Photo By: Courtesy of Richard Shermer
Former Los Altos resident Richard Shermer founded Today’s Children, Africa’s Future to help Ugandan children like the boy above, whose smiley shirt belies his circumstances.
The images seared into Richard Shermer’s conscience could not be ignored. It was those unforgettable and unimaginable scenes that propelled him to start Today’s Children, Africa’s Future (TCAF).
“I never set out to start a nonprofit charity in Africa,” said Shermer, a Los Altos resident for 30 years who now lives in Fresno. “It just seemed the right thing to do.”
Shermer said he plans to move back to Los Altos within two months.
Shermer first traveled to Uganda in 2007, where he created photographic essays in the slums of Kampala for small Ugandan charities. Northern Uganda had been involved in a civil war for more than two decades, making travel to the area dangerous and difficult. Most of the population was interned in displaced persons camps, and conditions in the more than 450 camps were dire, with more than 1,000 people dying a week. The 22-year civil war and the HIV/AIDS pandemic have left an estimated 2 million orphans in Uganda.
“The camps were dreadful places,” Shermer said. “Disease was rampant. Rebels frequently raided them, killing and abducting children and young adults who were forced to become child soldiers or sex slaves.”
There were children everywhere, many orphaned, and child-headed households were common, Shermer added.
“It seemed only children and older people were left – the middle generations had been killed by rebels and disease,” he said.
In the resiliency of the children, Shermer found hope.
“I was amazed by the children. They still had hope and wanted an education, because they knew it was the key to lift themselves out of poverty,” he said. “In Uganda, education must be paid for, and the youngest child would work hard labor to earn money for school fees.”
Before Shermer left Uganda, he agreed to sponsor several children in school. In 2009, he founded TCAF, whose initial goal was to provide children in the war zone with an education and other life necessities. The organization sponsored five children that first year. Now, the number is 22.
Shermer said that at this stage, TCAF can only support a few children.
“Its capacity is directly related to the number of like-minded people, donors and child sponsors who will support it and become involved with its funding and day-to-day operations,” he said.
TCAF’s partnership with the Comboni Samaritans of Gulu in early 2012 has greatly enhanced its efforts, according to Shermer. The Samaritans, a native Northern Ugandan Christian organization, was formed in 1992 in response to the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
“They provide us with individual evaluations which enable us to establish individual sponsorship plans for each child,” Shermer said.
TCAF’s standard sponsorship is $40 a month.
“Ideally, we would like to add 30 newly sponsored children each year,” Shermer said. “I believe that everyone, regardless of their circumstance, should give back to life. The smallest gesture can make a difference in helping someone.”
For more information, call (559) 433-6926 or visit www.4tcaf.org.
A longer version of this article originally appeared in the Clovis Roundup.