On 13th September Anthony and I arrived home after three weeks at NOTDEC in Uganda – our fourteenth visit in 15 years. Our trip had been very worthwhile, with many big and small issues resolved or well on the way. We love the NOTDEC kids, and love working with staff who have made NOTDEC their life, all striving to do the very best for the children.
Back here in the UK, it is easy to think of life at NOTDEC going on much as it always has: and it is a tribute to the efforts of NOTDEC Uganda staff that they manage to create a happy, loving and stable environment for children who have had a difficult start in life. However our latest visit made us more than usually aware of changes at NOTDEC – not ill winds that blow no-one any good, mainly gentle providential breezes, but certainly the wind of change.
For many years, Anthony and I have visited NOTDEC in January – delivering the children ’s Christmas presents in Uganda ’s long school holidays. Mid-year visits have been largely by John and Carlee Leftley – monitoring the progress of building work, buying equipment etc. Though Carlee resigned as a Trustee in 2015, she remained an enthusiastic volunteer supporting John. On 31st March 2018, John retired as a NOTDEC UK Trustee and Chair. He remains very willing to help as needed, but plans to focus his efforts elsewhere. In some ways then, our visit in Aug/Sept 2018 marked the beginning of a new phase in NOTDEC ’s history – after John & Carlee. They 're a hard act to follow!
NOTDEC owes a huge amount to John & Carlee.
Even now, Carlee is embarking on a vital task that she’s done annually for years – packing all those Christmas presents for the flight to Uganda!
And John ’s background in construction management was literally a Godsend over the 11 years when NOTDEC designed and built an orphanage village community. While most Ugandan builders are poorly trained, John knew exactly what he wanted – somehow turning supervision into collaboration. During construction, he spent several extended periods at NOTDEC.
The results speak for themselves. John ’s imprint is writ large across the Kabirizi site, transforming the lives of all the needy babies loved and cared for there. We thank God – and John & Carlee – for all their efforts in His name and on behalf of the children at NOTDEC Uganda.
John & Carlee in Full Flight.
During our visit to NOTDEC, we had a meeting with the NOTDEC Uganda Trustees, Dorothy and senior Nzirambi family members. We explained and discussed some difficult issues including the land ownership of the NOTDEC site, Dorothy ’s new home and divisions amongst the NOTDEC staff. Everyone was happy with the outcome of the meeting and the arrangements made for Dorothy ’s future.
We also met with 14 older and former NOTDEC children.
This was a very happy occasion with the young people clearly maturing and keen to help younger NOTDEC kids in any way they can.
Emblematic of the change is Yoneki in the white jacket in the front row of the picture.
Yoneki left NOTDEC 5 years ago to train as a nursery school teacher. She now teaches NOTDEC ’s baby nursery class – with 23 children aged 3-4ish.
She does a good job and is very happy there. Compared with when she first arrived at NOTDEC, Yoneki has certainly moved on.
Most of the Gang of Fourteen - one has gone walkies (or been moved on!)
NOTDEC, then, continues to serve destitute babies and nurture young lives, and is as full of life as ever. Uganda ’s Government, however, now discourages institutional “orphanages”, insisting that children live with their wider family wherever possible. So NOTDEC too has had to change.
If a mother dies in childbirth and the father cannot look after the new-born, the child is brought to NOTDEC. With Government pressure to return children to their families as soon as possible, tots (some as young as 4) first visit and then go to live with grandparents, step-parents, aunts, uncles etc. – transforming each child ’s life, and life at NOTDEC.
Even five years ago, NOTDEC had a few capable teenagers on site in school holidays, and countless primary-aged “eager beavers” all vying to fetch and carry, and well able to keep toddlers out of mischief. There were always plenty of hands to help make porridge, do the laundry, or wash-up.
That world has gone. Now, of 153 children in NOTDEC ’s care, only 70 are on-site in term time. Of these, the oldest is a boy aged 10 with no known family; 60 are aged 5 or under, 40 are 3 or under. With fewer and younger little helpers, housemothers’ lives are harder – more bottle-feeding, more active childcare, less time to breathe.
"Senior" Helpers Hard at Work!
And that ’s not all.
Most NOTDEC kids now live off-site – with wider family or at boarding school. Either way, they ’re still sponsored and their school fees paid. So NOTDEC has social workers buzzing around by motorbike to see that each child is happy, well cared for, and attending school. We visited several families to see for ourselves.
This may not be the “village community” idyll that once we loved. But we have to believe that the children in our care are better served by the strong family and community ties of the real world than by institutional cossetting at NOTDEC – however well-intentioned. Anyway, Ugandan Government policy gives us no choice. While we were there, Ministry officials arrived to check NOTDEC ‘s registration. Our NGO status had lapsed after 5 years: they said we needed to reapply and made other minor recommendations. Overall, they were very pleased: NOTDEC was “the best” orphanage they had visited. So the children are happy – and the Government too! NOTDEC has moved on.
Also gradually moving on to the next phase in her life is NOTDEC ’s founder Dorothy Nzirambi.
Aged 68, and with arthritic knees and back, Dorothy has wanted to retire for some time. As she owned land 7km from NOTDEC, she wanted to retire there but needed a house to live in. In March 2018, we appealed for donations towards the cost of building that house, really to honour Dorothy for everything she has done over 30 years in pursuing her original vision of caring for abandoned and motherless babies. That appeal raised the £6,500 needed and NOTDEC Uganda ’s construction team started work.
While we were there, Dorothy ’s house was completed and she moved in.
The Bedroom of Dorothy 's New Home. You can take Dorothy out of childcare, but you can 't take childcare out of Dorothy!
Dorothy was very pleased to move. In a letter of thanks, she writes ”Please thank all those who put their hands together to enable my house to be constructed. I am, glad that I am now independently living in my house and will get used [to it] slowly by slowly.”
A retirement party just a few days after Dorothy ’s move would all be too much of a rush – for Dorothy and for everyone else! Far better to let her settle in, and take stock of her new life – with a big thanksgiving party in January 2019 (her official retirement date) to thank God for Dorothy ’s vision and work. Everyone will be invited – local dignitaries, NOTDEC Uganda Trustees, all the staff, the wider Nzirambi family and older NOTDEC children. Anthony and I and four NOTDEC UK volunteers hope to be there too!
So on Friday 31st August – with her thanksgiving party booked for January – Dorothy was taken by pickup from NOTDEC Kabirizi to her new home. Truly, this was the end of an era!
The Move. We could hardly tell Dorothy to "take up thy bed and walk" now could we?!!
God is working His purpose out
As year succeeds to year;
God is working his purpose out,
And the time is drawing near;
Nearer and nearer draws the time,
The time that shall surely be,
When the earth shall be filled
With the glory of God
As the waters cover the sea.