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Fundraiser helps get clean water for those in need

Chris Opio, a University of Northern B.C. professor, grew up in a small northern Ugandan village where there was no clean drinking water. As a child he got really sick from the dirty water like so many others.
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This is one of 83 wells the local non-profit, Northern Uganda Development Foundation (NUDF), has provided to those in need. There is a fundraiser Sunday, May 12 to further support the foundation's efforts.

Chris Opio, a University of Northern B.C. professor, grew up in a small northern Ugandan village where there was no clean drinking water. As a child he got really sick from the dirty water like so many others. Because of his big brother's determination, Opio got the medicine he needed to make a full recovery.

Other children are not so lucky.

Opio feels a strong sense of obligation to give back to the community from which he came and started the Northern Uganda Development Foundation (NUDF).

The foundation's goal is to provide projects that empower villagers, and in particular, women, so they lead self-sustaining lives, including important aspects like maintaining clean water, adequate food and shelter, access to basic health care and education.

Each year, Opio organizes a major fundraiser for the foundation, with all monies raised going directly to projects in Northern Uganda to help the people, including family Opio still has in Buga, the village where he grew up.

So far the foundation has installed 83 wells, repaired three and those wells serve more than 100,000 people.

In an effort to help more people, the ninth annual African Dinner and Auction takes place Saturday, May 12, at the Columbus Community Centre and features an authentic African dinner.

Liz Wass, a UNBC student studying forestry and conservation biology, took a couple of Opio's classes and was intrigued by his foundation's initiatives.

Wass, who was already in South Africa last August, made a plan to visit Northern Uganda while Opio was there. Wass stayed for eight days visiting about 10 of the 83 wells the foundation has provided to those in need in Northern Uganda.

Wass said many of the wells are maintained to a high standard and some are not. She took note that those maintained by a committee of women were the most successful and the committee would ask for a couple of cents a month from those using the well so that if a repair or new part was needed they would have the funds to do so.

The foundation has expanded its list of projects to not only include wells but tree nurseries and goats projects as part of the goal of self-sustaining lifestyles.

Wass also visited a tree nursery to see how that project worked.

"NUDF hired a forester to go over and teach the working women's group about how to run a tree nursery," she said. "Not only do these women cultivate trees and sell them and make money, they are also planting a number of these trees because they understand climate change and the land use issue and deforestation and things like that. They are also planting a large number of trees, which I thought was phenomenal. You don't have to go to university to understand climate change. These folks are on the ground and are seeing change right in front of them."

Wass said she was really impressed that once the first nursery was established for a couple of years, groups of 15 people, mostly women, who expressed interest are coming in from other villages to be trained on how to create and successfully maintain their own tree nursery.

"I thought that was really admirable that they were taking the knowledge NUDF provided to them and were able to share it with others," she said. "Knowledge sharing and building culture is really cool. It was nice to see."

What NUDF does to make people self-sufficient is very important, Wass added.

"It's good see these types of initiatives being put in place there," she said. "It gives people responsibility and their lives have meaning and purpose."

Wass attended the annual African dinner last year and said it was a lovely evening and knows those attending this year's event will really enjoy it.

"The event was more than I expected," Wass said. "The food was amazing and I think what I'd like to say to folks is any way that you can get involved is really important. If you have the opportunity to actually travel there and see it for yourself I would highly encourage that. But if not, even providing support through the silent auction is helpful because all those proceeds go to the people and I've met these people and they are some of the most resilient, strong people I have ever met. It was a really humbling experience that gave me a lot of perspective in terms of this is someone's reality. This is what they have to live with and these are the challenges they have to overcome and just having that perspective is really important, knowing there are people living a completely different reality than our own."

The annual African Dinner and Auction goes Saturday, May 12 at the Columbus Community Centre, 7201 Domano Blvd. Cocktails start at 6 p.m., dinner is at 6:45. Tickets are $40 each at Books & Co., the UNBC bookstore or from Chris Opio by calling 250-961-9221.

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