While most Americans were celebrating the Fourth of July with backyard picnics and fireworks, a Franklin Park woman was hosting a workshop in Uganda as part of Healing the Orphan Heart Ministry.
Janet Helms is the co-founder of the ministry and has traveled to Africa over 20 times since 1997.
Her first trip started out as a photo safari to Uganda in 1997, but Mrs. Helms came home with a lot more than just photos — she returned with the beginning of an idea to change lives.
“That first trip planted the seeds of what Africa was like and I knew I wanted to go back, but in a different capacity,” Mrs. Helms said.
She did that two years later when she and her husband, Worth, went on a mission trip with Christ Church at Grove Farm in Ohio Township.
“We really fell in love with Uganda and the people,” she said.
There was an orphan named Olive. The Helms wanted to adopt her, but they couldn’t because of the laws in Uganda. They made arrangements to pay for Olive’s boarding school; yet, they were still worried about her emotional care. A woman they had befriended in Uganda, Sylvia Tamusuza, said she would take care of Olive.
“It was wonderful because we knew she was being cared for and loved. That was actually the start of my involvement with helping educate orphans,” Mrs. Helms said.
The friendship between the two women grew, not only because of their shared love for Olive, but also because of their shared desire to help orphans in Uganda. They liked the idea of educating and caring for other orphans using the same method that was being used for Olive, and they thought that perhaps they could expand on that model.
“We thought that we could have people like me help pay for schooling and have local people supply the love and care,” she said.
In 2006, Mrs. Helms and Ms. Tamusuza began Love and Care Family, a nonprofit to assist orphans in Uganda and to formalize a partnership between the two countries.
Mrs. Helms enrolled in graduate studies at Trinity School of Ministry in Ambridge, where she met a pastor from northern Kenya, the Rev. Qampicha Daniel Wario, in 2008.
“Daniel told us about the nomadic lifestyle of the people there and how difficult it is to educate the children if they are always moving,” Mrs. Helms said.
The two talked about methods to fund a school. In 2010, using money she inherited from her late mother, Beatrice Mouganis, Mrs. Helms helped Rev. Wario start a Christian boarding school in Marsabit, Kenya.
The school is named Tumaini, which means “hope” in the Kiswahli language, and is part of Kenya Christian Education Partnership. The school started with 80 students in kindergarten and first grade, and has expanded each year. Today, it educates 320 students in kindergarten through fifth grade. A water tank also has been built, which is key to the success of a school in Africa.
“We are so proud of the school and the work we have done,” Mrs. Helms said.
But Mrs. Helms’ work in Africa wasn‘t done. She and Ms. Tamusuza realized that even if they sheltered and educated the orphans, the children still had emotional wounds from their abandonment. The two began working on providing healing workshops for those who were orphaned to help them deal with the trauma in their lives.
“We recognized that if they face the rejection and abandonment, how would they ever heal?” Mrs. Helms said.
Working together, the two women hosted a workshop at Ugandan Christian University in 2011, which was attended by more than 1,500 people. More than 300 of the attendees stayed behind to talk about problems that orphans face.
“We knew right then that there was obviously a need,” Mrs. Helms said.
Since the start of the Healing Orphan Heart Ministry, Mrs. Helms has presented workshops in the United States and Africa, some of which she partnered with Rev. Wario.
Two years ago, Olive came to the United States to live with the Helms family and attend Slippery Rock University.
“It has been wonderful to have her here,” Mrs. Helms said.
Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: email@example.com.