Fair trade: Ugandan schoolchildren have a Montreal champion

Judy Labow’s active vocabulary does not include the word “retire.” Until 2013, she was head teacher of patients at the Jewish General Hospital’s Family and Child Psychiatry unit, where she continues to teach.

Labow discovered a passion in 2006 to add to her lifelong commitment to make the world a better place: She led a team of educators to volunteer in a Ugandan shantytown called Namuwongo, on the outskirts of Kampala, and decided to do something lasting to help orphaned children.

In 2007, Labow co-created a program to support children so they can learn basic literacy skills and support themselves with a job.

“Primary education is free in Uganda, but orphans cannot afford to buy shoes, socks, uniforms, or medical care,” Labow explained. “Without shoes or money for a uniform, our kids would never be able to go to school.”

With a budget of $7,000, the Namuwongo Project also pays the salary and lodging of a teacher. It’s enough to
support 20 children. The money, which goes a long way in Uganda, is raised from friends and other individual supporters, but the donations are never enough and new donors are always welcome.

To make ends meet, Labow buys handcrafted jewellery from a women’s co-op in Namuwongo. The items will be on sale at the Jewish General Hospital Atrium in November and at various other locations.

To ensure that the project is reaching its goals, Labow and fellow organizer Howard Shapiro, principal of the Belz Community School-boys, will fly to Uganda and offer extra help to the resident teacher.

Both are seeking volunteers with teaching experience to help these children get the literacy tools they need to survive.

“The volunteers assist the teacher at Kisugu Junior School, and offer extra help to groups of five.”

The goal is for the children to reach grade-three literacy level and get a job outside the slum, Labow says.

Shapiro plans to visit in March while Labow is to follow in July. “We oversee the project, and we and the volunteers teach. We want to ensure that our money is being spent properly, that the kids have the uniforms they need and our teacher is happy.”

For more information, contact Labow at judylabow@gmail.com or Shapiro at oppih@bell.net.

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