A grass roots project, rooted in friendship.
It was in 2007 that Bruno and Jonathan, the projects co-founders first met in the town of Kabale in South West Uganda. At the time Jonathan was a gorilla keeper working at Jersey Zoo in the British Channel Islands and was on a personal pilgrimage to visit this beguiling species in the wild for the first time. Bruno was working as a waiter at The Sky Blue Hotel, a rather dilapidated little establishment on the dusty roadside of Kabale.
This first meeting revealed a mutual passion for gorillas, an interest in ecotourism and a shared urge to combine the two to support impoverished human communities. Whilst neither had so much as set foot in the village of Kafunjo at this point it was at this meeting that the plan was forged to work together to build something that would unite their common goals.
Since that meeting it has been a meandering road with countless obstacles, delays and reconsiderations but today we can say that our shared dreams have finally become a reality.
The Early Years
Bruno was born in the town of Kabale in South West Uganda on the 20th March 1987. From an early age he was cared for by his grandmother Cecilia in a tiny mud brick house on the outskirts of the town. At the age of 12, he completed his primary schooling but was unable to continue to secondary school due to a lack of money to pay for school fees.
At 12 years of age he travelled to Ibanda to find work as a housemaid and he had the fortuitous meeting with a kind man called Mastiko Ludovico who offered him a job and in return agreed to cover his secondary school fees.
When Bruno had graduated from secondary school. he returned to Kabale, and was able to find employment at The Sky Blue Hotel as a waiter. In 2007 Bruno had a chance encounter with a “Mzungu” or white man called Jonathan Stark who was backpacking through Uganda and stopped to eat at the hotel restaurant, on his way to see the gorillas of the nearby “Bwindi Impenetrable Forest”. The 2 struck up a conversation and soon a friendship formed. They decided to travel to see the gorillas together with Bruno leading the way.
On this trip they made an agreement that one day they would set up an “ethical tour company” together with the aim of bringing groups of tourists from the UK and beyond to Uganda, to encounter wild gorillas whilst supporting local communities. This company would be rooted in the principle that it would benefit both the people and wildlife of Uganda. As part of the arrangement Jonathan agreed to pay for Bruno’s fees to attend Kihigami Eco-tourism College so he could gain his field guiding qualifications.
Bruno and the Mango tree
In 2013, despite completing his field guiding studies with high grades, Bruno was unable to secure work in the tourism sector. Meanwhile back in Jersey, Jonathan’s life had taken on a new course so their great plans appeared to fade.
Around this time, Bruno moved to the village of Kafunjo to stay with an aunt who had moved to the region. Whilst Bruno’s early years had been hard, nothing could have prepared him for what he witnessed when he first entered Kafunjo village.
The children were dressed in rags, with engorged stomachs and a range of health complaints from malaria to general malnutrition. Their days were without structure or purpose and many were orphans, or given up by desperate parents forced to do the unthinkable due to sheer desperation. Bruno saw in these children many similarities to his own earlier life and reflected on the opportunities his younger self was given by those who sponsored his education.
Moved to act, Bruno gathered the children together, into the shade of a small mango tree and began to share the knowledge he had gained through his own sponsored education.
It was at this point that Bruno contacted his friend Jonathan and suggested the idea of starting to build a project in Kafunjo to offer the children some basic education and food to save them from the desperate situation he had found them in.
A primary school is born
As word spread amongst the children, the small gathering of children beneath the mango tree grew in number and soon, with a trickle of donations coming through, Bruno decided to move the children into the village church to continue the lessons.
The class at this time contained a mix of children from different religious backgrounds and when this was noticed by the pastor of the church, he told Bruno that only christian children were allowed to study in the church. Bruno protested that his help was for all children, irrespective of their beliefs and so decided at that point that he would need to purchase a small piece of land and begin to build his own classroom.
A generous donation from Mrs Anne Shaw, a resident of the US, allowed Bruno to purchase a strip of land adjacent to the church on which the new school would be built. With the help of his brother Robert the 2 began the herculean task of building the new school, using 4000 handmade bricks made from the earth beneath their feet. Other community members volunteered their skills and soon the first 2 classrooms were completed and the classes could continue.
From a small gathering of children beneath the mango tree, the school now had over 200 pupils attending with a growing army of supporters around the world.
THE KAFUNJO ORPHANAGE.
With the primary school nearing completion and with 350 children now registered everything was going from strength to strength. Hope had returned to Kafunjo though when the school day ended not all the children had homes or families to go home to so it was decided that the next stage of the project was to build an orphanage so Bruno could provide 24 hour care to the villages neediest children.
Jonathan shared the idea to his friends back home in Jersey in the UK Channel Islands and soon another group of supporters was formed. After 6 months of fund raising in Jersey they travelled out to Kafunjo to assist with the orphanage build which would ultimately house 140 children.
Joe Fry, a Jersey resident who attended the trip, took on the role of “child sponsor coordinator” and threw herself wholeheartedly into the task of finding these children their “person”.
The sponsorship programme proved very successful and soon Bruno was able to expand the vision of the project into purchasing additional land for agriculture, improving healthcare and pushing the prospects of the children from surviving to thriving.
THE KAFUNJO GREEN SCHOOL.
In 2020, with the project nearing 5 years in age, some of the children who had been with us since the beginning were now old enough to move on to secondary school so soon the next idea arose the start work building our own. In the meantime, with donations increasing, we were able to pay for our eldest students to attend a nearby secondary school whilst we began work raising funds to construct our very own.
With our expansion into subsistence agriculture, and our awareness of the environmental impact of the project, we decided that the secondary school should be run on sound environmental principles, with the aim of teaching the children how to live in balance with their environment, whilst respecting nature.
In 2019 we had the opportunity to purchase a large area of fertile land that would be perfect as the site for The Kafunjo Green school whilst also offering ample land to progress with our goal of becoming self sufficient in food production.
In March 2020 Jonathan returned with a group of 10 supporters to assist with the construction of the first 3-classroom block of the new secondary school. A small reforestation project was also inaugurated on this visit, with a variety of native tree species planted around the land of the green school.