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Abandoned and orphaned children are been given a home, love and a chance to fulfil their potential thanks to the efforts of North-East fundraisers.

Keith Johnson, the chairman of leading estate agents JW Wood, is about to embark on an eight day trip to Uganda to oversee the completion of a house and home for eight children whose lives have been blighted by poverty.

Some of the children, aged three to seven, have been abandoned by their parents, others are orphans.

But all of them are now lucky enough to be brought up as brothers and sisters after being helped by the Kwagala Trust, backed by trustees mainly from County Durham.

Tens of thousands of children live in abject poverty in Uganda, where life expectancy is as low as 50, almost half the population earn less than £40 a month and AIDS is rife.

With the help of JW Wood and Elvet Methodist Church, Durham, the charity is managing to build a compound, 20 miles north of Kampala, offering a nurturing, loving environment in which the children can flourish.

Keith said: “My sister Christine is a trustee and asked my wife’s church if it would fundraise to build a house.

“I went to check it out and once I got there I was hooked. Conditions are difficult. There is only cold water and very little electricity; it’s very basic. But when you see the children’s happy, smiling faces it more than makes up for this.”

Most of JW Wood’s staff contribute donations from their monthly salaries towards the initiative.

The estate agency also bought the land while Elvet Methodist Church contributed £25,000. JW Wood is a member of the Home Sales Network which also donated £15,000 and the scheme is backed by the Rotary Clubs of Durham, Frank and Sue Curry, of Poplar Tree Nursery at Shincliffe and the owners of the Pavilion Cantonese Restaurant at Iveston, near Consett, along with many individuals in the area.

Another £20,000 is still needed to complete the compound to pay for roads and fencing.

The trust is run by Esther Zziwa, who was herself abandoned as a child. “She was brought up in an orphanage which provided her shelter but no love,” said Keith. “Her idea is to create a family unit which is so much more than simply a roof over their heads; they will be loved and cherished and will be able to fulfil their potential.”

Launched four years ago the charity is also well along the road to self sufficiency by growing its own food, rearing chickens and goats and having an in-house teacher.

Keith and his son Richard are packing a host of goodies to take for the children including clothes, educational materials and shoes.

“We will also be overseeing the finishing touches to the home,” said Keith. “We are really excited about the trip and seeing how far they have come on. We can’t change the lives of the thousands of children living in poverty but we can help these eight.”

Esther, a former member of the African Children’s Choir, will visit County Durham in June on a three week fundraising trip.

Anyone interested in helping the children should contact Keith at k.johnson@jww.co.uk.or visit the website www.kwagala.org.uk.

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