During the last days of a month spent teaching women to think about starting small businesses and providing loans through a microfinancing internship with the Women’s Global Empowerment Fund, Simmons said she recognized their impact on the people in Gulu was short lived.
She wanted to take more permanent action.
“Locals would always say the programs are amazing until the Americans go back to their own lives. Nothing retains the progress made by the programs,” she said.
In a split-second decision, Simmons and Stuart, a The Daily Tar Heel reporter, chose to do something that would last far past their departure.
“We were walking downtown, and we saw an empty field, and Jamie turned to me and said, ‘What if we buy it?’” Simmons said. “Fast forward 48 hours later, and we were planning a project, making deals with people, and it just kind of happened.”
They decided to turn the plot of land into a place that would combat the lack of resources available for Ugandan children.
“It was so weird. (Gulu) had all these great programs working with the adults, but then we would go play monkey in the middle with the kids with a broken mug found on the ground,” Simmons said.
“I want to give them a safe space to learn English, to gain computer technology skills and to even develop an artistic aspect of their education.”
With a currency difference of one U.S. dollar to more than 3,600 Ugandan shillings, Simmons said the $50,000 they are on GoFundMe will go a long way.
“This will be a place where people can get jobs and will be locally run by Ugandans to make it more permanent,” Simmons said. “I’d love to say, ‘Let’s start today,’ but we have to wait on the money to make this as long-lasting as possible, with the strongest foundation possible.”
Senior Thomas Doochin, co-founder of CommuniGift, an organization that gives birthday presents to children in need, said this project is special because it has business plans, construction plans and a staff already in place.
“They have the land, they have the plans and they care about this in a way that shows they are going to do something fantastic,” Doochin said.
Junior Benjamin Haynes, a member of student government’s Multicultural Affairs and Diversity Outreach Committee, said students should be inspired to donate because Simmons and Stuart are so committed.
“They understand the situation better than a lot of people because they made some real connections with the community,” Haynes said. “I’m inspired and encouraged by their efforts.”
By time of press, Simmons and Stuart had raised $3,020 for the children’s center.