Rescue, Raise, Rebuild

“True religion that God our father accepts as pure and holy is one that takes care of the orphans and widows.’’ (James 1: 27, KJV).         According to Watoto Church founder Pastor Gary Skinner, this biblical teaching completely changed the way his church viewed its role in the community. It formed the basis for founding the Watoto Child Care ministry. Watoto is a Kiswahili word meaning “children”. Today the ministry is re-known for its choir that is made up of colorfully costumed children who travel all over the world, and use music, dance and drama to share their stories of renewed hope in life. Watoto children’s choir has performed at famous locations such as the White House and Buckingham Palace.

The same teaching has also inspired similar models like the Living Hope Ministry that aims at economically empowering, and restoring dignity to vulnerable women and widows. “I realized that these women (most of whom are HIV positive) needed a hand-up, not a hand-out.” Marilyn Skinner. Living Hope trains these women in livelihood skills such as baking, weaving, tailoring and crafts making. In this way they are empowered to raise their household incomes and take care of their families. These models of community outreach have translated the church’s vision of caring for community into reality. But why is such special focus given to vulnerable women and children?

For over two decades Northern Uganda was devoid of holistic peace due to hostilities between the Uganda People’s Defense Forces and the guerilla rebels led by Joseph Kony. At the peak of the insurgency locals were confined in densely populated Internally Displaced Peoples’ camps. The war, coupled with the high prevalence of HIV/AIDS pandemic around the country nearly obliterated the family institution leaving many orphaned and widowed.

Watoto’s model of child care is unique because it is not an orphanage in the traditional sense. Real homes are built and children are placed in families. Each home is made of up to eight children who are placed under the care of a widowed mother who also brings two of her biological children. Through this family setting the children are given holistic care by providing of the basic needs of love and belonging, food, clothing, education, psycho-social support, and shelter.

In addition to other community facilities, a cluster of about nine homes make up a village. Currently there are three children’s villages in Gulu, Suubi and Bbira. The idea of a village was birthed from the African saying that it takes a whole village to raise a child. For the past 20 years this model of child care been rescuing the most vulnerable children; raising them into future leaders, with the ultimate goal of rebuilding the nation.

Watoto church plans to replicate this model in other fragile states like the Republic of South Sudan. In Uganda, over 3000 children have benefited from this ministry in the last 20 years. Many of these children have the same testimony_ Watoto changed my story. Whose story are you changing?

By Benard Acellam


Slum Vibrations

Shacks, slums, ghettos, barrio- these words usually bring to mind similar images irrespective of whether the judgment is based on the living conditions or personal perceptions. This is particularly true in the developing world. But while some people only get to see these places on television or in magazine pictures, others have lived experiences in these supposedly conveniently forgotten sections of our societies. For this blog I found myself repeatedly drawing from my personal experiences of living and studying near Katanga in Kampala, Uganda.

I’m bothered by the sight of overcrowded makeshift houses in Katanga informal settlement. I have a problem with the stench that comes from the huge garbage heaps and overflowing open sewers in this community? Every time I hear about the threats of eviction, widespread criminality, delinquency and unemployment in this neighborhood I’m deeply moved. Simply put. I’m concerned about the housing deficiency, sanitation crisis and the social exclusion that exists in Katanga.

As a thinking citizen I have always followed keenly debates around the socio-cultural and legal aspects of informal settlements in Kampala but it was only after joining Architecture school that I began to pay attention to the design and physical form of these self-built environments. The housing typologies in most of these informal settlements are simply incongruent with the density parameters that they accommodate. Most of the buildings in these settlements don’t facilitate ‘livelihood’ activities such as space for small businesses or storage of equipment. As a result most open spaces have been adapted into points of collective experiences which are defined by those moments of contact with multitudes of people seeking comfort through their industry.

These notes inspired in me a design vision to see a sustainable, adequately housed community in Katanga. This would mean embracing vertical incremental development with housing units that address the current design flaws like missing cross-ventilation, structural instability and inadequate natural lighting. Creating room for future expansion is key to accommodating the much anticipated population upsurge. Attention ought to be paid to landscaping this site to create livable outdoor spaces and places for children play and adult recreation. The sanitation crisis could be solved by involving residents in the management of solid waste using simple strategies such as segregation, recycling and reuse of waste materials.

The city remains the context for living and working in every contemporary society around the world. But as Sheela Patel of Slum Dwellers’ International rightly argues; often the city provides people with jobs but no places to stay.  According to Cities Alliance, 60% of Kampala’s residents live in slums, where the informality and insecurity in housing overlaps with informal and insecure sectors of employment, service provision and legality.

The difficulties of the informal settlement can only be addressed through a multi-pronged approach. Sharing such stories is perhaps one of these. We know that people blog for a million different reasons, but at Rebuild Global we do so to salute the efforts of all those uniquely talented individuals, organizations, and communities who are working tirelessly to restore hope to places like Katanga.

By Benard Acellam



2014 RIBA Norman Foster Travelling Scholarship

The winner of the 8th Norman Foster Foster Traveling Scholarship has been announced. Joe Paxton of the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London was awarded the scholarship for his proposal, ‘Buffer Landscapes 2060’. Rebuild Global’s volunteer creative writer and Makerere University 4th year architecture student received special mention/ commendation for his design research proposal into Urban Agriculture titled “Edible Landscape: Vegetable Farming Approaches in Cities Across the Americas”. To learn more click here.


This is great news for designers contributing to social impact projects! The AIA and #AIAS have introduced a new bill, known as the National Design Services Act (#NDSA), “that would provide U.S. architecture graduates student loan relief in exchange for community service, an offer already granted to lawyers and doctors..” Sign the petition below or contact your local Congressman if you support this new bill. We hope you like!