BYU family works together to provide education for AIDS orphans in Uganda

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When BYU education professors Steve Hite and Julie Hite began researching schools in Uganda, they had no charitable intentions.

“This was strictly an academic pursuit for two academics,” Steve Hite said. “We were taking 10 to 15 students over to Uganda and the focus was clearly research.”

But after several years of these research trips, the Hites became aware of two things.

[media-credit name=”Photos courtesy of Rachel Eng” align=”alignleft” width=”300″][/media-credit]
TRUE Africa photographer. I emailed these and their captions to Allie McCoy and Katie Mussman.
“One, there was an unbelievable amount [of work] that needed to be done,” Steve Hite said, “and two, that it could be done so easily.”

They did their own private charity work in Uganda for a while before realizing how much more they could do as an organization. About three years ago, they set up TRUE Africa, their nonprofit public charity designed to sponsor the education of AIDS orphans in Uganda.

The board of directors is made up of the Hites and Christopher Mugimu, who was born and raised in Uganda and is a former student of the Hites. The Hites’ daughters, Rachel Eng and Melissa Seager, both BYU graduates, make up the rest of the TRUE team as photographer and web directer, respectively.

“This is 100 percent voluntary,” Julie Hite said. “There are no salaries to anyone and there will never be.”

Despite the small team, TRUE was able to sponsor 38 orphans this year. This includes supplies, tuition and a school uniform for every child.

According to Julie,  normally when a child wants to go to school they bring whatever money they have and are then told how long they can stay based on that amount.

“If they can’t raise more money during that time, then they’re chased away,” she said.

The child then raises more money any way they can, goes back to the school and the cycle starts again. This inconsistency puts these orphans, who are usually illiterate subsistence farmers, at a serious disadvantage.

Mugimu, whose father was a subsistence farmer, is an example of hope in these bleak circumstances.

“He would go to school and get chased away because he didn’t have the funds,” Julie said. “He went from those circumstances to being a university professor now.”

This, according to Mugimu, is because of his father, who would make the school take his son and promise to get them the funds.

“The children in Uganda want to be educated, they just don’t always have what they need,” Julie said.

TRUE Africa has grown a lot in the past few years, and the Hites hope to see it grow even more.

“We hope to add 15 [students] every year,” Steve said. “Our target is 100 by the time we retire in six years and then we’ll try to add 26 a year.”

The TRUE team goes to Uganda every year to meet the children, visit the schools and evaluate what needs to be done and what they can do. The Hites’ daughters  hope to begin bringing their children, who like to be a part of TRUE, on these trips.

“The first two donations we got were from my two granddaughters,” Julie said. “One gave us $1.55 for crayons, and the other one gave us $1.85 for chalk.”

Steve adds that children have often donated to the cause.

“What’s really impressed us was that we thought this would be an adult participation in terms of donors, volunteers, etc.,” Steve said, “but we’ve had a lot of instances where it has been children who have really driven it.”

For example, last year Scera Park Elementary had a fundraiser to sponsor several orphans through TRUE.

“We ended up being able to sponsor seven orphans, one per grade level,” said David Boren, principal of Scera Park Elementary School. “We did the same thing this year and we’ve raised even more money. It has been great to watch these kids think outside of their little universe and make a difference.”

It is this kind of global awareness in young people that the Hites are hoping to inspire with TRUE Africa.

“We just want people to get out there and get involved, not necessarily with TRUE but they should be doing good somewhere,” Steve said.

For more information about TRUE Africa visit trueafrica.org.

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