Karamoja — A joint team of U.S. Army, Navy, and Marines recently teamed up for a 10-day community relations (COMREL) project at an orphanage in Uganda's remote Karamoja region.
U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander Chris Sanford and Master Gunnery Sergeant Joel Rogers of the U.S. Marine Corps joined Army personnel from the 490th Civil Affairs Battalion - Charlie Company. Charlie Company is currently assigned to the Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) at Camp Lemmonier, Djibouti. The team, which was joined by about 50 local residents, helped construct 16 grass-thatched houses for the Moroto Childcare and Orphanage Project in Nakapelimen Village.
The 490th Civil Affairs Battalion - Charlie Company has operated in Karamoja for the past four years in partnership with Ugandan authorities. The Battalion conducts civic action programs and provides veterinary training to a population whose livelihood is dependent on livestock.
On the first day of the project, the team collected materials for the construction project, including straw, wood, sisal, and soil. Over the next nine days, the team was divided into several groups and assigned responsibilities based on each team member's skill set and preference.
According to Staff Sergeant Sonya Barker, 490th Civil Affairs Battalion - Charlie Company, the COMREL was an opportunity for her team to foster community and partner nation relationships.
"All locals, especially the orphans and widows, were very grateful for the improved living conditions," Barker said.
Pastor Emmanuel Koel, the orphanage director, praised the joint U.S. team. "We're very grateful for this project because it's going to provide the orphans with shelter from the upcoming rainy season by placing a roof over their heads," he said.
The orphanage currently houses more than 50 children between 1 and 12 years old. Most of the children are victims of tribal conflict, cattle rustling, HIV/AIDS, malaria, or malnutrition. The orphanage provides lodging, food, medical aid, and free education for the children.
Lieutenant Commander Sanford, Country Coordination Element - officer in charge, from the U.S. Mission Uganda, said the COMREL was a success.
"This is an outstanding opportunity to show the people of Karamoja that the people of the United States are there to help, particularly those most in need. It was a heartfelt event where I felt a responsibility to offer my time and my own two hands, working alongside elders and some extremely positive children," Sanford said.
The U.S. team also distributed scholastic materials and toys to the orphans. These items were donated by Loving Hugs, Inc., a Colorado-based non-profit charitable organization that collects and donates toys to underprivileged children around the world.
"I would like to do this again," said Master Gunnery Sergeant Joel Rogers. "It was fulfilling to know our efforts will have a meaningful impact on the children's lives for quite some time. It gives them a chance to see the human side of men and women in the military. As a parent, I am happy to bring a moment of joy to lives that have seen so much pain."