CANHAVE Children’s Centre’s History

In the beginning by Floyd McPhee

It started with a phone call.  That phone call came in April 1990 from a friend of mine living in Toronto.  He asked me to visit a refugee from Uganda, recently arrived in Ottawa.  I visited Caroline Nakayenga and her young daughter Catherine.  While visiting Caroline, I was introduced to Edward Bukenya, another refugee from the same district in Uganda where Caroline had lived.  Before coming to Ottawa, they had met each other in a refugee camp in Kenya. Parkwood Presbyterian Church was instrumental in helping both Caroline and Edward get settled, providing financial aid, food, clothing and friendship.  They were welcomed into the congregation.

In 1994 Caroline returned to Uganda to visit family and friends.  She also visited Edward’s sister who, because of the HIV/AIDS virus, had lost her husband, and was herself dying of the disease.  From her deathbed, she asked Caroline to somehow care for her five children, soon to be orphaned.  Caroline promised that she would help.

Once back in Canada, Caroline invited me to visit her in her apartment, on Argyle Avenue, on a hot summer day in August.   What I thought would be a regular pastoral visit turned out to be anything but.   She told me of her commitment to provide for the five orphans and invited me to join her in her effort to support the five children in Uganda.  I agreed.

Caroline with 4 of the 5 original orphans in 1994

We started to hold meetings with interested people at Parkwood church, and soon had plans to become registered as a charitable organization.  The name we chose was CANHAVE CHILDREN’S CENTRE.  We became known as CANHAVE (Canadians Helping Aids Victims with Education).  A volunteer interdenominational Board was established. Grete Hale, who had met Caroline through a remarkable set of coincidences, joined us a Board member and brought her remarkable contacts in the Ottawa community with her.  We originally considered building a home to accommodate the children.  This is where the name Canhave Children’s Centre comes from.   However, in a visit with the Ugandan High Commissioner, he suggested that we focus our attention on educating the children, leaving them with their elderly grandfather with whom they were now living.  So our focus turned to education the children and leaving them to live with relatives.

The five children were enrolled in the Busabaga Primary School.  Unfortunately, the school had no windows, or doors, or flooring.  As money came in, we were able not only able to pay for the tuition fees, but install windows, doors and a concrete floor.  With the help of a grant from the Presbyterian World Service and Development Fund, we were able to build a cement latrine for the School community, and later on, install a water tank.  These initiatives enabled the children to attend school, regardless of the weather, and also to enjoy good drinking water and bathroom facilities.

The Early Years by Grete Hale

The heartwarming stories of the early days of CANHAVE in the 1990s are seared in my soul.  In early 1995, I was heading off for my first trip to Uganda and looking forward to meeting the first five children that would form the core of the AIDS orphans that CANAHVE would accept to educate.  They ranged in age from 5 to 12 years old.  I only knew their names and ages.  At the last moment, I thought I should buy some gift for these unknown children that I could take with me on the plane.

It was a Sunday afternoon and the only store that I knew would be open that sold children’s clothes was Sears.  The store seemed almost empty but I found a saleslady who helped me buy summer outfits for the two girls and three boys.  I asked her if she could find caps for them and told her about our hope to start an organization to educate these five orphans.  She returned with five fun caps and told me that she would like to help these children and would pay for the caps herself.

The simple story that touched the heart of this saleslady and prompted her generous gesture has touched Canadian hearts and pocketbooks, and led to the fact that we have grown from those first five children and are now supporting the education of 100 orphans.

I have such gratitude to Parkwood Presbyterian Church and its two ministers who, over the years, have given us their support, and also space in the church so we could meet with members of the CANAHVE Board to plan the future of CANAHVE.

Here is a favourite early story of mine about the building of a 5 room school in Uganda to educate our AIDS orphans.  A primary school teacher in Gatineau heard about our need for money.  The 300 students of that school and their teachers sold 1000 lollipops and baked 30 pies and gave CANHAVE $3,000.00 that paid for the school’s water tank.

And so the stories of what CANAHVE has and is doing continue as everyone who donates plays a part to help educate Ugandan AIDS orphans and to build their futures and the future of their country.

FACES of CANHAVE in 2000 by John Huber

In 2000, the CANHAVE Board consisted of eight members: Edward Bukenya, Merritt Cluff, Grete Hale, Ivan Hooper, John Huber, Mike Hughes, Susan McCullough, Rev. Floyd McPhee, and Caroline Nakayenga. At the start of the year the bank balance was $7364.52 and 11 children were being sponsored. By May, four more children were added, bringing the total 15, spread around in 10 schools. The goal of CANHAVE at the time was modest: ultimately to support 25 children on a yearly basis until they graduated from secondary school.  Mike, a computer programmer by profession, volunteered to design and set up a web page, and Ivan provided information of the proportion of incoming funds that had to be spent each year to maintain CANHAVE’s charitable status. The Board met eight times and the Annual General Meeting held in June at Parkwood Presbyterian Church. The guest speaker was Sylvia Barrows who worked for the Canadian International Development Agency.

The one (and only) contact in Uganda was Joseph Kabali who faithfully and caringly kept in touch with the children, reported on their well-being, sent us some of their report cards so we had some idea of how they were doing in school, and sent us photos from the 1999 Christmas party. Caroline and Joseph ensured that school fees for each child and term were paid and current, using the money Caroline sent from Canada. The Board decided to pay Joseph $25 per child to cover his costs and thank him for this dedication in helping the sponsored children. Most of the children were in public schools and because of the rather poor report cards it was decided to attempt to put as many children in private schools as possible where the teaching was better and the school classes less crowded.

In 2000, funds raised in Canada were used only to sponsor children by paying their school fees but the Board asked Joseph to explore the possibility of funding a community project. He recommended additions to a poor school that lacked even basic clean facilities. Thus, the first CANHAVE community project was to pay for a new latrine, build a water holding tank, and install a door and windows on the Busabaga Primary School where several of CANHAVE children attended. Encouraged by the successful completion of this project and a letter of thanks from the school’s headmaster, Nsubuga Kizito, Grete requested that the Board consider sending money to the same school for books.

Later in 2000, fundraising efforts expanded by sending out letters explaining what CANHAVE was doing, to 25 churches in Ottawa, the Evangelical Ministerium and the East Nepean Ministerium.  LINCS was also contacted because they wanted a wish list from CANHAVE which they could use in purchasing some of the items needed by the children. A rummage sale at Parkwood church was organized by Dorothy Nekrasoff and yielded $321.85. Mike continued work on a newsletter, the plan being to send one out to sponsors on a quarterly basis. In December, $300 was sent to Joseph to buy Christmas presents for the children, to be distributed at their Christmas party. If I recall correctly, each child got a soft drink and a T-shirt and the Christmas photo received showed 15 smiling children wearing them proudly.

By the of the year the Canadian account had $7798.30, as reported in January 2001 and a Ugandan bank account was opened but was not yet operational as no funds had yet been deposited into it. It was a successful year for CANHAVE. The greatest gift for CANHAVE Board members was the satisfaction of helping in a small way to improve the lives of a few orphans of AIDS victims in a faraway country.

A Time of Change by Gwynneth Evans

In August 2003, I travelled to Uganda for two distinct reasons. I was attending the All Africa Conference on Reading being held in Kampala and I visited some of the Ugandan non-governmental organizations I have supported for many years.

My introduction to Uganda dates from the late 60s when I taught for two years in Mukono. At the time, I had the opportunity to visit the small villages and towns of my students, where I got a sense of how families and communities lived. In 2003, I updated my knowledge of rural southern Uganda, by driving with Joseph Kabali, the Children’s Coordinator to visit our CANHAVE students in their various schools.  The school term was coming to a close but we visited many of our children in both rural and urban settings. We would arrive at the school and ask for our children to come out to meet me. I had gifts of bedding for each of them for the homes where they stayed.  We would talk briefly and then have a photo together.

Peter Kaseero sometimes came with us. He was one of the original five CANHAVE orphans. By 2003, Peter had left school at Secondary 3. He was living with some of his siblings in an unfinished house and trying to find work to cover the costs of the household. The academic courses of his secondary school had not prepared Peter for manual work or a trade.  Then as now, it was very difficult for young people to find a job, especially anything like a regular job with some guarantee of an income.

Peter had made it clear to the board of directors in Ottawa that he appreciated the support from Canada but he really needed further training.   He accompanied us so he could see the other CANHAVE children and have something to do during the day.

Peter sat in the back seat. I remember feeling his eyes and his frustration through the upholstery of the seat.  I did not blame Peter and the other CANHAVE pioneers who left school about the same time. In school they had been cared for and had the security of daily classes. Without a routine and something to anchor and support them, it was difficult for teenagers to be hopeful.

Fortunately, two possibilities converged. CANHAVE raised funds for training the pioneers and two parcels of land fell into the hands of the Ugandan trustees. Brother Vincent gave the trustees 7 acres of land in Kisubi near Lake Victoria. The need for further practical training encouraged CANHAVE to plan and build, mostly though volunteer labour, the vocational school.  After clearing the land on the two-acre parcel, five classrooms were built, shaped in a horseshoe.

Between my visit in 2003 and the study tour for nine Canadians in 2008, CANHAVE increased the number of AIDS orphans supported and chose trades for the young pioneers who had left school. Joseph Mawanda studied Fine Arts; Cathy Namazzi took computer studies and Peter and Moses Bataliwo gained certificates in carpentry.

Ugandan board members and volunteers worked tirelessly to prepare for the opening of the trade school in February 2008, when the Canadian visitors were present. And when it became evident that we needed shelter for the girls attending the vocational school, a classroom was converted into a dormitory with bunk beds for our new students. The boys lived in a shelter in the village.

Over a period of five years, CANHAVE took decisions which enlarged the size and complexity of its work in Uganda for AIDS orphans.


CANHAVE in the new decade by Janet Castle

January 2010 saw CANHAVE supporting 60 pupils in the Children’s Program.  We were working towards the goal of 100 pupils, excited because we had passed the half-way mark.  A Planning Session in December of 2009 outlined our work for the coming years. The key item on our list was an evaluation of the Children’s Programme to begin in the year 2010.  This was the critical activity which eventually led to the development of the first formal agreement with our Ugandan Partners – the Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2012.  The discussions ensuing reaffirmed our root purpose: to provide educational opportunities for the neediest Aids orphans so they could attain the basics of numeracy and literacy.

The Vocational School was growing as well.  The beginning of 2010 was a period of great excitement for the Ugandan partners.  A container shipment was on its way to Uganda and was finally received in the spring.  Thousands of tools for the school were a real boost for the school programming.  Plans were afoot to build a safe haven for the female students: a girls’ dormitory.  Fencing for the compound, a well for clean drinking water and a rainwater collection system were improvements welcomed by all. A priority at that time for Uganda was the assurance of viable and sustainable income for the Trade School on a continuing basis.  This continues to be a priority today.

Ever a concern, strengthening communications with Uganda became a top priority.  We were delighted that Elizabeth Kaziro, the Secretary of the Ugandan Board of Trustees was able to visit with us, meet with us, and share valuable information first hand.  All agreed that we needed to improve communications.  All saw the difficulty facing the Trustees who deal on a daily basis with power blackouts, communication breaks and the unique circumstances attending an association run entirely by volunteers.

We set difficult tasks for ourselves.  We began the process of rebranding and changing the look of CANHAVE.  We underwent a review of our overall philosophy, ensuring that we were faithful to the promises made to our founding members and to our Ugandan family.  We reached out to the community, aiming to widen the skill set of the Canadian Board and to strengthen our donor base.  The lessons we learned from the past stood us in good stead.  We came into 2010 with a daunting list of items for growth.  We left 2010 clearly seeing the map for the future of our little NGO with a very big heart.