Highlights from BULA’s 11th Annual Cocktail Party

On September 9. 2017, BULA hosted its 11th Annual BULA Cocktail Party. This year, BULA highlighted the findings from its Uganda Care Leavers survey, in partnership with Alternative Care Initiatives. In case you missed it or would like to relive one of our favorite events, we’re proud to highlight a few key moments here.

This year, BULA focused on providing its guests with a more interactive and participatory experience at the Cocktail Party. Upon entering the event,  guests took the opportunity to write postcards to their friends and family explaining why they cared about BULA’s work and encouraging them to visit the website to learn more.

For those who wanted to hear more about the Uganda Care Leavers program or BULA’s work in Uganda, we also hosted an interactive media station. Guests were able to choose from a collection of videos, ranging from testimonies from youth who were formerly in an orphanage to BULA’s promotional videos released over the years

But like every year, BULA’s Executive Director, Melissa Fricke, spoke in front of our special guests to introduce our findings from the Uganda Care Leavers research and to express our gratitude for all of your continued support. We’re happy to share the speech here.

“Welcome to our 11th Annual BULA Cocktail Party.  Thank you so much for being here and for supporting our work in Uganda.  We are lucky to have such a dedicated community behind us. And, we are so lucky that my parents, Tom and Karen Fricke, still let us use the backyard for everyone’s favorite September party. 

Many of you have been here for years and know the drill, but for the new faces here tonight, I just want to share with you how remarkably collaborative this event is in our local community.  All the food and drink you’re enjoying is donated from some of the very best restaurants on the south shore.  The raffle prizes are donated from small businesses around Long Island and one so far as Maine.  Year after year, we are graced with this same generosity from all of these businesses, most of whom have been donating since we had our first cocktail party back in 2007.  We are so grateful to them.  

Each year, we also like to take a moment to acknowledge a BULA supporter who has contributed to BULA’s mission in a profound way.  This year, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge a couple who came to BULA by chance through their own service to incredible causes.  We met Connie and Paul Calabro at Our Lady of the Snow’s Social Justice evening about a decade ago when they were representing Heifer International and Bead for Life.  Since then, they have been one of BULA’s most enthusiastic cheerleaders.  They’re moving this fall to Florida and we’re going to miss them!  Connie and Paul, thank you so much for your love and support all of these years.  It has meant so much to me especially in those early days.  I was young and having a stranger believe in me and what BULA was doing meant everything.  

_________________

BULA’s story is complex.  We started with building a school a decade ago and set it up to be self-sustaining.  We once supported the education of children living in an orphanage.  We later moved those same children out of the orphanage and placed them with their families.  Today, we continue to support the education of those same students through both our Educational Fund and our University Scholarship Programs.   In fact, we now have seven students enrolled in Uganda’s top universities thanks to individual sponsors.  

Prioritizing education is paramount and underlies all that we do, but through our complex history, we learned the importance of advocating for youth in other ways.  BULA very proudly supports the Alternative Care Framework, put forth by UN agencies and the Ugandan government.  Working under this framework, we believe we are addressing vulnerability in a two prong way: one where we expand opportunity through education and one where we make the most out of that education by advocating for and assuring a safe and appropriate home for those students.

Before, I tell you more about what we’re up to, we’d like to share a video released by the Ugandan government explaining the Alternative Care Framework and why it’s so important.  

 

It’s really exciting to see such progressive action.   While the Ugandan government is pushing to close orphanages and is championing the alternative care framework, the road is long to achieving that.  There are hundreds of unregistered orphanages in Uganda and bringing the alternative care framework to them is costly and usually met with resistance. .  Given that reality, BULA advocates for alternative care, governs its work with this framework, and have established a project that helps support those who never went through the continuum of care.   

We call that project Uganda Care Leavers or UCL for short.  In December 2015, We set up UCL to serve an overlooked vulnerable population in Uganda: those children, adolescents, and young adults who have left orphanages or other child care institutions-  We refer to this group as care leavers.  

Under the guidance of the alternative care framework, we came into this work after we resettled the young adults who lived in an orphanage.  Through that resettlement with their families, we learned a lot about how damaging institutional care can be on children, and how vulnerable children and young adults can be once they leave institutions.  We set up UCL as a response to that vulnerability both as a way to support care leavers and as a way to learn from them.  

Care leavers are particularly vulnerable in large part because of what they experience while in orphanages.  And, that seems to also have a lot to do with how they end up in one.  This is no doubt why the Ugandan government has taken on the Alternative Care Framework.

In Uganda, 64% of children living in orphanages have at least one living parent – not to speak of what other living family members they might have.  We know that children miss their families once they enter care and that they are often prevented from seeing them or even acknowledging that they exist – especially around international volunteers.  The consequences of this for a child are grave.  If they enter young, they often forget who their family members are altogether or cannot remember the details that would identify where they come from.  They lose their cultural identity and a home or community to return to when they grow up.   

The reasons children with parents end up in orphanages boil down to poverty.  Education is expensive and completely out of reach for many people in Uganda.  Families living in poverty see an orphanage as an opportunity for their child to have the education, shelter, health services, and daily meals that  they cannot provide.  And, while the families see it that way, the person running the orphanage sees that same child as an opportunity for more donor funds feeding into the cycle.

While many of these kids receive the education they never would have, grow up healthier than their siblings left at home, speak English, and have a global outlook, it often comes at a great price.  They become one of many children, with limited caretakers, often neglected.  They develop attachment disorders, dependency syndrome, and they do not know how to navigate the world as an independent adult when they leave.  It can be terribly lonely and scary for a child living in an orphanage in Uganda – and perhaps worse when they leave.

When we resettled children from an orphanage, we stuck around and we made sure it wasn’t worse when they left.  It didn’t take long to learn how important sticking around actually was.  The resettled adolescents had trouble assimilating in their communities.  They couldn’t navigate commonly understood public transportation.  They often wouldn’t speak up when addressed by strangers.  Having spent most of their lives inside the walls of the orphanage, they hadn’t been socialized to deal with the wall-free world outside them.    

Learning from our own experience, we realized that most care leavers don’t have this kind of support after leaving an orphanage.  Typically, they leave because they’ve aged out.  If they were sheltered behind the walls of an orphanage throughout their childhood, they too don’t know how to navigate the world.  They often don’t know who or where there family or community of birth is.  And, they have no support NGO to guide them as BULA did for the care leavers we resettled.  In time, Uganda Care Leavers will fill that role for care leavers across the country.    

UCL is a nationwide project, linking care leavers across Uganda so that they can work together to navigate their lives outside the orphanage.  Through this network, we anticipate that they will inform policy and teach all of is in the world of child care how to better care for kids in Uganda.  

Our first efforts have been linking care leavers regionally through workshops we have been conducting for the past year.  At the workshops, they meet with other care leavers in their region, discuss shared issues, join our social media platforms that keep them linked, and they complete in-depth questionnaires about their lives before, during, and after care.  

What we’ve learned at these workshops has been astounding.  Many care leavers reported abuse in the orphanage.  Many reported that they now live on the streets.  Others that they have found no other way to live than by petty theft because they can’t find work, and they have no family network to support them.  They reported that they had good educations and they told us in casual conversations about their hopes and detailed plans of running a small business if only they had the capital.  We learned a lot and we intend to learn more.  All of this information and data, with the permission of the care leavers, is being compiled into a report which will be shared widely.  

In February this year, Angie and I went to Uganda to launch the preliminary findings from our first workshops to the Ugandan government.  Ministers in charge of child welfare attended, listened intently, and showed genuine interest in our findings.  Those ministers spoke later at the event praising the care leavers who bravely shared their experiences of life in and out of the orphanage at the launch.  It was really an incredible day – and a privilege to be able to share our work with the very people who have the power to make serious change in the country.   We expect that once the final report is released, it will have a profound effect on child advocates and policy makers.  

Beyond the findings and influence on policy, UCL will serve as a platform for Care Leavers to come together for the issues that are important to them.  We are in the process of forging partnerships with NGOs that offer a variety of services so that care leavers have a direct link to things such as microloans, health care, job training, etc.  We’re eager to see that take off.

In short, Uganda Care Leavers has made us especially proud of what we do at BULA – as it’s taken years of lessons learned by facing –  rather than avoiding – daunting challenges to inform its development.  The project is thoughtful, deliberate, and wide ranging in its impact.  We expect many good things to come from it.  

We have lots of information around the event space today and I encourage you to look through it.  There’s videos of those testimonies from the launch, past BULA videos if you’re feeling nostalgic, there’s facts and findings intermixed with photos of care leavers and the workshops.  Peruse them, ask me questions, or simply relax and enjoy the remainder of the evening.  

We’ll be calling raffles soon enough so get those last tickets.  There’s some pretty amazing prizes this year.

And, I’ll close by saying thank you. Thank you so much for being here.  I’m so so grateful.”

After reading the speech, if you have any questions regarding our work, we invite you to ask questions and engage in dialogue with our team! We look forward to providing you with further great news in the upcoming months.

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