Anne-Marie Reddan has co-founded a charity organisation in Uganda, contracted typhoid and malaria (twice), married a Ugandan pop star, and booked a one-way ticket to the capital city, Kampala.
Along with her husband Emmanuel Kusaasira, Anne-Marie co-founded Yimba Uganda, a non-government organisation aiming at providing local people with the skills, education, and opportunities to build sustainable futures and be leaders in their community.
Anne-Marie’s story began as a 16-year-old going on safari in the African jungle. However, it was her time at a Ugandan orphanage on a GAP year that changed everything.
“I remember arriving in Uganda and it was raining, it was cold, there was mud everywhere and I was thinking ‘what am I doing here’”, she said.
“But as soon as I set foot inside the orphanage I fell in love with the country. The people were so hospitable, so welcoming, so genuine — the culture so vibrant and bold. And the need — it’s not something you see and can just go home and forget about — that was never an option.
“I was volunteering in the orphanage and helping build houses, and I thought I was doing the best thing possible. In reality I was probably doing more harm than good.
“I’m not a qualified builder and I was taking work away from builders in the local community, who could have done a far better job than me.”
Sustainable programs have become the signature of Yimba Uganda, with the focus on empowering leaders within the community.
Their first program provided widows and single mothers with the means to purchase a goat, whose kid would be distributed to another family in the community. The owner of the original goat was able to earn an income by selling the goat’s milk and any further kids it had.
“At the start I underestimated the impact a goat could have, but as the program developed I saw people able to buy bricks and cement to build a house, and even open a community store where they could sell sugar and rice,” Anne-Marie said.
Yimba Uganda also holds a tailoring, fashion, and design course — with the dresses and garments made sold in a Melbourne boutique, providing income to the students.
“The people in these communities have great, big picture ideas, but they don’t have the resources or infrastructure in place to achieve them, and that’s the most heartbreaking thing,” Anne-Marie said.
It was through her work in the community that she met Emmanuel, stage name Coopy Bly, a successful gospel and reggae singer in Uganda.
“Emmanuel had the same vision of working with youth in disadvantaged communities.
“He was not like anyone I had met in Uganda before, we were so like-minded in terms of the programs we wanted to develop and our dreams of what Uganda could be like.
“We spent a lot of time together building the organisation, and you know how these stories unfold — we fell in love. I went back to Australia to do my degree, so we did the long distance thing for three years, but we always had Yimba pulling us together.
“At times a lot of pressure was put on us, when we didn’t have enough money to pay for rent for the Yimba House or we needed to pay staff wages, and at times we thought, ‘how are we going to do this?’
“But it really is amazing that we’ve been able to build Yimba, and I feel that we work better when we are together.”
To learn more about Yimba Uganda visit yimbauganda.org
Anne-Marie Reddan completed a Bachelor of International Development Studies at ACU.