What “Repairing the World” Means to One Riderwood Couple
The Hebrew phrase “Tikkun Olam” translated means “repair the world.” The thought can be overwhelming, but for Lew and Judy Priven, residents of Riderwood retirement community, it provided inspiration to act.
In 2007, they joined the American Jewish World Service Volunteer Corps.
Their initial three-month assignment took them nearly 7,300 miles away to Kampala, Uganda in East Africa to work with Meeting Point Kampala Kyamusa Obwongo (Meeting Point).
Founded in 1992, the mission of Meeting Point is “In Fight for the Dignity of the Person” by developing the human potential of children, youth, and women infected and affected by HIV/AIDS and increasing awareness, promoting behavioral changes and literacy related to the causes and effects of the disease.
Upon arriving in Uganda, the Privens were taken by the hospitality of the people.
“Everyone was friendly, but, initially, we were unprepared for the widespread poverty and illness that we encountered,” described Mr. Priven, a retired software development executive for large companies such as IBM and GE. “On our first day, Meeting Point held an HIV/AIDS screening, which can be a death sentence to some. It quickly showed us the reality of the situation.”
Noelina “Mama” Namikisa is the executive director of Meeting Point. Working with her would prove to be a life-changing experience for the Privens.
“She is the heart and soul of the organization, and her enthusiasm for the mission, despite limited resources, is tangible,” he said.
The organization does more than just raise awareness. Its staff and volunteers operate a school, provide counseling, conduct health screenings and train caregivers.
The Privens immediately went to work for Mrs. Namikisa. The couple was different than typical Corps members—they had decades of workplace experience, a contrast to most of the college-age volunteers.
Mrs. Priven, an educator by profession, wrote a curriculum for the school, mentored teachers, and created a grade-tracking system to monitor learning progress. The facility attracted children of all ages, many of whom were refugees from war-torn countries of Africa.
Similarly, Mr. Priven put into place simple business practices to improve efficiency at Meeting Point. For example, his computer spreadsheets tracked volunteer activity. Each month, this helped to save a week’s worth of report creation to free up time for the meaningful work of Meeting Point.
Their three-month journey in Kampala went well beyond administrative duties. The Privens lived in a small apartment in which running water and electricity were not always a sure thing. They took a safari. But most importantly, they interacted with the children.
“Those kids have been through so much. Disease. Poverty. War. Orphaned. Yet, many of them are pulling through with the help of organizations such as Meeting Point, and seeing their smiles and appreciation is the best gift they could give us,” said Mr. Priven.
Leaving Uganda did not mark an end for the Privens’ involvement with Meeting Point. Instead, their new calling was just beginning. Mr. Priven communicated regularly with Mrs. Namikisa via phone and email to learn about the on-going needs of the school.
“Every resource counts. That’s why we’ve hit the fundraising circuit to help Meeting Point purchase ship containers that are makeshift classrooms,” he stated. “Money has also been used to buy desks, chairs, blackboards and sewing machines for the kids.”
In putting its mission into practice, Meeting Point has grown rapidly to develop a number of services and programs for its target population. The school now serves 570 children, and there is a health clinic and 8-acre farm to make the organization more self-sufficient.
The Privens had the opportunity to visit Kampala again in 2013. That trip validated their efforts.
“In 2007, Judy met then-nine year old Evelyn. At that time, Evelyn had AIDS and tuberculosis, but she was desperate to learn. When we saw her again in 2013, she was doing well. The medication was working, and she gave Judy a big hug. What a moment,” recalled Mr. Priven.
On June 8 of this year, Mrs. Namikisa visited Riderwood retirement community to meet with members of the management team to pursue one of her next goals: providing services to seniors in Kampala.
“She is steadfast in wanting to help others,” noted Mr. Priven.
In eight years, the Privens have done their part to “repair the world” through their interaction with Meeting Point Kampala.
“The entire experience has changed my perspective in many ways,” he said. “We have so much in this country, and in giving back, you really experience hope.”