Updated: Sep 2, 2022
Most of us notice the inequities that we see in the world, but it takes a special person to actively work on solving these problems. When Michelle Pickering saw a community in need, she decided to take action.
Pickering, who founded Zuri Global Health, a company that makes homeopathic medicine, moved from the United States to Uganda. One day, walking around her neighborhood in Kabata, Pickering was approached by a 12 year old boy who recognized her. "He asked if it was possible for me to sponsor his school books and supplies. Of course I said 'Yes'".
Soon after that, Pickering recognized an 11 year old girl from the community carrying a load of firewood on her head. "Why are you not in school? " she asked. The girl admitted that her parents didn't have money for school fees and supplies. Pickering knew she had to help the girl get back into school.
When a third child approached her, Pickering knew that it was time to institute systemic solutions. She went to the school to make the payments for the three children and noticed only 10 of the school children eating lunch. "The others must be done eating," she casually remarked to the school's principal. In reality, the principal explained, the other children had no lunch at all.
"To have to stay in school from morning to 4:00 pm without food blew my mind", Pickering remarked.
The principal invited Pickering back to the school for a meeting with a local political leader for a strategy meeting. He said it wouldn't make sense for to sponsor lunch for only one of the three primary schools in the area. It would incentivize students to leave the schools without a campus lunch plan. They had to sponsor lunch for all three schools.
What started as a personal act of generosity has become a large, community-wide movement. Pickering's company, Zuri Global Health, created a sponsored school lunch program for Mbuga Primary School, Lyantonde Community School, and Mahoma Falls Orphanage Primary School.
Pickering also worked with the community on providing other necessities, like feminine hygiene products. A large proportion of the girls in P6 and P7 were missing a week of school each month due to lack of menstrual products. Leco Pads partnered with Zuri Global Health to provide a box of 4 washable pads to each girl.
As for getting demonstrable results, the lunch program's results are undeniable. Niambuga Primary School has increased attendance by over 200 students and the students stay through the entire school day. "Before, the kids used to leave campus at lunchtime to pick from the guava trees. Many wouldn't return to their seats and the ones that did often fell asleep in class from hunger. " They are now at 98% school attendance. Students who once dropped out are now coming back to school. Thirty-four kids are sponsored for school fees and the lunch program also remains a major focus.
Thankfully, the most parents in this farming community are able to send their children to school with matoke, maize and beans grown nearby. Although these parents struggle financially, they still find ways to give to the larger community. "Many of the parents have pitched in extra beans and greens to the soup pot" Pickering remarked.
For the last year, Pickering has been funding these programs with donations from family and friends but she is now working on gaining support from the larger public to invest in the future of Uganda.
If you are interested in helping with the school lunch program, you can donate here: https://www.gofundme.com/f/gr6wbp-help-feed-hungry-school-kids
Is there a community problem that you would like to tackle? Perhaps you can work as a volunteer with a nonprofit in your area. If you have the passion and a good team behind you, perhaps you can form a nonprofit yourself! https://www.gaudylanguage.com/post/starting-a-nonprofit-organization
Shoshana Kirya-Ziraba is a married mom and lifestyle columnist who splits time between Texas, California, and Uganda. From cooking to fashion, she covers what she likes to read about! Email her at email@example.com.