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June-July 2019 | Articles

Champions Awards – Ken Berkin and Katy Harris

Champions Awards – Ken Berkin and Katy Harris

At the Rotary Conference & Showcase in Nottingham last month, the Champions Awards recognised outstanding humanitarian and community service conducted by volunteers from across Great Britain and Ireland.

The Champions Awards recognise individual heroes for projects at home or overseas.

Here, this year’s Champions write in their own words, about what their project means to them, what it entailed and how it has made a difference.

Author: Ken Berkin

To be called by God to serve Him as a priest is the most rewarding, but humbling, experience to ever aspire to.

And so, it was many years back now, when I was selected and trained to be an ordained priest in the Church of Uganda.

It came from nowhere outwardly. I felt a call of duty to serve Him in south-western Uganda, to reach out to God’s children, and to give them a better life and improved way of living.

So with my wife and family around me, and two trusty friends, we started a UK registered charity to do that very work.

There are many of life’s challenges to face if you live in this remote area of south-western Uganda, where life expectancy is a meagre 42 years.”

As I write, we have some 150 orphan, abandoned and needy children on our books, including 29 who live in a purpose-built children’s centre which we financed and built.

There are many of life’s challenges to face if you live in this remote area of southwestern Uganda, where life expectancy is a meagre 42 years and one of the major ones is the lack of clean and fresh water.

‘Water is life’ is a local expression. So, when we learned there was a continuous fresh running spring which was just eking out of the ground in a remote area of the Rift Valley, we were motivated to see how this valuable source could be tapped for the benefit of hundreds of rural villagers.

The community joined us on a voluntary basis and, with the help of a qualified water engineer, we found two more springs adjacent to the original.

They were all tapped into a concrete tank and this has now produced three distinct flowing water sources, providing continuous clean and beautiful spring water.

A true gift is that for the first time in the history of Ihimbo village – that we know of – inhabitants will no longer have to walk a round journey of six kilometres to collect water. Dirty stream water at that!

This has not been a project governed by finances alone, but rather a faith and a vision that changes can be made by hard work and teamwork in the service to others.

It stands as a role-model of what can be achieved if we all pull together and will stand the test of time.

If you put your trust in God, then all things are possible.

Ken Berkin from South Foreland Rotary in Kent is passionate about empowering people to lift themselves out of poverty, strengthen their families and improve their communities. He has worked in Uganda for the past 45 years, and his latest project has led to the protection of three natural springs of fresh water in the western end of the Rift Valley.

Author: Katy Harris

I am a retired primary school headteacher and wanted to use my knowledge and skills to help in other situations.

I became involved in the school in Uganda in its infancy six years ago. The director of the school is Pastor Joel. He lived on the edge of a slum area in one of the suburbs of Kampala, the capital of Uganda.

He had a vision to provide an education for the children living in the slums, as he realised that the only way out of poverty was through education, and thus the school was born!

Through my church and a charity called Karuna Action based in Aldershot, Hampshire, I became involved initially in fund-raising but then supporting education in the school.

Annual visits followed. We take out teams of teachers to support in the classrooms and take out much needed equipment.

I also facilitate teachertraining sessions and leadership training which is where I am able to use my knowledge and skills to best eff ect.

Over the years I have built up a good relationship with the teachers who initially were very wary of this white lady!

They have become my friends and welcome my visits when we have great fun in the training sessions.

Over the years, I have seen the school grow both in numbers and reputation. There are now over 500 students ranging from nursery to secondary age.”

In between visits, Skype has become an excellent way of communicating and I am able to offer advice and guidance throughout the year. Joel, with great affection, calls me his ‘international headteacher’.

The children are delightful and so eager to learn. They always give us such a welcome when we arrive singing and dancing – they are an absolute joy!

The children are doing well and many of them have great aspirations to become teachers, doctors and lawyers.

Many of the children choose to live on site during the week, going back to their homes at weekends and holiday times.

They are very proud of their homes which despite the slum conditions are kept very clean and tidy. I am always amazed by how they manage to get their washing so clean in such a dirty environment!

Their living space is very small, around two metres square, and accommodates an infinite number of children.

Orphaned children are often taken in by other family members. Over the years, I have seen the school grow both in numbers and reputation.

There are now over 500 students ranging from nursery to secondary age.

New land has been acquired to accommodate the growing numbers and the school is well received by the local government. Exam results are some of the best in the Kampala district.

I find it very humbling to be able to play a part in the school’s success. In the future we hope the school will become selfsustaining since, as its reputation grows, it is attracting more fee paying students from the local area.

However, at its heart the children from the slum areas take precedence. I love visiting the school and my involvement with the teachers and children. To see the children thriving gives me such a sense of fulfilment.

I am looking forward to my next visit in October.

Katy Harris from Farnborough Rotary in Hampshire has given outstanding commitment to a school project in Uganda, giving children living in extreme poverty the opportunity to break out of the cycle and fulfil their potential.

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