This weeks charity spotlight is Imprint Hope, an organization in Uganda run by one of my friends and colleagues, Clare Byrne. Clare always has the warmest hugs, the craziest, out of the box ideas, and her free spirit makes me giggle like a child. God Bless you, Clare, for creating Imprint Hope to help children with disabilities and their families. You are such an inspiration! Read our dialogue below to learn more about Imprint Hope.
Q. Clare, we sat near each other for 3 years at Seton Hall University studying Occupational Therapy, both passed our state boards and became Occupational Therapists – what led you to Uganda and ultimately starting Imprint Hope?
A. I always wondered what happened to children with disabilities in other countries who were not blessed with social, medical and rehabilitative services. I wondered how children and families got by without Early Intervention; I wondered what hospitals were like; I wondered how children with disabilities were treated in other countries. When I was studying for my boards, I applied for jobs all over the world, but I also applied for a year-long volunteer experience through an organization called, Catholic Medical Mission Board (CMMB). CMMB is a non-profit organization that sends medical professionals all over the world. After graduating from Seton Hall University in 2012, I worked in Newark, New Jersey, USA for 6 months and then was sent to Uganda in 2013 through CMMB.
During my year of volunteer work with CMMB, I worked at an orphanage with over 300 children with disabilities. Being the only medical professional with the most severely disabled population of children I’ve ever seen was overwhelming, however the most challenging part apart that year of volunteer work was learning that 85% of the children at that orphanage actually had biological parents. These family members abandoned their child with a disability because they were overwhelmed by the challenge of taking care of a child with a disability with no social or rehabilitative services. Thus the dream to launch Imprint Hope began.
Q. What is Imprint Hope? What made you start this organization?
A. Founded in 2016 in Uganda, East Africa, Imprint Hope envisions a world where all children with disabilities are appreciated for their unique talents and provided an opportunity to actualize their full potential. The organization works to eliminate the neglect, abuse, abandonment, and death of children with disabilities in Uganda by educating communities on childhood disability, providing medical and rehabilitative services to the children affected and educating and empowering caretakers to care for their child and earn a living wage for their families. In doing so, Imprint Hope strives to raise awareness, break down barriers, and overcome the stigma that children with disabilities face on a daily basis.
To support and encourage families of children with disabilities, Imprint Hope’s team – social workers, a physical and occupational therapist, and a human rights advocate – identify and meet with families coming from rural areas of Central Uganda. The families who are invited to join Imprint Hope’s program begin a journey of discovery, enlightenment, and hope.
During the live-in 6-week program, Imprint Hope children receive daily physical and occupational therapy, orthopedic equipment and nutritional and medical support. While their child is being cared for, Imprint Hope families embark on a journey of their own, participating in daily classes on the types and causes of disability, proper hygiene, parenting techniques, and human rights of children with disabilities. In addition to learning about their child’s disability, families participate in vocational training in agriculture and tailoring to be better equipped to pay for their child’s medical expenses upon their return home.
Upon discharge from the program, Imprint Hope’s team conduct regular follow-up with children and their families at home, providing further education, equipment, and support.
Q. Tell us a little about yourself – what do you like to do for fun? What do you miss about living in New Jersey, USA?
A. My heart always yearns for adventure. Moving and living in a third world country has drastically shifted my daily routine, however, I still get up with the sun and go for a run down African dirt roads, do yoga and bake incessantly. My favorite parts of a day are interacting with the families at our center and spending quality time with two little boys I’ve adopted. Watching children grow, learn, laugh and develop for the first time in their life is a beautiful thing to see every day.
New Jersey will always have my heart because of my family. I’ve learned from living in Africa that home is where your family resides. I miss them so much and I hope for the day I can see them again!!
Q. What is a typical day life for you at Imprint Hope? What are the living conditions? Who else do you work with?
A. A “typical day” at Imprint Hope is watching the sun rise over the Nile River, getting my two adopted boys ready for school, and meeting with Imprint Hope staff members to plan for the day. I work with a Ugandan Physical Therapist all day in the therapy room. We provide one hour of individualized therapy to each child at our center during that day. This is where we work with the mothers and show them exercises to do with their child throughout the day and educate them on their child’s condition.
Along with a Ugandan Physical Therapist, Imprint Hope’s Staff includes a social worker, who provides an hour of counseling to the families every day. A Ugandan Human Rights Advocate, who teaches our families about the human rights of children with disabilities in Uganda. A cook, who prepares all of the food for the families. As well as a Day Guard, Night Guard, and various part-time teachers on nutrition, hygiene, parenting, disability, agriculture, tailoring, and business development.
Q. How do I get involved with Imprint Hope?
A. The motto of Imprint Hope from the launch is “it takes a village.” This means that we need a village in Uganda and a village in America. It was an abundant privilege
to grow up in America and not have to worry about where the next meal or set of clothing was coming from. However, I’ve learned from living in Uganda that this is not the reality for people in other countries of the world. If we are going to “imprint” a mark in Uganda we all need to work together and pool resources to help these desperate.
Any help in the realm of supplies for the center, monetary support or volunteer work over here in Uganda would be so transformative for the mission at large and a tremendous blessing to the families and children we serve.
Q. What do you need the most help with from Realm of Vibes readers?
A. If Imprint Hope’s Mission tugs at anyone’s heartstrings, please spread the word about how children with disabilities are living in other countries. Please contact me: email@example.com and ask how you can get further involved. Through spreading awareness and educating people, I know we can transform the lives of so many families in Uganda. #Ittakesavillage
Q. Give Realm of Vibes readers some final thoughts…
A. Children with disabilities are very special souls to me. Witnessing firsthand the disparity, rejection and challenges children with disabilities in Uganda experience on a daily basis compels my heart to action. Witnessing their joy, perseverance, and compassion they exemplify to everyone has transformed my outlook on life. I know in life we receive so we can go. We feel loved so we can love. We witness hope so we can be beacons of hope. These moments have given me renewed purpose in life and it is too good of a gift not to share with others.
If you have a non-profit organization that you would like featured on Realm of Vibes, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
“So, when are you going to have kids?”
“I don’t know. When are you going to lose weight?”
I’ve never said that, but I’ve wanted to…
Let’s try that again…
“So, when are you going to have kids?”
“I have furkids. A dog, sometimes a foster dog, and two cats.”
That’s more like my response.
On April 10, I will turn 30. On April 11, we will have been married for 3 years.
I have a dog, Bailey, a foster dog, and two cats, Jack and Ace. Right now, they are my furchildren. When people ask me when I am going to have human children, I answer their question depending on my mood.
I fluctuate between wanting to be a mother and wanting to remain childless. I look at my life now, bound only by my husband and animals. My mother, mother-in-law, or pet sitter could watch Bailey on short notice. My aunt loves cat-sitting. My husband can fend for himself if I go away with friends for a weekend. A child, however, needs more than a daily walk, litter box change, and food in a bowl. The career and Master’s degree I worked so hard for (and am still paying off) would put on pause to stay home and raise a child. I’m not one for day care; why bother since the cost wouldn’t even be worth me going to work. I never pictured myself jobless and financially dependent on my husband. I like to earn my own money and support myself. I can’t imagine being in my house all day, tending to a child and animals, cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry. I would go stir-crazy. No way. I’m already crazy. Then, I think about holding my baby in my arms, watching he or she grow and develop, and giving my parents and in-laws grandchildren. I think about the sleepless nights and poopy diapers, but the smiles, laughter, and endless amount of love might surpass rearranging my life and becoming a real housewife. I think parents call it unconditional love. Every morning I see a woman with a double stroller and her two dogs, jogging, and I think to myself, She is an awesome mom. She looks amazingly fit. She has 2 dogs and 2 kids. I can be her.
I look at the moms that I work with, and most of them seem overworked and overwhelmed. They are always on the phone in the closet or bathroom talking to the guidance counselor about Shawn’s D in geometry class or Kelly’s F in gym class. Some of them watch their nanny cams intently during their lunch break. I hear about day care nightmares and how little Abby is sick, once again. They sometimes share achievements and other developmental milestones, but most the time it focuses around what they must do (homework, doctor’s appointments, activities etc.), as if it were an inconvenience. When I mention how miserable they sound, usually they go into some story about how hard being a mother is, but how they love it and wouldn’t change it for the world. Having a kid sounds like a mixed bag.
I look at the adults without children and they seem happy, and content with not having children, but I always get a sense of worry when future planning is discussed. “Who is going to take care of me? I’m going to wind up in a nursing home.” The childless adults are the people that I see have less wrinkles, more free time, take several extravagant vacations, have the most amazing gadgets, and are current on the latest trends. They seem a lot more relaxed but I sometimes see sadness and apprehension about the future.
My opinions on having children fluctuates day to day. I have contemplated having none, being one-and-done and having two+ kids. Twins run in my family and sometimes I pray to God to give me a boy and girl, the ultimate two for one deal.
When asked: “When are you going to have kids?” these questions run through my head: What if I can’t get pregnant? What if we have problems? Why do people ask me this stupid, personal, invasive question? I don’t want to do IVF. Maybe we should start trying. Maybe we should wait until next year. What do I really want? I don’t know what I want. Maybe, I’m just not ready. Will I ever be ready? Shouldn’t I want to have a kid? I am a woman! I have a time clock. I don’t want to be an old mom. I’ll be happy, no matter what, right? And the chatter continues…
Take that question and remove it from your repertoire. If you can help it, let the undecided woman be. Let her decide in her own time and her own way what is right for her.
Whatever is meant to be, will happen. Whether I have none, one, two, twins, or three+, life will continue.
“So, when are you going to have kids?”
“Maybe tonight, maybe next week, maybe next month, maybe next year, maybe never.”