“Chris was a volunteer right from his earliest years,” said his mother, Karen Marshall. “After he came back from his 2005-6 tour in Afghanistan with the Canadian Armed Forces, and joined the Edmonton Police Department, he remained determined to find ways to help others, to make the world a better place.”
Chris and his partner Shayna Campbell, a pharmacist, agreed to take a year away from their respective jobs in Canada and pay their way to Africa: ultimately, they decided to volunteer at St. Francis Health Care Services, established in 1998, in a congested Ugandan slum area near Mbiko.
Shayna and Chris have seen children playing happily with a soccer ball made out of plastic bags. They have become friends with kids like Hakim, a proud member of the Shadow Idols Club, run by St. Francis, one way for boys to avoid roving, violent youth gangs. They have fallen “in love with the omoanas, Lugandan for children, who are everywhere since Uganda’s population pyramid looks like an upside down T.” They have jogged with boys who have no shoes, but dream of “running for Uganda in the Olympics.”
On Christmas Day they joined the St. Francis staff for African food and dancing: Chris reported his lack of rhythm and Shayna won Ms Saint Francis!
“There are a million reasons to stay in Uganda,” Shayna Campbell said. “The people are polite, welcoming, warm-hearted and sincere. ”
A deep desire to help their adopted African community over the long term has led Chris and Shayna to try and turn the ‘empty shell’ of a maternity ward at St. Francis Health Care Services into a finished hospital able to save mothers and children.
St. Francis Health Care Services is (Chris and Shayna emphasize this) a grass roots organization, built and run “by Ugandans for Ugandans,” with little government funding, in the heart of Njeru.
It also lies at the heart of the highest HIV prevalence rates in all of Uganda.
Right now, under the leadership of Faustine Ngarambe, the centre serves 20,000 Ugandans, some treated with HIV medications, some orphaned by the AIDs pandemic, some hoping for education, some simply needing care in their last days.
“At St. Francis, they have realized that fighting HIV means more than medically treating the disease. The staff has initiated income generating groups, youth groups and other projects to reach out to the community.”
Keeping St. Francis a vital force in this poor community is a daunting task for its Ugandan founders. The needed maternity hospital was only partially completed before money ran out in 2010. Yet this hospital is the one project the director and his dedicated St. Francis staff most want to see completed: it will take at least $33,500 to do it.
Finishing the St. Francis maternity hospital has become Chris and Shayna’s goal.
“Women’s health, especially their reproductive health, is a major concern,” Shayna Campbell explained. “(Chris and I) are passionate about the subject since it is not just maternal health we are talking about. It is the livelihood of a people.”
To their great delight the young couple has recently received the news that, following their direct, personal appeal, the Stephen Lewis Foundation has agreed to be the physical sponsor of their efforts to finish the St. Francis maternity hospital. The Stephen Lewis Foundation is world renowned for its dedicated work in Africa, especially in the fight against AIDS.
With the Foundation’s support, every dollar raised in Canada will go directly to the maternity ward project. The Lewis Foundation will also issue charitable receipts in Canada.
Karen Marshall (543-4360), who is equally passionate about seeing the Ugandan hospital become a reality, is holding a special fund raiser/silent auction luncheon on Saturday, February 18, at noon, at St. James Anglican Church Hall in Morrisburg. Using a power point program and notes created by Chris and Shayna, she will talk about the project and discuss how people can help.
Shayna and Chris report that as of February 13, 2012, they have reached 47 percent of their $33,500 goal.
They invite people to log on to http://stephenlewisfoundation.akaraisin.com/fundraisingpages/maternityward to pledge and to see how the campaign is going.
“Uganda’s hopes and dreams are similar to the hopes and dreams of Canadians,” Shayna and Chris said. “It is important to invest in the mothers’ health to improve the lives of their children.”