When Geoffrey Tindyebwa fled his home in Uganda, he left with nothing but the clothes on his back.
Tindyebwa was in his early 20s and was a student activist when the dictator Adi Amin took over the civilian government in the late ’70s. But with Amin’s rule came bloodshed as he persecuted intellectuals and those who were in support of the ousted civilian government. Many people fled into exile.
After a number of escapes and near misses, Tindyebwa managed to flee to Kenya.
It was in the village community of Mukangu, a roughly two-hour drive from the capital city of Nairobi, where a family took him in – housed and clothed him.
“It’s a dark period in Uganda’s history because many intellectuals fled Uganda,” said Tindyebwa, who teaches English and world literature at Pearson College in Metchosin.
Since immigrating to Canada in 1995, Tindyebwa has not forgotten that family. That’s why he created the Kumbuka Universal Learning Experiences (KULE) Foundation, a non-profit organization that aims to make a difference in the lives of the less privileged.
Every year Tindyebwa and a group of students from Pearson College make the trip to Kenya to do humanitarian service.
While Tindyebwa originally planned on giving back to the community for two years, he’s continued that work for the past 15.
“Every time I thought of pulling out, there was so much to do to support them,” Tindyebwa said.
In the past, the foundation has helped rehabilitate an orphanage, built a water tank for the kids, established a chicken farm and purchased two milk cows so the children could have access to fresh milk.
Volunteers have also helped build a large library, six permanent houses for destitute families, a bus shelter for commuters and helped salvage a road that links one part of the village to another.
The foundation is working on constructing a four-classroom elementary school.
Currently, five- to 10-year-old students have to walk roughly five to six kilometres one way just to attend school. The new facility will house 25 to 35 students in each of the four classrooms.
Last summer, students and volunteers in the community worked side-by-side to construct the foundation for the first two classrooms.
This year Tindyebwa and nine Pearson College students hope to continue that work when they return to Kenya July 2 to 23. The students will stay with the elder who took Tindyebwa in all those years ago. Not only do Kenyans benefit, it’s also a learning experience for students as well.
“The media has painted a particular picture of developing countries. Then when the students go there and they find that there’s humanity behind the colour, that the colour doesn’t matter – there’s a lot that peels away in the process,” said Tindyebwa, adding they also get a sense of what life is like in a rural community.
“You remove a lot of layers prejudice and stereotypes. It excites me to see people relating as human beings regardless of their ethnicity.”
Tindyebwa said the new facilities, as well as support from other stakeholders, have made a huge difference in the level of education throughout the village over the years as well.
“The quality of education has improved dramatically,” he said.
“Last year the school sent almost 60 to national universities … They see us as their friends, as people who support them.”
For more information about KULE Foundation International visit kulefoundation.org.