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By Matthew Bates Thursday 15 November 2012 Updated: 19/11 12:39
A FORMER city teacher who grew up in poverty has spoken of his work improving the lives of orphaned kids in Uganda.
Chris Applebey, from Hillfields, runs a project near the African country's capital of Kampala to support children whose families have died. The youngsters, some of whom suffer from diseases like AIDS and malaria, are educated and live in a safe environment by Chris and the team.
But as well as his experiences in the world's poorest continent, Chris has spoken of his own childhood poverty.
Like the orphans he cared for, Chris' parents were not involved in his upbringing.
"As a child I did not know I was poor until I went to secondary school and met kids from a wider social range than I'd encountered at primary school in Hillfields," he said.
"I met kids with bathrooms and indoor toilets, kids with front gardens, kids with televisions. I spent my junior years running around on bomb sites that were scattered through the inner city, alongside kids who were as poorly dressed as me.
"One of my friends from those days served a life sentence for murder, others didn't amount to much. I was lucky.
"I was sent to boarding school in Shropshire and had no choice but to attend school, do my homework and run around in the wide open spaces of the Shropshire Hills.
"It meant I got good O levels and moved on to a better life than my neighbours."
The early introduction to hardship gave Chris a level of perspective for what he would go on and achieve in later years.
In the mid 1980s he helped teach English to medical technicians in civil-war torn Mozambique and worked with boy soldiers to help rehabilitate them into society.
But after his family were involved in a shell attack they returned home, with Chris following a year later to start work as a special needs teacher, a job he remained in for the next 23 years.
However, the former Alice Stevens School teacher had caught the voluntary bug and after an early retirement he joined the Mount Zion orphanage in Uganda.
More trouble soon followed after it became apparent donations being made through local volunteers were not being received, and he confronted the group's president who was later arrested for running a fraudulent organisation. It left the group in crisis but Chris put together a plan and is now running the site.
"The school and orphanage were in a desperate state with very little money coming in and the orphans in particular were short of food and basic needs," he added.
"The health of the children is a major consideration in a country like Uganda. A number of our orphans are HIV positive and therefore at risk when any infections are caught.
"But with the help and donations from Alice Stevens School, I was able to provide for their initial needs and to get water connected for the first time in the establishment’s five year history.
"My daughter, Beth, raised donations from friends in Coventry and the rest of the UK and sent out more money and parcels to support the programme.
"We soon had a water tower and tank installed, showers and washing facilities built, and a new dormitory created."
The group now have a website, and a facebook page, and regularly need donations to keep the orphanage running.
Visit www.facebook.com/MountZionOrphanageUganda and like the page for more information.
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