Bukembe

Photo Credit: Ethan Oblak | Daily Texan Staff

The Freedom Music Fest will be on campus, but the cause it supports is 9,000 miles away in a small orphanage. 

Students for Wema, the organization in charge of the festival, is raising funds for a bakery in Bukembe, Kenya, in the hopes that the bakery will provide the village with a sustainable source of income and halt the growing sex trade in
the area.  

The festival will take place on the Main Mall on Saturday. 

“[The village] needed something that would teach the children business skills but also give them something they need,” said Madison Gove, president of Students for Wema. “It was a win-win situation.”

Students for Wema, which is dedicated to helping the Wema Children’s Centre in Kenya, was previously on campus in 2011 but disassembled after the head of the organization graduated. Gove, business honors and government junior, took part in restarting the organization in 2013. 

“I heard about it from a friend and was just coming into college, and I thought it would be really cool if we restarted it,” Gove said. “We worked pretty hard last year just to get it up and running again.” 

Gove and other members started allocating funds to build a bakery in Bukembe. Currently, the nearest bakery available to the village is over 30 miles away. Although the Freedom Music Fest is free, attendees can enter a raffle by buying a $5 ticket. All funds from the raffle ticket sales will go to supporting the bakery. Six bands will perform at the festival, as well as the Longhorn Circus and other student organizations.

Business honors sophomore Farahn Seibert-Hughes is the director of marketing and public relations for Students for Wema. Seibert-Hughes said she started looking for bands last spring.

“We wanted to get a greater cultural enrichment, something that’s good for the students but that also would help us raise funds at the same time,” Seibert-Hughes said. “Everyone likes music, and it’s free. We’re not only trying to help others, but providing entertainment in the process.” 

The Sky Divided, a San Antonio-based alternative rock band, is one of the bands performing at Freedom Music Fest. David Casarez Jr., lead vocalist and guitarist for The Sky Divided, said the band members have been on three mission trips to Haiti and were interested in participating when they heard about the initiative to help the orphanage.

“A lot of times in the music scene, it’s a really selfish vision,” Casarez said. “We always look for who we can team up with for a bigger cause. Teaming up with the Students for Wema, it’s kind of just a perfect fit.”

Seibert-Hughes said working on the music festival was empowering.

“I feel I’ve really changed as a person,” Seibert-Hughes said. “I felt really passionate because I realized I could utilize my time for something that would help others, not only myself.” 

Gove said she and Seibert-Hughes felt out of place before starting the organization, but it has since shaped their experiences in college for the better. 

“We’re really interested in nonprofits, so, coming into McCombs, we didn’t really feel like we had a place,” Gove said. “This organization and this festival have made us feel like we can use business for good and combine our skills for our passion. It’s also shown us that other students have the exact same passion — this has brought it out of people. It’s just
really inspiring.”

Business honors and pre-med senior Sara Hollis is UT’s representative on the Board of Directors for the Wema Children’s Orphanage Centre in Kenya. Hollis’ main goal is to recruit more UT members in order to secure the funding for a freshwater well. 

Photo Credit: Jonathan Garza | Daily Texan Staff

Sara Hollis, business honors and pre-med senior, doesn’t mind trading the first world for the third. In 2011 she joined four students from Harvard on a mission to benefit Wema Children’s Orphanage Centre in Kenya and currently sits on their Board of Directors as UT’s sole representative. The organization also includes students from University of Southern California, MIT and University of Pennsylvania. 

“Our goal is to provide quality education for these students that would have otherwise been in the awful public school system of Kenya,” Hollis said. “In the early 2000s the government made public education free, and because of that, it overcrowded the system. There are over 300 kids per classroom, which caused a lot of private schools to pop up, which are essentially the only way to get into a secondary school.” 

The Wema Orphanage Centre functions as a private boarding school for about 160 orphans ranging from four to 18. It is located near the village of Bukembe, an area with an HIV/AIDS rate of 30 percent.

The organization is led entirely by college students and focuses mainly on providing funding for education. They’ve helped build dormitories, a medical clinic, a computer lab and a library, in addition to providing basic necessities like food and water. 

Alex Breinin is a magna cum laude 2012 Harvard economics graduate who acts as the group’s chief financial officer. 

Breinin believes education is the most important commodity that foreign aid projects can provide and advocates a hands-on approach.

“We all teach in the classroom,” Breinin said. “That’s a big thing for us — we all feel that, to understand our goal, which is to empower children through education, we have to understand how the academic process works.”  

Hollis focuses on water accessibility, and her most important accomplishment to date has been securing funding for a freshwater well. 

“The well project was one of our biggest fundraising initiatives — we ended up raising about $60,000,” Hollis said. “We contracted out a company to build it. That was entirely UT’s project - I teamed up with Students for Clean Water right after I came back [from Kenya]. I could’ve tried to start a movement but I doubted that would’ve happened as a sophomore, so I just instead decided to mobilize already-created groups.” 

The group raised $10,000 independently and worked with nonprofit Living Water International, which obtained corporate sponsorship and granted the other $50,000. 

“This January, I went back and got to see that the entire well was complete, which was insane,” Hollis said, “I didn’t think it was ever going to happen.”

The well contractors described the well as being the best they have built in Kenya for the last ten years. The orphanage sits directly on top of a large water table, and plans are in motion to irrigate water to the surrounding village of Bukembe, with a population of around 1000.

Hollis is seeking to recruit more UT members to join her cause. Last January, fellow business honors senior and Orange Jackets member Justine Taylor-Raymond accompanied her, being the first other UT student to make the journey. 

“When I was there we spent a lot of time getting the school ready,” Taylor-Raymond said. “We painted and cleaned the classrooms and brought over a bunch of books and computers to create a library system.” 

Volunteers of Wema Children Centre sleep in the directors’ house and eat traditional foods, like goat, avocado and mango. Taylor-Raymond said the authentic nature of the trip makes it a unique experience. 

“I’d recommend it to other students, Taylor-Raymond said. “It’s very organized, even if it was run by college students. There’s so much to be done when you’re there you feel like you’re really doing something and you have a large impact on these kids.”

Despite the daunting task of eradicating poverty through education, this international, intercollegiate operation is holding its own. None of the orphans have tested HIV positive. They have successfully registered Wema Orphanage Centre as an African NGO and are working on obtaining the same status in America. The students consistently place in the top five schools on the Kenyan national exam. Every graduate has gone on to a state university. A new ground well provides essential freshwater to hundreds and a medical clinic staffed by a government nurse ensures adequate health care. 

“As UT students, when we have everything at our fingertips we’re kind of blinded,” Hollis said. It’s really easy to learn a lot of theoretical things on campus. Sometimes our education is so idealistic. It’s just important to put things into practice, and what better way is there than to get on the ground and help people with real issues?”