NAMABASA, Uganda/MILLER CITY — Linda McKanna, an Ottawa native, has been gifting opportunity, love, and life over 7,500 miles “as the crow flies” from home. But it is safe to say that the village in Namabasa, Uganda has become her second home since first visiting in 2008.

Linda was originally raised in Miller City and after her late husband at the age of 28 was tragically killed in a farming accident, “That’s really when God showed me my passion,” Linda shared, “My outlook on life is not only to make people better, but to make them whole… and over there it’s so broken, it’s so poverty ridden.”

The country of Uganda is located in the eastern region of Africa (the second largest continent) and known to be the pearl of Africa due to the abundant color, biodiversity, and serene beauty. However, even with all the magnificence, poverty exceeds the beauty. With a population of over 45 million and 135 districts, food insecurity and poverty levels effect over 41% of the nation’s population. Agricultural land makes up for over 70% of the geography and a lot of natives find themselves working in agriculture for an average wage of $1.90 a hour.

“So many people ask me, what were your goals when you started and I said, to start by sponsoring one child. And I decided to go to the village and visit her and see if everything that I heard and seen on tv was true about these poverty ridden third countries…It was worse than that. Because you had all your senses engaged…you see all the things they don’t show you on TV,” Linda recalls.

In the district of Mbale, the village of Namabasa is home to over 8,000 residents; a place Linda has visited twice a year beginning in 2008 and until the pandemic shut down travel in 2020.

“I am so hungry to go back, but I know it’s going to be in 2022, it’s been two years and I used to know everybody’s name.”

Originally sponsoring Joy, her first child in Uganda through another non-profit, Linda jumped at the opportunity to visit her with a local church in Lima, where she traveled to Uganda and stayed with missionaries for over two weeks.

“The first year they brought her to me — which was a five hour van ride — she was so sick she couldn’t even be with me,” Linda said. “So the next year I said, I’m going to her!”

The following year Linda took the initiative and left her group in Kampala and journeyed the five hour transit trip to visit Joy.

Linda was dropped off in Mbale, about four miles outside the village where Joy lives, where she was greeted by Reverend Abraham Namugowa.

“He is the person in that village,” Linda explained. Little did they both know that fast forward they would be working together to grow the village to where it is now.

“The first time I went to the village I went around to Joy’s school and met the teachers and went to her house…and at the end of the night they gave me a goat,” Linda shared with enthusiasm. “She’s like a daughter to me.”

A goat is one, if not the highest, form of a gift a person can receive so Linda knew there was no way she can refuse such compassion.

Concerned for how she was going to transport this gift back to the village she was staying at, her apprehensions were departed when she was set to leave on the overly crowded van. “They put the goat on the van! In the back of the van - that poor goat!”

Each year Linda’s visit and experiences only grew more intense as with her love for the children and their village.

“I have stories that would shock you,” Linda said figuratively and literally.

One of the stories were of Linda literally getting shocked by a miswired outside shower at the missionary camp causing an electrocuted shock to Linda’s entire side of her body, to a human chain to get down a mountain they were climbing from a spontaneous intense rainfall, and a boat ride to reach the other island on Lake Victoria which resulted in the engine falling off due to a large storm which brew up unexpectedly.

“It was like a test – and also how I got the nickname ‘Sparky’!” Linda shared with amusement.

Linda was with the non-profit and missionaries for three years before becoming her own non-profit, A Child Lives. When Linda would go back home and share what she saw and the needs of the village, “People wanted to give me money and they wanted to write it off, but the only way I could do that is if I gave it to some other organization. But then it wouldn’t go where I wanted it go,” Linda explained.

In 2012 Linda broke away from the non-profit she was with and formed A Child Lives with the intention to improve how sponsoring a child works. When faced with the question at the governor’s office to register, Linda was asked what is the name of her organization which she had to create at that moment, “My whole goal is that a child will live, so a child lives!”

A Child Lives gives 100% of their funds directly to the children, which Linda keeps nothing and pays for her own travel to and from Uganda.

Since Linda and some devoted friends who have joined her passion, has begun helping the village of Namabasa with child sponsorships and funding, the school attendance skyrocketed from 81 students to over currently 700. “Most villages are 75-125 people…there are 8,000 plus in Namabasa. Now with more children getting sponsored and getting schooling, they are getting better teachers.”

Most of the children are raised by their grandmothers, as parents are succumbed to disease or famine. It is estimated that over 40% of Uganda’s population are aged 0 to 14 years old, without enough adults to care for the young.

The sponsorships don’t always go directly to a child, but expand to the construction of playground equipment, clothes for more children who are unsponsored, food for the parents and grandparents, and even larger projects such as a well.

“I decided to do a 30/30/30 campaign, 30 people to give me $30 to feed someone for a month. I went to Rev. Abraham and said I want 30 people who are not sponsored, because I knew there were elderly people who were starving to death,” Linda said. A surprise sponsor approached Linda to help raise money to build solar wells in the village. Over two years they raised $120,000 through the donation of Rotary Clubs this past August.

“You can run them 24/7 because they are all run by the sun,” Linda exclaimed, “the rain barrel came first in 2018 and two years ago I got a regular hand pump well that was dug in the village and that was a moment beyond a moment.” Before the well, residents had to boil water from a local pond, but there was no way to protect against the intestinal diseases and malaria that would come from the source.

Coming from a large family of 12 children, Linda had three of her own and sponsors 14 children and helped a village with only a few sponsors now become over 120 sponsored children. “When I started this and I wanted to go and when I wanted to sponsor children, I told God I want to be your middle man…I said Lord send me,” Linda said in earnest.

Linda shared photos of her visits to the village and describes the images as “powerful pictures of how so little giving has changed lives,” she illuminated. “Faith, the little girl with the severe cleft…she could not eat. When I saw that, I came back to Columbus and shared the story…just a few donors and she became a beautiful child that could eat and play as the others. Her after pictures are amazing…that is what brings such joy to my heart. She is sponsored so her life will have hope for a better future…They call her the miracle child.”

Led to Africa by her faith and love, Linda’s altruism is contagious and pure. The love and appreciation is reciprocated back in the village and shown in every smile and every hug.

Since the day of receiving her prized goat, Linda was not prepared for the phone call asking if her name could be used for Namabasa’s nursey and primary school. ‘Linda Good Samaritan Nursery & Primary School’ now reads on a large, tall sign at the Church of God of East Africa in Namabasa. “People with so little, give so much,” Linda thought.

Sponsorship for a selected child can be possible by contacting Linda at AChildLives@gmail.com and all charitable donations are tax-deductible.