Moonwalking out of poverty

Karen Smith has heard of a lot of innovative ideas to help people struggling with poverty in Uganda. But Michael Jackson might be one of her favourites. On June 18, 2010, Smith will be organizing a tribute night to the King of Pop at Mt. McIntyre. The evening will include karaoke, dancing, a Chinese auction and competitions, including prizes for the best dressed and best Jackson imitation.

Karen Smith has heard of a lot of innovative ideas to help people struggling with poverty in Uganda.

But Michael Jackson might be one of her favourites.

On June 18, 2010, Smith will be organizing a tribute night to the King of Pop at Mt. McIntyre.

The evening will include karaoke, dancing, a Chinese auction and competitions, including prizes for the best dressed and best Jackson imitation.

If you’ve got a stellar moonwalk, this is your chance to put it to good use.

The event is a fundraiser for the Hungry Minds Educational Society.

The Whitehorse-based NGO helps impoverished people in Uganda by introducing income-generating projects and finding grassroots solutions to the daily hardships.

Smith is the organization’s founder and CEO.

She first set foot in Uganda as a volunteer for a family literacy program.

As soon as the people began to learn to read and write, they began to ask about ways to improve their living conditions.

Smith set up Hungry Minds to work to reduce poverty and improve the living conditions of Ugandans – especially women.

As many as 70 per cent of the people living in poverty around the world are female.

In Uganda, the average woman is responsible for 80 per cent of the family workload and works 12 to 15 hours more per week than a man.

However, they only own 20 per cent of the family assets.

Smith left for Africa in October 2009, with a plan to buy some land and build an adult education centre.

The planned facility, dubbed the Mother Centre, would be built with locally found resources and demonstrate sustainable solutions such as rainwater harvesting, biogas, solar cooking and toilet composting.

Smith had $10,000 of her own money and figured it would be enough to acquire five acres of land.

But land prices had soared since Smith had last been in Uganda. She’d be lucky to buy one acre for $10,000.

Fortunately, Smith met the Reverend Festo Kalungi, a member of the Church of Uganda, whose Kisowera parish had 300 acres of land.

Religious organizations throughout Uganda allow the nation’s many poor to live on their land for free.

There are 50,000 such people living in Kisowera alone – that’s two and a half times the population of Whitehorse, living in small mud huts in an area of just 1.2 square kilometers.

The church liked Smith’s plan and gifted her organization the five acres of land it needed.

One of the first things Smith did was hold a community meeting to find out what the people would like to see happen.

The main priority was clean water.

The community was in desperate need of a new well, but there wasn’t enough money to dig one.

And nobody wanted the entire community making daily trips to their home, so nobody wanted the well on their land.

Hungry Minds offered to build it on their property.

The pragmatic people of the community reminded the group they would also need a road built to the property and well to make it more accessible.

All of this is going to cost Smith and her organization $28,000 US.

And that’s where Michael Jackson comes in. Smith is trying to raise this money while she is back in Whitehorse for the summer.

Smith also needs money to begin teaching the people to build earthbag homes.

The current homes the people in the community live in are made of mud and cow dung and consist of two bedrooms and a living room, with the kitchen and toilet located outdoors.

These homes cost about $6,000 to build.

Smith believes she can half that cost by teaching the people to build with earthbags.

Earthbags are basically the same as the sandbags we use to ward off floodwaters.

You fill them up with earth and then stack them like bricks, putting down barbed wire instead of mortar to hold the bags in place.

You then cover the wall with cement or whatever you like.

Smith is planning to teach the people to build root cellars to use for refrigeration, and use more efficient cooking stoves to allow the kitchen to be moved in doors.

“If anybody wants to come to Uganda to help they would be very welcome,” said Smith.

People with skills in construction, engineering or even just volunteering would be valuable to the fledgling NGO.

“But you don’t need to have many skills to build a earthbag house. Anybody can do it.”

Hungry Mind’s Michael Jackson Tribute Night will take place on June 18 at 8 p.m.

It’s a licensed event, so you must be 19 or older to attend.

Tickets are $10 in advance or $15 at the door and can be purchased at Yukon Learn Society or by calling 335-6908.

Hungry Minds will also have a corn-on-the-cob booth during the Canada Day celebrations in Shipyards Park.

Contact Chris Oke at

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