year is a vocational training program. Five women completed a competitive application process to participate in the training program to learn the art of tailoring. The design of the program is for the five women to teach others in the future. As the training program expands, classes in catering and cosmetology will also be available.

Through a sponsorship program, Leelanau County residents pay for school fees and supplies for many of the 35 children receiving aid. Sponsorships range from $225 to $450 per year, depending on grade level.

About 100 kids take part in the soccer program, which received its initial funding from a group of Leland Public School students, and more than 100 kids learn how to play instruments as part of a music program.

“All of our programs empower women and children,” Taylor said. “We can’t sponsor every child in need, but our soccer and music programs give them self-confidence.”

Taylor said, in general, male role models are few and far between, so men like the program director, soccer coach and music instructor have a huge impact on the children, especially the boys.

While Taylor admits there are certainly plenty of people in the U.S. who need help and support, her passion is helping in Africa.

“Everybody has a passion,” she said. “We think we have slums? There’s no comparison. I’ve been to Africa and see this need that is so profound. And the work we do makes such a difference.”

Trumbull agrees.

“I always think I need to do more,” she said. “If we want the world to be connected, it’s important to say we care about everybody in the world.”

Trumbull learned about KFU though her daughter, Maddie.

“Before Mary first had the inkling to do this, my daughter Maddie was in middle school at Leland and heard Mary speak,” Trumbull said. “She’s adopted from Russia and wanted to get involved. Mary started getting beads and things and my daughter would sell them with a group from Sunday School. She graduated in the class of 2016 that started the Kids First soccer program.”

The family also sponsors a girl named Shakira, who is the same age as Maddie, through the organization.

Unlike many organizations in the business of helping people, all funds received by KFU go directly toward the program, and the by-laws state that someone on the board is required to visit Uganda once every two years.

“We are all volunteers,” Taylor said. “We keep nothing. We are so small, but we make such a difference. This is a Christian organization. This is not about us. When we are on the ground, I’ve never felt closer to God and God working through me.

“I believe each of us is put here on Earth with at least one gift and to use that gift to benefit others is the purpose of our life. You know your purpose when you feel passion and ‘sannyu’ (joy). I am grateful that I found my purpose and I love to help others find their own.”

Want to get involved or learn more? Call Taylor at 218-8844.

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