When University of Mississippi art professor Brooke White graduated from Cornell University in 2003, she embarked on a worldwide excursion to study the landscapes of third-world nations plagued by war and political strife.
Little did she know that her summer trip would lead to an extraordinary opportunity that served as a catalyst for the lives of 65 children at a Ugandan orphanage.
Attracted to the pulse and energy of East Africa, White explored Kenya where she crossed paths with a fellow American who told her of Bright Kids Uganda, an orphanage established in 2001 by 55-year-old Ugandan native Victoria Nalongo. Formerly involved in the country’s arena of politics and Scouts of America, Nalongo has worked for more than 20 years helping children to get off the streets.
“There is no way for these children to get out of the situation they are in,” White said. “That is what spearheaded her (Nalongo) desire to start an orphanage. She funds the entire orphanage by herself and it’s amazing because she is not really wealthy at all.”
Since her starting point in 2003 and initial visit to the orphanage this past summer, White has been diligently working to establish Bright Kids Uganda as a nonprofit organization. With its new status as a 501(c) 3, she hopes to provide the orphanage a continuous source of funding that will include housing, food, education and other necessities like mosquito nets and dormitory remodeling.
“After this summer, I was really committed to helping the kids at the orphanage and the best way was to set up this nonprofit,” White said. “Even though it is in the early stages, we hope this will evolve into something so that Victoria can count on us annually.
“No matter how much I raise, it will help.”
Known as “Momma,” Nalongo houses about 65 children whose ages range from 4 months to 17 years, including three children who have HIV. Some of the children are orphaned because their parents have died from HIV and AIDS, and a family member is not willing to care for them, or they are former “child” soldiers of the ongoing civil war in northern Uganda. Also, some are the victims of kidnapping.
But White is not alone in this effort. There is a five-member U.S. Board of Directors and another Uganda-based board. White said most of her summer was spent visiting Nalongo to learn about the organization and its needs as well as meeting with potential donors. Additionally, a local university in Uganda will collaborate with Bright Kids so that students can help teach and tutor the children at the orphanage.
White has created a Bright Kids Uganda Web site where individuals can select a child on the roster to sponsor. The donation will go directly toward that child’s meals, room and board, education and mosquito nets. Sponsors will receive letters from the child and report cards about their progress, White said.
“The goal is to help the kids, get them educated and make sure they have proper food, shelter and basic necessities,” she said. “We want them to be great citizens to Uganda and to give back to their country. That is what I hope.”
As an imaging arts professor at UM, White is set to offer her second Study Abroad course on safari photography in early June in Tanzania, and plans to serve as a visiting professor at Nkumba University in Entebbe later in the summer. She also is in the midst of planning a tentative spring fundraiser at UM to raise awareness and encourage the community to help with efforts.
“Ms. White is interested in service learning as well as her own artistic productivity,” said Sheri Rieth, chair of the art department. “It is her intent to encourage students to engage in service to the community of the world while pursuing their personal artistic vision. It is a worthy endeavor.”