Rukundo: In Rukiga, the native tongue of the Kiga people of Uganda, rukundo means love.
For Rukundo International, an organization started by two Montgomery County women to make a difference in the lives of Ugandan children, love is at the heart of what they do.
“God doesn’t always call the qualified; he qualifies those he’s called,” Amanda Jones said as she sat at the glass-top kitchen table in her Rockville home just off Connecticut Avenue.
A single mother of three and former early childhood educator, Jones said she often feels unqualified to do the work she and fellow single mom Andrea Sedlock of Gaithersburg began when they co-founded Rukundo in January.
“I never, honestly, saw myself starting a nonprofit, but I just felt like this place ignited a passion for me just to love,” Jones said. “Sometimes I wish God hadn’t put this burden on my heart to start this school, but he did. It’s an area I never imagined myself working in but I can’t imagine myself not being here now.”
Volunteer-run, Rukundo International, which has applied for nonprofit tax status, has a mission to “create a healthy educational environment that ministers to the development of the child in totality: intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, and physically.” It’s a mission it aims to achieve by building a primary school for orphans, and other underprivileged and at-risk children and their families in the remote Ugandan region of Kabale.
For the last five years, Jones and Sedlock have worked in the Kabale region, building relationships with residents and learning the culture.
While working with another organization in Uganda, Jones said, she and Sedlock noticed the schools were in bad condition, classrooms were overcrowded, few children progressed beyond primary school and the so-called “free” government education often came with fees attached. Those who could not pay the fees were often turned away.
“They were set up to fail,” Jones said.
Months of prayer and research led to the decision to form Rukundo International, Sedlock said.
“I just fell in love with the people and saw such a great need that I just felt like I had to do something about this,” said Sedlock, who, by day, works as a biologist at the National Institutes of Health.
Jones and Sedlock decided the best way to truly help the students in Kabale was to open a school of their own.
“I always say, ‘I’m not going to change Uganda, I’m not going to change Kabale, but I will make a difference to this child at this school.’ And they’ll make a difference to somebody else. And they’ll make a difference,” Jones said.
Aiming to obtain a 5-acre parcel by the end of 2014, the women said Rukundo International is raising money to build the school in phases starting in 2015, adding one classroom at a time until there are enough classes through primary level seven. Rukundo also sponsors five scholars to attend secondary school.
Rukundo has been operating only a few months, but already it is gaining momentum.
Its first event in March raised about $10,000, Jones said.
Rukundo also has partnered with the Reel Water Film Festival in Silver Spring to install three rainwater collection tanks in the Kabale region. The film festival is a volunteer-run nonprofit that, according to its website, uses film to start the conversation about local and global water issues, and donates at least half of its funds to international water projects and community education.
And between now and Sept. 30, Rukundo is holding a shoe drive, taking shoes in any condition. Rukundo has partnered with Funds2Orgs, which will provide it with $1,000 for every 2,500 pairs of shoes collected.
Those interested in donating can find a list of drop sites on the group’s website, rukundointernational.org.
What started as just two people with an idea to make a difference has become an all-volunteer organization of about 15, including a five-member board. Because Rukundo operates out of the founders’ homes, it can put all donations toward its mission, Sedlock said.
“When you have seen how far $10 can go, you can’t justify paying rent when we can meet out of our houses,” Jones explained.
While running a nonprofit, holding another job and raising children is demanding and, at times, overwhelming, Sedlock said being a single mom only fuels her passion for the work of Rukundo.
“It’s hard, but I think having a child is what makes me all the more want to help these children who don’t have the same opportunities, the same material things my child has access to every single day,” Sedlock said.
Jones said Rukundo also is looking for monthly donors, interns and people to host benefit dinners.