Garry Hill Moved by Plight of Ugandan ChildrenJune 17, 2011
Garry Hill, an insurance broker with Sterling Seacrest Partners, is a man on a mission: to provide humanitarian relief for hundreds of orphaned children in Uganda who have been imprisoned by the government for no reason other than they were picked up by police on the streets.
According to the most recent estimates published by UNICEF, the number of orphaned children in Uganda is more than 2.5 million. UNICEF and global partners define an orphan as a child who has lost one or both parents. Approximately 45 percent of them were abandoned or outcast due to AIDS. Many were sent out by their parents to beg and some are from migrant tribes.
A little more than a year ago, Hill and four other men from The Village Church at Vinings decided they wanted to do more walking and less talking about their spiritual lives. When they heard about the plight of the children in Uganda’s prisons, they formed Sixty Feet, which is described on the organization’s website as an “action-based organization created to bring hope and restoration to the imprisoned children of Africa in Jesus’ name.”
The organization’s name was inspired by the notion that, while Ugandans suffer from a severe lack of drinking water, geologists have determined that beneath much of the country’s land, in many places at a depth of only 60 feet, an abundance of crystal clear water can be found.
Hill and other members of Sixty Feet have made numerous trips to Kampala, the capital of Uganda, and surrounding areas to visit seven detention facilities. The facilities were originally constructed by the British in the 1960s to hold relatively small numbers of children and youths.
“On our first visit, we found conditions that were utterly appalling,” Hill said.
Hill described a facility constructed to house 50 teenage boys being packed with approximately 150 children, both boys and girls, between the ages of 2 and 22. Some children were chained to walls. Toilets and showers were not functioning. Beds were limited. There was little adult supervision. Michael Lines, a filmmaker from Marietta, shot footage during the Sixty Feet team’s visits to Uganda, which has been assembled into a documentary. Excerpts from the film can be seen on the Sixty Feet website (http://sixtyfeet.org).
According to Hill, the Ugandan government is aware of the tragic situation at the prisons, but is overwhelmed by other pressures from the country’s multitude of political and economic maladies.
“They (government officials) were very sensitive to the fact that they could not solve the problem and were open to our efforts to help,” Hill said.
Back in America, in April 2010, Sixty Feet launched a fundraising campaign called “The Cupcake Kids,” which is basically an online cupcake sale. Administered by the wives of Sixty Feet board members, “The Cupcake Kids” was inspired by repeated requests from their children to contribute to the cause. The first event raised more than $36,000 in one day.
At last count, the 2011 edition of “The Cupcake Kids” has received orders from 38 states and four countries outside the U.S. A total of 125 people signed up online, pledging more than $50,000 in donations. According to Hill, Sixty Feet’s combined fundraising efforts to date have raised more than $275,000.
While Hill’s activities carry him away for extended periods from his duties as head of the group benefits practice at Sterling Seacrest Partners, Hill said his boss could not be more supportive.
“We marvel at Garry’s willingness to give back,” said John W. Miller II, CEO at Sterling Seacrest Partners. “We value the efforts made by our employees whether that takes the form of volunteer work through a secular or non-secular organization or establishing an initiative like Garry has done.”
According to Miller, charities and organizations with which Sterling employees are involved include Wiskott-Aldrich Foundation, George West Mental Health Foundation, Atlanta Community Food Bank, MUST Ministries, The Cool Girls, City of Refuge, Emmaus House, Church of the Common Ground, Alzheimer’s Association, Zaban Shelter and Habitat for Humanity.
Currently, Sixty Feet has seven employees in Uganda including two administrative staff, a guidance counselor and three nurses who provide medical care on a weekly basis.
The short-term goals include ensuring the water and sanitation systems are working and providing bedding with mosquito netting, as well as antibiotics and other basic medicines, especially anti-malarial drugs.
In addition, Sixty Feet has partnered with Cornerstone Development, a nongovernmental organization with three decades of experience in Uganda. The long-term goal is to build 10 facilities, which will serve as educational facilities and temporary homes for orphans and outcasts before they are either reunited with parents or, in some cases, put into an adoption program.
“It’s a humanitarian effort, but it’s also a spiritual undertaking,” said Scott Harty, a local attorney and Sixty Feet founding member.
“We started this project because we were tired of a lackluster spiritual life that was largely devoid of any real service or activity beyond going to church on Sunday,” said Harty, who has visited Uganda four times in the past year.
Harty described Sixty Feet as a “working board” and said Hill serves as an inspiration to all members.
“Garry is deeply committed to, and passionately involved in, this project,” he said.
That kind of commitment and passion are requirements for this type of effort. In Sixty Feet, Hill and his collaborators have embarked upon a lifetime’s work.
“The need is never going away,” Hill said. “There are 30 million people in Uganda, and the average age is 15; this is a nation of children who desperately need support.”
Premium content from Atlanta Business Chronicle – by Doug DeLoach, Contributing Writer