Camp, Maria Rosa

Written by Linda Kirkpatrick on .


Maria Rosa Camp

1962 -


Born in Santiago, Chile.  Maria's father was from Barcelona, Spain, and her mother from Ecuador.  Because her father worked for the United Nations, the family moved from country to country during her formative years:  Ecuador, the US, Honduras, and Uganda from 1974-79 during the height of the bloody reign of military dictator Idi Amin.

Maria lived in Kampala, Uganda, from age 12-17, attending what was left of the American School after Amin's dictatorship ousted the Americans, Asians, and British.  It was the only school for foreigners and provided education for 60 students in first through eighth grades.

Under Idi Amin, all shops and industries owned by foreigners were taken over and given to members of his tribe.  "There was no commerce, no economic activity," she recalled.  "There was a scarcity of everything.  The shops were empty, boarded up."

In 1977-78 she attended an international boarding school in England, flying back and forth for holidays.  The terror attached to the war between Uganda and Tanzania in the late 1970s would keep her from returning to her home there.  At one point, her mother slept in the bathtub at night in fear of the raping and pillaging going on during those times.  Maria's mother left the country with 15 minutes' notice from the Italian embassy, packing the car and following the caravan leaving the country.  Her father, who was in charge of security of UN personnel, remained, witnessing "awful things," Maria remembered.  She recalls a neighbor and friend who was shot in front of his small children during this time simply for refusing to hand over the keys to his car.

After boarding school in England, she studied architecture in Switzerland for two years where she met and married her husband, who worked for the US federal government.  They moved to Oklahoma and eventually to Evergreen in 1991.

While raising three boys, she worked as the Director of Religious Education at Christ the King Catholic Church and, as she was looking for a project for middle-school-aged kids to form a relationship with, happened upon a former parishioner involved with a project in Uganda.  The young people at Christ the King raised money for the St. Denis School, and in 2004 she had an opportunity to return to Uganda to visit the school to see what had been achieved.

"I fell in love with the kids, the people ... and it became a focus, a passion for me.  I was committed to helping that community," she said.  Having lived near the school in her youth, it all was very real to her.  Although she never really called it "home," it was a place for Maria to give back to a place where she'd lived.

She found a thriving economy with markets filled with locally grown and produced items and things made in China as well as a huge used-clothing market.  With a life expectancy of 49, the Ugandan population is faced with dealing with deaths from AIDS and malaria, which Maria views as roadblocks to prosperity.  Some of the first AIDS cases were discovered in about 1980 after the retreat of the Tanzanian army that invaded the country in 1979.

In 2007 Maria founded Into Your Hands (adding the word "Africa" just recently to better define the purpose of the group) to raise the economic level in rural Uganda by providing opportunities for education and enterprise development. She became its modestly-paid Executive Director in Evergreen with a volunteer board of directors.

Since then the organization has built an 80-person dormitory, a library,and a computer lab at St. Denis School.  Maria has traveled to Uganda seven times since 2004 to monitor the projects being funded.

Into Your Hands Africa focuses on work primarily in Makondo and Namabaale (Uganda), providing students and families with micro loans that enable them to have small farming businesses.  Their "start-up kit" includes training on caring for pigs, a piglet, instructions on how to construct a pig shelter, and two months of commercial feed.  The student takes the pig to be bred twice each year, and the family is able to sell the piglets for income, with the intention that some of the money should be set aside for schooling.  Uganda is a country where only 16 percent of high-school-aged children make it beyond the US equivalent of seventh grade.  $350 Hands of Hope scholarships have enabled 150 academically motivated students to remain in school.  It takes $1400/year to extend those opportunities at the university level; nine have attained that level as of 2012.

The Uganda office now has a staff of six.  The organization has also helped the St. Denis School in Mokondo and the St. Francis School in Namabaale to develop school-owned-and-operated businesses to help make the school more financially sustainable. Such businesses include a computer/Internet center for the community, a dairy business, a banana plantation, a school store, and a grain mill.  "It is meaningful work impacting the community," she says.

In addition, the organization promotes parent education, facilitating and paying for training workshops for 90 families that include subjects from healthcare to growing coffee beans.   "There's such an entrepreneurial spirit in Uganda," says Maria.

Support for the organization comes in the form of donations from Christ the King Catholic Church, Rotary Club of Evergreen, and individuals in the Evergreen area.

Maria is close to completing her Masters degree in Nonprofit Management at Regis University and dreams of someday opening a nonprofit training center in rural Uganda, complete with a volunteer hostel, training rooms, and a placement agency to service the many NGOs that have a presence in the country.

Her upbringing was very much an international one; and as a result, she does not relate to any one country or nationality as her own.  She admits to having no feeling of patriotism or sense of beloonging, although she has become a nationalized citizen of the United States.  Staying connected to the global community is important to her.

Meanwhile, Evergreen is the place she has called "home" for the past 21 years.  She's an avid member of the Rotary Club of Evergreen and Christ the King, referring to both entities as "her family."

Source:  Maria Rosa Camp