— Charles Town’s Children of Uganda empowers families in desperate need.
Many in the Panhandle might be surprised to discover that the headquarters for Children of Uganda (COU) is located in Charles Town, WV—championing brighter futures for Uganda’s most vulnerable young people, women, and their families.
“People are certainly surprised to find out that we exist in a place like Charles Town,” said Executive Director Pamela Brannon. “That’s probably the question I get asked more than any other.”
COU was founded in 1995, and called Dallas, TX, home until 2008, when Brannon became executive director under the agreement that they move the organization to the Panhandle, where she was living at the time.
“A big part of that was timing—the economy was bottoming out, and an office in Dallas was very expensive. And most of our board members were actually living in the D.C./Metro area, so it made sense.”
The COU founder had originally spent time in Uganda with other volunteers, and witnessed a small group of children literally singing for their supper at weddings, corporate events, and other gatherings.
“Times were extremely tough, so those volunteers, including our founder, thought that if they could get a group of the children to the U.S., they could fundraise on a much larger scale and create a much better awareness vehicle,” explained Brannon. “That began the true history of our organization. And now, Charles Town is perfect for what we do. We see a lot of local support—though we’re always grateful for more.”
Ultimately, COU raises money through donations and fundraisers to support children, women, and families in Uganda, which was hit extremely hard by HIV/AIDS in the ‘80s and ‘90s—to the extent that more than half of the population (33 million) is currently under 18.
One fundraiser COU sponsors is a “shoe drive” (in its second year), which wraps up this month. The organization collects shoes from the public and gets paid by an outside organization—Funds2Orgs—who then ships the shoes to developing countries to help people start micro-businesses which allow them to support themselves and their families, by selling the shoes.
COU takes the money from Funds2Orgs and uses it to support women and children in Uganda with education and social investment. “For us, the shoe drive provides critical funding that a normal child sponsorship doesn’t cover—investing in people who are trying to create a life for themselves,” added Brannon. “It allows us to break the cycle of dependence.”
Around 50 percent of COU’s annual income is derived from its child-sponsorship program. “We recruit families, and sometimes churches, who are interested in initiating a relationship with one or more of our kids—and they pay an annual fee based on what level of education our children happen to be in,” said Brannon. “We also have a dance troupe that tours every few years. And we benefit from some of the old-fashioned efforts: direct mail, major donors, grants, generous board members, and employee-giving programs.”
COU also introduced a program this year designed to empower women to create their own income-generating projects. “They choose from a list of approved projects, they’re trained, and we invest a small amount in their business,” noted Brannon. “Many of these women can’t read or write. This program will show them how to create a budget, balance that budget, and develop confidence and an ability to be independent—and support their family.”
Brannon emphasized, “I think most people understand that, wherever you live, you don’t want a hand-out, you want a hand-up… and you want to be able to support your own family. That’s what we’re doing. People might ask: Why help Uganda? What about the poor people and children in the U.S.? My answer is: why not? We’re all connected. There’s no us and them. We’re all part of the same human experience.”
— To learn more about, visit the above COU link, and also find them on Facebook.