‘Opportunity Knox’, which was founded by Harry and Ursula Knox, is continuing to have a hugely positive impact in a Ugandan village.
ALTHOUGH they are thousands of miles apart, a village in South Kilkenny and an African village are developing close links.
Kilmacow and the village of Tiira in Uganda are becoming closely intertwined thanks to the efforts of Harry and Ursula Knox.
Harry, who hails from Kilmacow and still resides in the area, taught at De La Salle College for 26 years and was a director of Waterford Teachers’ Centre for 18 and a half years.After retiring at the end of January 2016, Harry, who is also well-known in Toastmasters circles, embarked on a whole new adventure along with his wife Ursula.
‘Opportunity Knox’ is a registered company and is designated as an officially recognised and registered charity by the Charities Regulator.The charity was officially launched at a special event in the locality in April 2017. Prior to that, Harry and Ursula had already achieved a significant amount to date through their endeavours with this hugely worthwhile initiative.For many years, Harry and Ursula have been sponsoring a child in Uganda through World Vision.When World Vision organised a trip to Uganda so that people could see their work first-hand, Harry and Ursula decided to embark on the expedition. In 2015, they travelled to Uganda and visited schools, clinics, farms, and observed the daily life of many impoverished Ugandan people.
A key moment in the formation of the idea for ‘Opportunity Knox’ was when they met a local man called Wmima John Kennedy.
World Vision had helped John achieve his goal of becoming a mechanic.“John was very articulate and showed us his little shop. He told us all about the help which World Vision had given him,” said Harry. Harry and John remained in contact and ‘Opportunity Knox’ began to take shape.Focusing their efforts on the village of Tiira near Busia town in Eastern Uganda, Harry asked John to locate and make a list of the poorest families in the village.
“He said that he was ‘poor’ but that there was the ‘poorer’ and the ‘poorest’. The majority are living in mud huts,” explained Harry.
After John did a survey, Harry and Ursula returned to Uganda in April 2016.As a result of that visit, they began purchasing items such as blankets, mattresses and porridge.“When we asked what else they wanted, nearly all the families said they would like help with education fees for their children,” said Harry.It costs approximately €60 per year to pay the school fees at primary level for each child which includes a porridge meal each day.For the first year, Harry and Ursula gifted €20,000 to start off the fund.
Their aim is to send the money to Uganda and then visit on two occasions each year to monitor the spending of the money and to ensure that it is having the desired impact.
Harry and Ursula are actively engaging in fundraising here in the locality and they have received significant support.
Harry’s brother and sister-in-law, Brendan and Breda Knox from Ormond Crescent in Lismore Lawn, who are active members of the Waterford Gardening Club, prepared and opened for visitors their Urban Award Winning Garden for the past two years.
So far they have raised €3,500 on the day and a further €1,500 from further once off donations and regular monthly donations by gardeners.They will open the garden again on Saturday July 20th this summer and hope to receive support once again from neighbours, friends and members of various gardening clubs.
Ursula and Harry took an exhibition stand at the Kilmacow Christmas Craft Fair and sold donated handmade jewellery and Christmas Cards featuring photographs of the inside and outside of St. Senan’s Church Kilmacow. Fr. Brian Flynn, retired Parish Priest of Kilmacow, Patron of the Charity and brother of Ursula, organised one of his popular entertainment concerts in November 2018.
‘Opportunity Knox’ was one of the charities which profited from the proceeds of the attendance as well as from the monster raffle.
Many local schools have fundraised for ‘Opportunity Knox’ through hosting a variety of events. Harry and Ursula have also spoken to schoolchildren here to spread news of the charity and also as a way to build awareness of the living circumstances of rural dwellers in Uganda and in other African Countries.
A local mother accepts uniforms and tracksuits that children have out grown and sells them to other parents and accepts donations for ‘Opportunity Knox’.Ursula herself has also participated in the Christmas Day Swim in Tramore as a means of fundraising.
“From what donors tell us, the knowledge that 100 per cent of their donations are spent in the children, is why they are attracted to this charity,” said Harry.Harry and Ursula continue to pay all overheads associated with ‘Opportunity Knox’ in Ireland and Uganda.
Each year they will donate, at the very least, sufficient funds to cover all of the administration costs in Ireland and in Uganda as well as all of our own travelling expenses.
All administration or personal expenses, including travel and accommodation, is paid fully by the Trustees. The charity needs €15,000 per year to pay the school fees and daily mugs of porridge for the children.Harry and Ursula’s most recent trip to Tiira Village took place from January 1st to 27th this year.This visit had a different focus than previous visits as, after reaching the maximum number of 220 children that they can realistically manage, they have finished expanding.
However, Harry and Ursula say they will always be flexible enough to take on board a mother who seeks support and who they believe is in a genuinely desperate situation.
During their recent trip, they taught phonics to children in Primary 3 to Primary 7 classes along with those in Secondary classes, and introduced them to a wide variety of books. “We knew from some brief testing on our last visit in June 2018 that even the Secondary students needed to improve their reading skills if they wanted to benefit to the fullest extent from their classes,” explained Harry.
To assist their teaching duties, they teamed up with student leaders who had an understanding of English.
During the weekends, Harry and Ursula visited some of the families they have supported.
“We were delighted to see and hear how their lives had changed for the better since commencement of support by Opportunity Knox Charity,” explained Harry. “They expressed gratitude to the people from half-way around the world had come and taken an interest in their lives and gave them and their children hope where previously there was none. We tell them about our village and how people have rallied to their plight.”During their time in Uganda, a range of different issues emerged which Harry and Ursula have tried to address.“One girl who was at the classes came in early to ask if we would buy her and her brothers and sisters shoes,” explained Harry.
“We agreed to do that and in the process discovered that four of the seven children showed signs of ‘Jiggers’ in their feet. This is a parasite that gets into the feet and hands by burrowing through the soft tissues around the nails. It can cause deformation of the toes and fingers if neglected. This is the fourth family we support that has been discovered to have ‘Jiggers’. It results from very poor hygiene and is extremely difficult to treat and to eradicate. All of the interior of the house and its contents as well as the outside of the walls and the yard need to be sprayed with a chemical to eradicate it from the environment. Then the children and adults have to be treated continuously for several weeks with the correct lotions and creams until all signs of it have disappeared.”
In addition to providing school fees and basic necessities, Harry and Ursula have also provided recreational activities for the children after being shocked by how little they had to play with.
‘Opportunity Knox’ has also been responsible for developing a brightly coloured playground in the village which is open to all children to use. Ursula, a big soccer fan, enjoyed speaking with the children about different teams and players.
Harry provided the children with six individual skipping ropes and three long ropes that would allow several to skip together at the once time.Although they thought it might be difficult to generate interest in the activity among the boys, the activity became hugely popular after one of the older boys gave a brilliant display of skipping. “Before we knew it practically all of the boys were skipping like mad. Soon we had to buy extra lengths of rope and make nine additional ropes,” explained Harry.
Harry and Ursula have obtained great satisfaction from seeing the improvements in the village and how simple measures are having such hugely positive impacts. However, some challenges remain. Unfortunately, they say women are still very subservient to men. Ensuring that girls remain in education and are treated equally is a struggle. “It’s stunning how quiet they are in the company of men,” says Ursula. “We hope to encourage them to stay in school and to have the knowledge and the ability to speak up so they can be treated as equals.”