Oregonians team up to help orphans in Uganda

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What do two retired school teachers, inmates at the Snake River Correctional Institution, and Eastlake Framing have in common? They are all working together across thousands of miles to support 250 orphans in Northern Uganda.

One Bend Couple’s Lives are Changed Forever

In 1999, Bob and Carol Higgins, retired school teachers from Bend, were invited by some friends to attend a conference in Uganda. Although they had never been interested in visiting Africa, they accepted the invitation. This trip would turn their world upside-down and enrich their lives in ways they never anticipated.

Bob and Carol stayed in Uganda for 15 years before retiring from the job last September. They built the Otino Waa Children’s Village, an orphanage in Northern Uganda that is more like a village than an orphanage. Eight children live in each house and local widows serve as house mothers. There is a first-rate primary school, a secondary school, a vocational school, and a café, and gift shop where the older kids learn job skills. For the Higginses, it has come at a great sacrifice: being half a world away from their own children and nine grandchildren.

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The Children

The couple was touched by stories of children like Patricia Anyango, who was just nine years old the first time she was abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army. Life with the rebels was so horrific that Patricia prayed she would die. She escaped after about six months, only to be abducted again. By the time she was rescued at the age of 10, both of her parents were dead. Patricia was free but had joined the ranks of Uganda’s 2.5 million orphans.

Some of the Otino Waa children are former child soldiers. Others lost their parents to AIDS. One young boy was found living in a ditch. All had lost hope.

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Finding Help

The funding for Otino Waa comes solely from private donations by generous Americans. But Bob and Carol never expected one unusual group of donors: artist-inmates serving hard time at Snake River Correctional Institution on the Oregon/Idaho border.

The men heard about the Otino Waa orphans during a prison chapel service and were moved by the children’s stories. They wrote a proposal to prison officials asking if they could create works of art to be sold with all proceeds going to the orphans. The officials said “yes.”

None of the prisoners are getting shortened sentences or increased possibility of parole for their work in helping the orphans. Some of the inmates will never be released. But they are creating these works of art for the benefit of Ugandan orphans who they have never met and likely never will. Their payback, say the inmates, is a sense of purpose they have not felt in years.

Moving Forward

This story was the basis of the award-winning 2013 documentary called “Lost and Found.” The art has been hosted on numerous occasions at the First Friday Art Walks in Bend, for which Eastlake has been donating their time to do all of the framing. The art will soon be available for purchase on their website. All proceeds from the sale of this art goes directly to support the Otino Waa orphans in food, clothing, education, and hope for their futures.

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