Flowers for Fence fundraiser looks to have global impact

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Kennedy Bulman, when she was a Central student, is shown interacting with kids from the Obwobwo’s Light CarePoint during a trip. (Submitted photos)

Former Central student Ellie Kuehl is pictured on a trip to the Obwobwo’s Light CarePoint in Uganda.

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register


A recent Flowers for Fence fundraiser shed renewed light on a local resident’s eight-year effort to transform an impoverished community in Uganda that has been coined “Obwobwo’s Light.” 


In 2015, after overhearing about a trip to Uganda by a group of people from Des Moines through a friend, Jamie Wingert booked a ticket as well, a decision that put into action a long held desire to be “part of the global community through service.” 


The opportunity felt right, and it was a trip that would shape not just Wingert’s future, but also the futures of a tiny community in Uganda. 


During that fateful trip, Wingert started discussing expanding outreach to another community through Children’s HopeChest, an organization centered around “empowering orphaned and impoverished children and their communities through relationships that cultivate holistic transformation and sustainability.” 


Those conversations moved beyond mere words a year later, when Wingert, along with daughter Mylee, returned to Uganda in 2016 to meet with members of the community to “solidify a partnership” with a place referred to by locals as “The Ends of the Earth.”


“The reality of this particular community at that time was that many were malnourished, the educational system was lacking and most were not attending school, medical needs were not able to be met, and local support was not present,” Wingert said. 


Upon returning from that trip, Wingert signed contracts with HopeChest to become a HopeChest Partnership Leader. The following year, the entire Wingert family traveled back to Uganda to launch what is known as the Obwobwo CarePoint, or Obwobwo’s Light, which is a former internally displaced persons camp located in the Katakwi district, with a population just under 1,000 people. 


In contrast to other sponsorship organizations that focus on a more traditional one-to-one child sponsorship, HopeChest, which was founded in 1994 in response to the devastating needs of orphaned children in Russia following the fall of the Iron Curtain, “focuses on integrating those sponsorship and donor commitments into transforming the communities in which those children live and impacting all factors that contribute to the cycle of poverty.”


Another unique aspect, and one that drew Wingert to the organization, is the philosophy of building hope rather than focusing on material things. This is important because a major point of emphasis involved in these CarePoints is creating sustainability. It’s providing a hand up, not a hand out. 


“The people in Uganda that we partner with are not lacking motivation or desire. They are lacking resources and hope. Through this partnership, we are developing a mutually rewarding relationship that all benefit from,” Wingert explained. 


Officially launched in 2017, Obwobwo’s Light was named for a parable of a lamp, which states a “lamp is not brought in to be put under a basket, but it is to be put on a lamp stand to light the whole house.” 


In Wingert’s interpretation, it’s about using the light, or “gifts,” that make people who they are, and people can choose to use them or not. In the case of Obwobwo’s Light, using those gifts is about empowering a community that has experienced generations of war and unimaginable suffering, often feeling hopeless or forgotten, to lift itself out of poverty. 


“As global citizens, it is necessary that we do not hide our lights and that we use them to light others. It really is that simple,” Wingert said. 


In the early years, the over-arching concern was poverty and illness, but the bulk of those issues have been addressed by fundraising efforts since 2017 by sponsors and donors—the majority of whom reside in northeast Iowa. 


Prior fundraising efforts have included the purchase of land; construction of a CarePoint building, latrines and a kitchen; funding income-generating projects such as an apiary and piggery; purchasing soccer uniforms for the soccer team; purchasing sheep for each of the CarePoint children to begin their own income-generating herd; and providing seed money for village savings and loans groups. 


“That is on top of our regular efforts to fund medical, nutritional and school expenses for the 147 children in the program,” Wingert said. 


With some of those problems seemingly resolved, the latest focus is on income-generating projects that will allow the community to transition into a self-sustaining entity. In order to accomplish this, there is a need for a fence around the area, primarily due to the fact Obwobwo’s Light is mainly a farming community and farming is the main source of income and livelihood. However, cattle currently graze through the CarePoint compound, resulting in destruction of gardens and beehives and creating wear and tear overall. 


“The fence will enclose our land and provide safety, not only for our projects, but for the children and families as well. The reality is that there continues to be civil unrest in the area, and less than a year ago, the families gathered at the CarePoint as rebels passed through the area. Providing for the safety and security of the families we serve is a necessity,” Wingert explained. 


Out of this necessity was born Wingert’s Flowers for Fence Fundraiser, an effort to raise the approximately $22,000 it will cost to fence in Obwobwo’s Light. Wingert stated the idea was developed out of her recent empty nester status. With no children at home over the winter, she planted cut flower seeds in her basement. After reading and researching what to grow, she settled on dahlias. 


Once the flowers were in bloom, Wingert made several bouquets and offered them for a $20 donation. According to Wingert, since the first post on Facebook, the “fundraiser has been blooming.” With help from family and friends making deliveries, the fundraiser has generated almost a quarter of the necessary funds to construct the fence. 


This fundraiser is part of a larger picture that includes projects like a solar power initiative that looks to make the CarePoint self sustaining in the next five to seven years. The power of the relationship will forever remain. 


“The power of relationships is no more evident than when we return every year and see the transformations that have taken place, strongly because of the hope that has been created by believing in a small village in Africa that had lost hope,” Wingert said. 


Wingert took a trip in 2015, almost impulsively because she was inspired and “called to give back.” The trip was humbling, but highlighted how fortunate she is, coming to “fully understand the responsibility of giving back.” 


Mylee has accompanied her in every trip since, and it has created “an indescribable experience” that makes Wingert emotional to think about. Other local teens have also made the trip, impacting the way they see the world, Wingert said. 


What’s taking place in Obwobwo’s Light is proof that small, local communities in a distant country can have a global impact.


“I had no idea the scale of the impact until I sit and reflect on it…Community members will tell us that the opportunities that HopeChest has provided are changing things for all generations to come, and I truly believe it, not just in Africa but in America as well. Being part of something so transformative has to have an impact,” Wingert said.

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