Introducing our Charity of The Year – Act4Africa

This year, we are proud to share with you the story of our Charity of The Year – Act4Africa. As a local business, we are lucky enough to meet lots of interesting people from the area and were introduced to Altrincham-based Act4Africa by friend and business mentor Lily Newman of Morgan James Consulting. Their story really struck a chord with everyone at Bluebell as their philosophy is to help change the future of young girls across Uganda and ultimately their wider families.

So, what is Act4Africa all about and how did it begin, let us tell you more…

The Act4Africa Story

In 2000, co-founder Kathy Smedley returned to Uganda, having worked in East Africa as a young teacher many years before. She was shocked and saddened by what she found. The effects of HIV/AIDS were everywhere and whole communities were being devastated without any hope. Having lost a young, close friend to the virus in the early 80’s, Kathy and husband Martin’s personal experience of this dreadful disease meant they couldn’t just stand by. They decided to try to do something, something which used the talents and capabilities of the local African communities themselves. Back in the UK, they gathered a small group of friends and started raising funds through cake making, car boot sales and sponsored events. They raised enough to start to train a small team as health education community youth leaders in Jinja, Uganda – and Act4Africa was born.

Martin, himself a trained actor, recognized the perfect fit of Theatre for Development (TfD) as a means of communicating Act4Africa’s messages to the rural communities it served. A series of TfD programmes were developed, and the charity’s youth leaders began taking them into communities and schools, educating and informing about HIV/AIDS and stigma.

In 2006 Act4Africa started providing mobile HIV testing and counselling services, and in 2010 they began to address a cornerstone of the HIV/AIDS epidemic: gender inequality.

Their work is increasingly focused on this issue. They believe that by educating girls and women about their rights, their health, the value of their continued education, we can change not only their lives, but those of their wider peer group, family, and community.

In August 2014, co-founder Kathy Smedley sadly passed away at the age of just 65. Her legacy and inspiration continue at the heart of what they do, and they are proud to be raising funds in her name to create a lasting legacy in the form of a multi-functional community health and education centre in Mayuge District, Uganda.

Kathy’s Centre, Uganda

As they look forward, focus has turned to a number of projects. Their ‘Grow a Girl’ programme connects you, our supporters, with Ugandan teenage girls who need sponsorship to be able complete their secondary education, whilst our HEAL project is helping the women of Mayuge District to establish savings groups and work together to create small businesses. They have been recognised for our efforts in sexual and reproductive health with a USAID award for our STRIDES project, and their teams in Uganda, Malawi and Tanzania go from strength to strength building on this success.

Gladys The Goat

We have a number of fundraising events in the pipeline at Bluebell, from swear boxes in our factory, cake sales to our goat Gladys which we sponsor over in Uganda, and we hope you’ll  join us in supporting them by spreading the word and perhaps even donating yourselves.  We’ll be sharing out fundraising and more information on Gladys the Goat in the coming months.

You can sign up for a newsletter of inspiring stories about what they are up to, like them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter – or of course, donate to help us continue our work changing attitudes, transforming communities, and saving lives. Click here for more details: http://www.act4africa.org

Alison Reuben with Act4Africa Founder Martin Smedley and Marketing Executive Sarah Istephan.