A beacon of hope for the children of Northern Uganda

IGFkids1IGF children in Kitgum singing “Victory in Jesus” at a weekly assembly July 2013, in Kitgum. Photo courtesy of Mary Katherine Riggs.

We’ve all felt it before.

That unshakable feeling of deep passion — a tight knot inside our stomachs combined with out-of-control adrenaline that seems to propel our bodies into action despite logic’s repeated reprimands and warnings.

If we are smart, we let that passion move us to wherever it wants us to go. And that’s just what Irene Gleeson did 22 years ago in the small town of Kitgum, located in Northern Uganda.

When Gleeson arrived in Kitgum, she had no plan (as world-changers seldom don’t), but she had that unshakable feeling of passion (as world-changers always do). Shocked by the state of the district which had been devastated by 37 years of war, Gleeson decided to gather the children of Kitgum under a mango tree and teach them songs— a simple gesture that helped restore a future of peace.

Since that fateful day under the mango tree where that first note of hope was sung, over 25,000 children have been impacted by Irene Gleeson. With the help of several donors and a remarkable Ugandan staff, Gleeson created the Irene Gleeson Foundation to ensure her vision would be carried out far beyond her lifetime.

And that it is.

Though Gleeson passed away in July of this year, her vision and legacy lives on. Every day, IGF opens the doors of four schools that ensure over 8,000 children in Kitgum are properly educated, fed and cared for.

IGF runs several other programs in Kitgum, including an AIDS Hospice, FM radio station and a Discipleship training program. A Women’s Hospital is also under construction, and when it opens it will provide advanced pre-natal and post-natal care to the women of Northern Uganda.

IGFjamie     IGF Stateside Director Jamie Ankenbrandt behind the IGF information table at Samford’s recent Go Global missions conference.

Jamie Ankenbrandt, the Stateside Director for IGF, explained the vision behind the ministry: “Our vision is to transform, liberate and empower people through Christ to build sustainable communities by improving the quality of life of children in Northern Uganda. We accomplish this in four areas of work, quality education, quality healthcare, economic development, and community development,” she said. “Our true vision for the ministry is that we will — in our skills through holistic care — raise up future leaders in Uganda so that East Africa becomes the shining light of the continent.”

As IGF’s North American offices are located in the heart of Birmingham off of Highway 280 in Office Park, the organization’s ministry hits particularly close to home for several locals.

Samford nursing students Mary Katherine Riggs and Kelsey Saettele travelled to Kitgum this past July to help care for the children in IGF’s schools, deliver babies at the local hospital and serve in IGF’s AIDS hospice.

“The Nursing School here at Samford teaches us to care for the patient holistically — not just medically. IGF’s vision aligns directly with what we have been learning the past three years here at Samford as the organization believes firmly in the whole care of a child — medically, physically, spiritually and emotionally” Riggs said.

Saettele added, “Applying the skills we learn in the classroom to real life situations and merging my love for missions and medicine was absolutely incredible, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to have served in such a practical way.”

Riggs and Saettele also sponsor a child, Sandra, through IGF, who they were able to meet this summer.

“Meeting Sandra was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before,” Riggs said. “I was instantly overwhelmed by her beautiful smile.”

Children like Sandra are encouraged every day by the over 450 Ugandan staff that work for IGF — a continuation of Gleeson’s passion.

For more information about IGF and to find out how you could help be a part of Gleeson’s vision and change a child’s life forever, visit http://igfusa.org.

By Sarah Anne Elliott