Help Us Grow
This is a three part story of a remarkable friendship and partnership between an Australian woman and her family, a Ugandan man and his, and two communities on two continents.
It proves beyond doubt what people can achieve when they are inspired to help, they act on it, they chip away, they see the results of their work and how it impacts on both the people who give and those who receive. It makes the phrase, ‘ordinary people doing extraordinary things’ come alive for all of us.
It also demonstrates how when good work is done, both the children involved in it and the children who benefit from it, are rewarded in ways that cannot always be predicted.
Part 1. Kyabram community cracks the whip for African miracle
Fifty cents may seem like chicken feed to the developed world, but to thousands of Ugandans, it’s the difference between life and death.
In 2007, new empty nesters, Helen and Adrian Brown, fare-welled the last of their four sons from their family home in the small town of Kyabram, Victoria, Australia.
Helen always yearned to visit Africa, but they’d never had the opportunity or the money. They agreed the time had come.
After researching a six week holiday, they rejected the tourist route, preferring to immerse themselves in local culture by volunteering. Helen found an organisation rebuilding schools in Jinga in the east of Uganda.
An acquaintance who’d spent time in Uganda asked them to deliver a small sum of money to a friend, via a young man called David Ssemwogerere.
On arrival, Helen phoned David, unaware he lived eight hours away. He wove his way to them via bus, taxi, and motorbike.
Helen and Adrian listened entranced as David outlined his drive to help his people break the bonds of poverty, sickness, and ignorance. Helen described his ‘passion to help, although he wasn’t asking for help. He was just telling his story and that of his people.’
It was the beginning of a partnership and friendship that has had an impact on thousands of people.
The Browns wanted to view the gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. David offered to take them part of the way, visiting his village, Lubanda, as they went.
Helen remembers standing in a Lubanda banana grove as David explained his vision. He didn’t want to give the community charity. He wanted to deliver skills to help themselves.
This was the start of the conversation that would become the story of HUG (Help Us Grow).
The chickens and water tanks
She decided to involve the local Kyabram community centre in the story. They decided to have a fundraising BBQ and the kids organised a whip cracking competition.
Together they brought in the $120 and sent it to David. The women bought the chickens, raised and sold chicks, and bought more chickens, demonstrating through David how the project worked.
Helen said there was never a conscious decision on where they would go from there, it just evolved into thinking about what else they could do.
Lubanda also had two tiny primary schools with dirt floors and thatched roofs, but no water.
Helen again approached the Kyabram community centre to raise the money for one water tank. One of the Browns’ sons’, Chad, a tennis coach at the time, asked his community to fund the other.
Like many regional and rural Australian towns, young people have problems and face risks. At first, they wondered how would they raise $1200.
With the Browns’ and the community centre’s guidance, they brainstormed ideas and settled on an end of term auction. They painted, made hobby horses, and sourced pottery from a closing down sale. One particularly troubled girl, Ashley, ignited her talent for animal photography.
Everything was sold. The local real estate office snapped up Ashley’s portraits where they still hang today. They raised the necessary $1,200.
In the process, these at-risk Kyabram kids’ focus shifted from resentment at their own situation to empathy for the Ugandan children.
As the two communities each benefited, and were enriched and rewarded by these efforts in these early years, they could not yet know where this would lead to. Helen Brown was drawn back to Uganda the following year. The next part of the story reveals what more they achieved together.