Serving the students of the Upper Nile Institute for Appropriate Technology in Gulu, Uganda, Friends of UNIFAT wants what most parents want for their kids: to provide a support system, a solid education, and the assurance of safety and security.
Created in 2006, this Bala Cynwyd-based organization helps sustain the efforts of UNIFAT, which is dedicated to providing a strong educational background for more than 1,300 children. It’s the premier educational institution in Uganda, an East African country that’s been ravaged by civil war for the past 20 years.
This organization was inspired by Abitmo Odongkara, a Ugandan educator who spoke in the Philadelphia area four years ago about the plight of her home country. That was when Michael and Jill Zimmer were first exposed to the region’s crisis and opted to help by funding Odongkara’s mission.
Although it’s based on the Main Line, Friends of UNIFAT’s reach extends across the country, most centrally in Cincinnati, Ohio, where it’s partnered with a network of about 15 area high schools who’ve begun a program called Unified for UNIFAT. Together with these Midwestern high schools, Friends of UNIFAT sponsors the tuitions of 120 destitute children. Each year, a group of these students and Friends of UNIFAT board members visit Uganda and volunteer at the school, seeing firsthand why their cause is significant. The organization also funds an annual visit from Odongkara so that she can continue advocating for the futures of the students.
Through its operations, the group also seeks to prevent conflict in Uganda. “If we put a little time and energy into this now—a few hundred bucks for a child to get an education and help ensure that they’re going to be a good person—then we may have more educated children providing a more peaceful world,” says Michael, a Friends of UNIFAT board member.
Michael also asserts the importance of more privileged people sharing their good fortune with others. “These people have been thrown into a difficult circumstance based upon conditions beyond their control. Whether it’s a problem here or halfway around the world, there’s something that grabs you and says, ‘Here’s a problem, and it shouldn’t exist,’ and you just get moved to do something about it,” he says.
To learn more, visit friendsofunifat.org.