Windsor woman makes a difference in the lives of Ugandan children

Shirley Feng
By Shirley Feng April 21, 2018 15:44

Geri Sutts, of Windsor, Ont., founded Save African Child Uganda. (Photo by Mengru Feng)

And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

— Matthew 25:40

By Mengru Feng

Geri Sutts, a retired teacher from Windsor, Ont. and the founder of Save African Child Uganda (SACU), is a bridge between children in Buwundo and people in Windsor.

The Christian woman started the non-governmental organization in 2010 to help children in Uganda.

Since it began, SACU has registered and helped 160 children — 18 of them are living in shelter now, 13 have been sent to higher education.

Sutts tends to impress people who meet her. She is full of enthusiasm and passion, especially when it comes to SACU, which she can hardly stop talking about.

Sutts lives alone in a small, warm apartment in Windsor. When people step inside, they will immediately see large and small pictures of Ugandan children throughout the room. They are everywhere, hanging on the wall, mounted on the cabinet or the desk. They show small children with happy smiles.

“You look around, almost everything here is SACU. These are my kids, and I called them my kids,” Sutts pointed at a photo of her and the Ugandan children.

The beginning of SACU was in 2008. Sutts led a team of 12 volunteers in Uganda to help build a classroom for Watoto Ministries. She met a 19-year-old Ugandan named Ivan Nsera there. They had a deep conversation and Nsera told Sutts that he planned to set up an organization to help children in his hometown, a village called Buwundo. Before leaving, they exchanged e-mail addresses.

Sutts talks about children getting new shoes through SACU. (Photo by Mengru Feng)

“Time went by, (and) my husband died in May of 2010…. In my heart, whether (it was) the Lord or my husband, (she felt someone) saying, ‘Why did you go to Buwundo?’ and ‘See what you can do (there).’ Finally, I made the decision to go on May 7, 2010,” Sutts said quietly.

Although her family members didn’t understand at the time, Sutts went to Uganda in September with $3,200 to meet that young man whom she had only met once two years before.

Several days later, Sutts had a chance to see many Ugandan children in that remote small village.

“It was a dream, it was totally unreal getting out of that car, and it was in slow motion. I was excited to see the beautiful faces of these children. I couldn’t believe that I was really there,” Sutts said, immersing herself in memories with a smile.

“The children were so interested in the colour of my skin. They never had seen a white person before. As I walked by, lots of them came to rub my skin. I think they thought maybe there was different colour underneath,” she said. “It was a wonderful feeling in my heart, and I knew I was there doing the right thing.”

By the end of the first 19 days, Sutts and Nsera built two classrooms with some local people, enrolled eight children, provided two meals a day and hired their first teacher — Ann.

It was the beginning. Sutts had never expected to start an organization; she had just wanted to try her best to help.

One day, she was walking through the area and had an image in her mind of others who had done something similar in other parts of the world.

“It came to my mind about Mother Teresa and Lady Di walking through and seeing these huts and these kids in such poor condition. Now (it) was me, (and) nobody else (was) there. God chose me to do this.”

From then on, she decided to continue visiting these kids and run an organization. This lasted eight years — until now.

Before these children met Sutts, their living conditions were not good. They are not all orphans, but most were starving, dirty and ill. Some had been abused. Now, they can wear school uniforms, eat two meals a day and get an education. There are 18 children who live in a shelter with teachers who take care of them around the clock, but others need to go back home each day to whatever their situation is.

In addition to paying for food, education and medical needs, Sutts has used extra money to buy things such as mattresses and mosquito nets to improve the kids’ quality of life. They even installed playground equipment.

“When you see them for the first time on a slide or a seesaw, it was awesome. They show joy and surprise about everything, and all the kids appeared in the playground,” Sutts said excitedly.

Geri Sutts and some of SACU’s supporters. (Photo by Mengru Feng)

Sutts has still lived primarily in Windsor and when she’s back here, she has worked 10-12 hours per day to keep SACU running. Through presentations, meetings and reports to promote SACU in Windsor-Essex, Sutts has appealed to lots of local people to donate and even join this charitable organization.

“When Geri came to my church and did one of her presentations, she really targeted my heart, and I thought this is something that I can do,” said Elaine Johnson, who joined SACU one year ago and is now the secretary of SACU. She is also working on a web page and new Facebook page.

“Geri is putting enormous amount of effort and love into this organization…. She comes back and reports to people over here about what she’s seeing. She spreads the word, so that people here in Windsor, in Canada, in United States will help raise funds,” Betty Westfall said. She is the treasurer of SACU and has worked with Sutts since 2012.

Although having members is important, the financial support from sponsors influences everything. Sponsors can choose whether just to donate money one time or fund a child until he or she can feed themselves.

“Our expenses right now are close to $60,000 a year, just for basic spending.”

In November 2017, 10 children in SACU went to senior school. Their tuition fees are high, but they got enough money from sponsors.

A girl named Namiro, the oldest girl in SACU, received support from a couple in Windsor. They paid for her to complete senior school and college. Now she has an excellent job in Kampala.

“The girls in the village her age now maybe have three or four babies,” Sutts said.

Geri Sutts playing piano at her home in Windsor. (Photo by Mengru Feng)

Sutts asks sponsors to donate $350 a year for a child. They can also write letters and send presents, and they can look forward to receiving thank you paintings and pictures from the children.

“Usually somebody from there takes pictures of the child receiving the letters, and opening it, showing us what inside. We can get that through e-mail and know what happened,” said sponsor Marilyn Hageniers. She has supported a girl for three years.

“I was very impressed to know about all the work Geri had done to help these children and the fact all the money goes to the children, and none of it goes to administration. And that’s an important thing that the money that is donated is not wasted,” said Pat Rowland, another sponsor.

“I must make sure that 100 per cent of money raised was used for the children over there,” Sutts said.

“We still have about 20 children who need sponsors.”

Because of a respiratory disease, Sutts cannot go back to Uganda anymore, but she misses her kids very much.

Blanket with 100 handprints of children from SACU. (Photo by Mengru Feng)

“In the future, I hope to spend more time with my family, read a book and perhaps even write a book about SACU.”

“SACU has been my passion…. It’s time for me to take that step back, and find who will take the lead,” Sutts said, leaning back on her sofa, stroking a blanket which was sewn with one hundred colourful handprints from SACU children.

“I am sad that this part is going to end for me, but I know it’s time.”

St. Clair College’s international students at the Mediaplex (most of whom do not speak English as a first language) took on the enormous task of researching and writing feature-length stories. For their final projects ─ we call them capstones ─ they explored topics that intrigued them. They all brought unique perspectives to their stories. We hope you enjoy reading their work and seeing Windsor through their eyes.

Shirley Feng
By Shirley Feng April 21, 2018 15:44

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CAPSTONE PROJECTS 2017-2018