The images seared into Richard Shermer’s conscience could not be ignored. It was those unforgettable and unimaginable pictures which propelled the California man to start Today’s Children, Africa’s Future (TCAF).
“I never set out to start a non-profit charity in Africa,” Shermer said. “It just seemed the right thing to do.”
Shermer first went to Uganda in 2007-2008 where he did photographic essays in the slums of Kampala for some small Ugandan charities. Northern Uganda had been involved in a civil war for more than two decades and travel to the area was dangerous and difficult. Most of the population was interned in Internally Displaced Persons camps (IDP) and conditions in the more than 450 camps were appalling, with more than 1,000 people dying a week. The 22 year civil war and the HIV/AIDS pandemic have left an estimated 2 million orphans in Uganda.
“The camps were dreadful places. Disease was rampant. Rebels frequently raided them, killing and abducting children and young adults who were forced to become child soldiers or sex slaves,” Shermer said. “There were children everywhere, many orphaned, and child headed households were common. It seemed only children and older people were left, the middle generations had been killed by rebels and disease.”
In the resiliency of the children, Shermer found hope.
“I was amazed by the children. They still had hope and wanted an education, because they knew it was the key to lift themselves out of poverty,” he said. “In Uganda, education must be paid for and the youngest child would work hard labor to earn money for school fees.”
Before Shermer left, he agreed to sponsor several children in school. He officially started TCAF in 2009, whose initial goal was to provide children in the war zone with an education and the necessities of life. Five were sponsored that first year, then 22 and then early 2012 to increase its effectiveness, Shermer partnered with the Comboni Samaritans of Gulu.
TCAF Partners with the Comboni Samaritans of Gulu
The Samaritans are a Christian based indigenous Northern Uganda organization which was formed in 1992 in response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic. “In addition to their infrastructure and headquarters staff, they have over 100 field workers and contacts, which enable them to provide support for our sponsored children”, said Shermer. They provide TCAF with individual evaluations which enable us to establish individual sponsorship plans for each child whom we can share with their sponsor or prospective sponsors. CSG implements the plans with the funds that we send and provides us with updates on the child’s progress and their needs for the most fundamental needs such as mosquito nets and food. So over time and with the help of the CSG we have developed a more effective personalized approach designed to meet the specific needs of each child. Our partnership has given us the necessary support resources and we are now only limited by the number of people who are willing to sponsor a child.
By Carol Lawson-Weazy