Six years after founder Charlene Barr (20) from Dollingstown, passed away, the project that bears her name continues to have an impact in Uganda.
Now, in the run-up to Christmas, The Charlene Project is making final preparations for its annual fundraising ‘Big Festive Fry’, to take place from 7.30am to 12 noon on December 17 at St Saviour’s Church Halls.
Before she died Charlene had raised over £120,000 to build Hidden Treasure Primary School, just outside Kampala in Uganda.
Charlene’s set up the project upon receiving news that she had to undergo a double lung transplant.
The very day she knew she needed the transplant to survive, she made her decision. She told others. “If I can’t go to school, I am going to raise money to build a school in Uganda so that some of the children there can get an education.”
Charlene, whose story is told in the book ‘Chosen,’ written by her brother David, visited Uganda with her family in 2008 and saw what she called the desperate need for education in the communities she visited, although she never saw the school completed.
Her project continues to grow and its work has expanded to Guatemala and Turkey.
It has built three primary schools in Uganda, while also bringing clean water to those same communities.
Teacher accommodation has been built, as has a community hall at one the schools.
Many children are in sponsorship and the project now supports a secondary school and a girls project in one the large Kampala slums.
Last year’s event raised enough money to fund two schools in Guatemala.
“The Guatemalan school renovations and new building are now complete and we recently saw the amazing quality of the construction work done - how the materials were brought up the mountains is still a mystery to me,” said Dickie, Charlene’s Dad.
“The teachers and communities were so excited as we officially opened the schools.
“In Las Escaleras they were so thankful for their new flush toilet, the first in the village.
“They told us that their children could now learn how to use a flush toilet so they would not feel out of place if they went down out of the mountains.”
During July, a team of 33 visited the Ugandan projects, delivering children’s and sports programmes, also doing hygiene and health promotional work with the primary school children and their parents.
In the rural communities barefoot children often suffer infestation with ‘jiggers’ (sand-flies) .
The team worked with the children at Kahara Primary school, washing their feet and educating them and their parents about prevention.
Team-members taught some of the pupils how to use the school oven and tey ahve since formed a Baking Club .
“Just recently we received the tragic news that the head teacher in one of our Ugandan schools had lost his 4-year-old son – so many children die from preventable causes,” said Dickie.
“There are massive health needs in these rural and difficult-to-access communities. Most of our fundraising efforts to date to date have been around the educational needs in these communities.
“We want now to begin to address some of the massive health needs. This year the Big Festive Fry will be raising money to ensure that the children in our Ugandan and Guatemalan schools get once or twice yearly medicals and treatment.
“We also want to see health clinics become a reality in the communities our schools serve.
“This is a massive vision and is a step of faith but as always, we know our local community will step up and make it happen.
“When Charlene started Charlene’s Project a little over seven years ago and we asked her how she expected to raise the money to build a school in Uganda, she asked us did we not believe in God and did we not believe in the generosity of the people of Ireland.”