Children of Hope Uganda empowers war-affected youth with education

Sponsored feature: presented by Social Ventures Zone at Ryerson University

The Social Ventures Zone at Ryerson University is home to unique entrepreneurial initiatives that are designed to make a positive impact in a variety of communities, both in Toronto and beyond. See all of our profiles here.

Children of Hope Uganda (COHU)

Who’s involved in this project? 

Lorna Pitcher (founder).

What are your goals for this project? 

Children of Hope Uganda sells unique Ugandan crafts in Canada to support its nursery school and vocational school in Barlonyo, northern Uganda. Barlonyo was the site of the massacre of 301 villagers on Feb 21, 2004 by Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army.

What is the biggest challenge you’re facing?

Spreading the word about how much we can do to support the education of Ugandan children and war-affected youth is the challenge. When people hear the story they say, “Hey, how can I help?”

Can you explain the mentorship process available to you through the Ryerson Social Ventures Zone (SVZ)? 

Let me count the ways! Rick Findlay is COHU’s mentor at Ryerson SVZ and he is phenomenal. Our accountability reports from Uganda, and financial systems are in terrific shape thanks to Rick’s fine-tuning. Alex Gill, SVZ champion for all the start-ups, encourages and gets ‘rigour’ from us all. A wonderful SVZ Social Enterprise Demonstration Fund grant of $15,000 in 2015 allowed COHU to attend lots of expensive venues to accelerate sales.

The Ryerson SVZ is all about leveraging innovation to make a social impact. How will your project affect the communities you’re targeting?

Impact is profound. COHU is happy to have supported the education of over 1,100 Ugandan children and youth, including two young men now in medical school in Uganda and two young women about to graduate as nurses. Besides paying school fees in the past for 165 children, COHU operates a nursery school for 133 young children and a vocational school for 144. A new cohort of 166 sponsored youth are expected to learn carpentry, bricklaying, tailoring and agribusiness.

Have you been able to obtain any feedback from people who stand to benefit from your project? If so, what have they told you?

“May you be blessed abundantly for your goodness,” is an expression I often hear. What could be more gratifying than that? My favourite was from a young woman at the tailoring class at the Barlonyo Technical and Vocational Institute: “I like it here because people, they now respect me.”

What kind of public or private partnerships are you hoping to make (if any) to help grow your project?

It would be great if Mastermind Toys would carry the adorable little stuffed animals made by the Ugandan artisans, or if Holt Renfrew’s H Project would carry the gorgeous baskets, or if Whole Foods would carry the beautiful COHU recycled paper bead jewelry.

Imagine if you could scale up your project to its full potential. What would that look like?

If we could grow the social enterprise – the sale of the Ugandan crafts – to 100%, instead of 33% of COHU’s revenue, then the Ugandan schools would be truly self-sustaining. The campus already has eight income-generating activities including piggery, poultry, goats, fish farm, tree nursery and others. But COHU is still dependent on grants and donations to cover operating costs, including salaries for the 38 Ugandan employees. We’d love to grow the Canadian market for the Ugandan crafts – all three lines of paper jewelry, baskets and stuffed animals.

Timing is a crucial factor that contributes to the success of a social venture. Why is now the right time for your project?

Hey, with 130 million school age girls out of school, now is the time to fix that. Many of the war-affected youth of northern Uganda lost out on their education during the 20-year insurgency of Kony’s LRA. Many of COHU’s original students at the Barlonyo vocational school, opened in 2010, had been formerly abducted and forced to be child soldiers by the LRA. November 20 is the UN’s International Children’s Day, a day the neglected children of northern Uganda should be remembered.

Is there anything else we should know about your project?

Want to help? Volunteers are always welcome. Want to hold a COHU sale at your school? Lorna would love to hear from you.

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