A Life As A Human interview with Chelsea Peters
Wanderlust has taken Chelsea Peters all over the globe, but a chance encounter with street children in northern Uganda changed her life forever. Chelsea and her partner Owiny Morris met a group of street children in Lira, Uganda in 2011 and felt compelled to help them. When they found that there was no government social network to help them they turned to each other and asked a simple question, “Why not us?”
The answer to that question was Atin Afrika Foundation which since June 2011 has taken over 60 children off of the streets of Lira and resettled them back into their home communities.
LAAH: What exactly is it that you do?
CP: My partner Morris and I operate a residential shelter for street kids in northern Uganda. We take 10-15 children at a time off the street and give them a safe haven. After 2 months of rehabilitation and counseling we resettle them back in their home communities with family members and sponsor their education to ensure that they go back to school.
LAAH: When did you start?
CP: I initially came to Uganda in 2010 and on that trip I met Morris. While in Lira we began hanging out with street kids. We saw so much potential in them and knew that all they needed was a chance and someone to believe in them. We changed our lives completely, we moved to Lira and in June 2011 we rented a house, hired a matron and started Atin Afrika Foundation.
LAAH: Why do you do it and what is the motivation or passion that keeps you going?
CP: Working with street kids is tough; it’s definitely not all hugs and giggles. There are days when kids run back to the street and return high as a kite from sniffing glue. You wonder what on earth you are doing halfway around the world trying to show them they are worth it when they don’t even believe it themselves. But we never give up. For Morris, who grew up in an orphanage, he sees these kids as walking in the footsteps of his own life and feels like he can help them navigate the ups and downs of that path. For me, I feel like this is my life’s purpose. Honestly speaking, these kids give me so much more than I could ever give back to them.
LAAH: Do you feel that what you have done so far has made a difference? If so, can you explain how?
CP: Every time I see a new face on the street I ask myself this very question. Are we making a difference? It used to drive me nuts until I realized that the answer is simple. We can talk about numbers of children no longer on the street and numbers of children still there but at the end of the day all of these numbers have faces and each child has their own story to tell. We are giving each one of them the opportunity to change their story for the better.
LAAH: Who are your allies and supporters in this enterprise?
CP: We started Atin Afrika with a lot of passion and no money. Amazing family and friends have helped us keep things going. Without their encouragement I don’t know where we would be today. We are also very grateful to Aall Foundation which gave us our first major donation this year. Most importantly though is the local team in Uganda: Grace, Dennis, Hudson and Ronald. These people have poured their hearts into Atin Afrika and really are my heroes.
LAAH: Do you have plans to grow your involvement, to expand the scope of your project? If so, can you elaborate on these plans?
CP: Atin Afrika is small. I love that about it. By taking in a small group of children at a time we are able to provide them with a home setting and a lot of love and attention. I would never want to change that. Where we want to grow is in community engagement. Right now we have a sponsorship program that pays the school fees for all of our resettled children. That is fine for now because getting them back in school is incredibly important; however, we want to develop small income-generating projects in their communities which generate sufficient funds to pay school fees. This would remove any dependency on Atin Afrika and give the children and their families the power to provide for their education. To me this would be true success.
LAAH: Like anything in life worth working for there must be difficulties and struggles too. Can you share with us what have been your greatest challenges?
CP:Fundraising is tricky stuff. When we started Atin Afrika we took the plunge and committed 100%. I wouldn’t have it any other way; I’m a bit of an all or nothing kind of gal. But over the years we have felt the negative effects of this. There is nobody in Canada telling our story and helping us to network and fund-raise so raising support for the project can be really tough. But on a positive note, all of the money raised goes to Uganda, we have no overhead costs in Canada and only Ugandans work for the project and earn salaries. This keeps our costs low and also makes Atin Afrika about local people making a difference in their own country.
LAAH: How can people help you?
CP: Just by reading this interview people are helping. Spreading the word about what we do is a great way to help. Getting involved is even better. Come to Uganda, help us spread awareness and fund-raise, make a donation. Like us in Facebook!
Every little bit helps.
You can read more about us and follow our thoughts, reflections and discoveries as Atin Afrika Foundation grows from dream to reality.
Click here to visit the Atin Afrika blog.
The Life As A Human team thanks Chelsea & Morris for all the great work they have done in Northern Uganda and for giving us this interview. If you know Chelsea & Morris, or if their work has touched your life in some way, please leave them a comment.
We know they would love to hear from you!
All Photos Are © Atin Afrika Foundation