The Lulu Tree Development Fellowship was incorporated in Alberta as a provincial not-for-profit in June of 2014 after Founder and President Emily Wierenga took her inaugural trip to Uganda in January of 2014 (one of five bloggers sent to cover the work of an organization called World Help). She returned to Canada burdened for single mothers in the slum of Katwe.
Due to Emily’s online presence as an author and blogger, she had many contacts in the United States who had followed her journey to Uganda and who subsequently committed to helping her start up a non-profit upon her return. Thus, while Lulu was incorporated in Alberta, home to the founder, the majority of its financial supporters were, and still are, American.
With this in mind, an accountant began paperwork to register The Lulu Tree as a 501 (c) (3), completed December of 2015, while Emily and her group of volunteers started the hard work of figuring out what The Lulu Tree stood for and how it would indeed help the women of Uganda by equipping them to help themselves.
From the beginning, the Lulu Tree founder and board members committed to giving radically of their time, finances, and skills in an effort to inspire pure love and generosity from others. This meant refusing any kind of pay and covering many of the organization’s expenses out of their own pockets, allowing more than 91% of donations received to go directly to their intended location.
Along the same lines, it was decided not to fundraise, but rather, to give as radically as possible and then trust others to be inspired to do the same, while sharing stories of what God was doing through Lulu on social media and through the Lulu Tree blog. This method took on the term, “faith-raising.”
A Ugandan national director trained in social work and gender-related violence, Esther Tendo, a single mother of two, was hired full-time to mentor a group of 15-20 women, including single women who had no family, and single mothers, all of whom had been recommended by one of three different pastors in the slum of Katwe, Uganda.
These women belonged to the pastors’ congregations, and after being interviewed by Esther and having their home situations critiqued and stories proved valid, they were invited into The Lulu Tree’s two-year program with the understanding that they would be evaluated every six months. Each woman needed to be a member of a church, or willing to attend one; to either have dependents with no husband to help her, or to be a single woman with no local family or prospects; to be desperately poor and eager to work and learn; and to be willing to adhere to the Lulu Tree’s policies regarding the disciplines of prayer, purity, respect, and love.
The pastors were requested to be involved as volunteer support for Esther and as “father figures” for the women. Esther would call them if there was an incident involving a woman who attended their church, and they would support Esther and guide the woman in question; the pastors were also involved in some of the weekly Bible Studies with the program’s participants.
The two-year program included training in each woman’s particular area of interest — hairdressing, tailoring, farming, or business — in addition to meeting three times a week with Esther to be discipled through Scripture and prayer. While involved in this program, the women received weekly subsidies to cover their food, rent, hospital bills, and school fees for their children, in addition to the costs of their training.
While local NGO schools were initially used to assist in the women’s training, it was soon discovered that the quality of training in these schools was insufficient. The Lulu Tree decided to open its own school and workshop offering both hairdressing and tailoring to its participants. A rented room along a main street just outside of the slum was partitioned into both a tailoring area and a salon. Lulu hired two hairdressing trainers to oversee the beauty school and Esther’s sister, Zion Rhodah—a design school graduate and award winning tailor—to teach sewing and knitting. It also hired Joel Lutaaya, a young man skilled in computers and agriculture, to teach urban farming skills. All were hired part-time. Additionally, Joel volunteered his time to disciple the women’s children in Bible and prayer every Saturday.
In August of 2016, The Lulu Tree was registered as a foreign NGO in Uganda.
One month later — a little more than two years after The Lulu Tree’s inception — 12 of the 17 women graduated from the two-year program, while five chose to remain with The Lulu Tree to assist Mommy Esther in serving vulnerable women such as themselves by accompanying her on mama kit outreaches, sewing much-needed items for women like hygiene kits, childbirth kits, and school bags, and hosting and feeding pastors and children. In return, they continued to receive a weekly subsidy covering their rent, foot and medical bills, and school fees for their children.
It was around this same time that Lulu expanded into the villages surrounding Jinja, Uganda, in addition to purchasing 10 acres of land in Luwero (a region in central Uganda) with the intention of one-day turning it into a farm to help feed families involved in its program. The Lulu Tree is still currently waiting to receive the land title from the government for those 10 acres, but it’s been paid for and the agreement signed.
Lulu’s expansion into the villages was followed by the development of the REACH program and the subsequent confirmation of three branches in The Lulu Tree: REACH, RECEIVE, and RESCUE.
(To learn more about these three branches, please go HERE)
In January of 2017, Joel Lutaaya was hired full-time to begin assisting Esther with the Jinja branch and the six churches involved with The Lulu Tree. Outreaches were done in each of the four villages to gain the trust and friendship of the villagers, with the pastors taking turns hosting the outreaches. These outreaches consisted of distributing hundreds of childbirth kits, removing jiggers from children’s feet, supplying clothes and shoes for the old and young, providing hygiene kits and school backpacks for young girls, and feeding hundreds of children and single mothers.
The Katwe program subsided after September of 2016, as it became evident over time that Lulu should exist primarily to prevent young girls and mothers from having to leave the villages to try to find work in the slums. Rather than working long-term in the slums, it was decided to limit slum-work to occasional Outreaches (falling under the ministry’s “Rescue” branch) and focus the organization’s resources on partnering with pastors in the villages through the “REACH” branch, helping them to care for vulnerable families in their communities.
With the goal of helping more women and families by enlisting others to help carry the mantle of The Lulu Tree, Esther and Joel commissioned each of the six village pastors to help them care for the needy in their congregations, in return for receiving food, sugar, and soap each week.
Each pastor is expected to share his skills and his abilities in assisting those less fortunate. The Lulu Tree provides a network of resources and support to fall back upon as a pastor seeks to equip his village—in particular, the single mothers, orphans, and widows. Joel Lutaaya stays in the village of Namagera during the week to supervise the work of Lulu in the villages, while Esther visits weekly from her home in Kampala, where she continues to head up outreaches in neighboring slums and refugee camps, and to oversee the discipleship of the remaining Katwe mothers and their children. The mothers live together in a room above the Lulu Tree Workshop, used now to make items for the outreaches and to gather for worship and strategy sessions. Their children attend Christian boarding school.
In January of 2017, a soap machine was purchased for the women of the villages; Pastor David Mununzuzi’s wife, Prossy, teaches the women how to make soap, providing an alternative source of income.
In February of 2017, The Lulu Tree School of Hope for Teen Moms was founded in the village of Namagera, under the volunteer direction of secondary school teacher Pastor Samuel Seguiga, and with the assistance of six volunteer teachers. It’s the first school of its kind in Uganda, geared towards giving a second chance to unmarried teenaged mothers who’ve been scorned by their local classmates and are often abused by their teachers in an attempt to dissuade other students from following in these girls’ footsteps. With one-in-four girls between the ages of 15 and 19 becoming pregnant in Uganda, the need for this school was huge. The Lulu Tree is currently renting a health facility which has been partitioned into three classrooms offering Primary 6, Secondary 2 and Secondary 3 classes. It has 15 students, whose mothers take turns caring for the babies during class. There are mandatory breast-feeding breaks, and each girl is also trained in hygiene, parenting, and nutrition.
In April of 2017, the Lulu Tree medical clinic was founded with the provision of medicines and under the supervision of both Pastor David Mununuzi—a trained nurse—and Vicky, a pastor’s wife who also has a background in medicine. This clinic currently uses the rented facility of the school to distribute necessary medicines until an alternative location is provided.
In May of 2017, two acres of land were purchased just five minutes from the rented facility with the hopes of building a school facility, a dorm for the girls, and a medical clinic to service the girls and their children.
Also in May, the first Lulu pastors’ conference was held, hosted by Jinja’s pastors and teen mothers, who invited over 100 pastors from neighboring areas to come for three days and be trained through Truth Centered Transformation, a locally provided Biblical training for impoverished congregations. TCT is a five year course, with the intention of meeting every six months for three days each time to learn the next module. Pastors are then expected to return home and apply the principles learned. Since its inception, TCT has helped take more than 300 communities out of poverty. This course, provided freely to international ministries and outreaches, was created by the organization Reconciled World and is conducive to the Lulu Tree’s REACH program.
It is hoped that by the end of five years each village engaged in Lulu’s REACH program will be largely self-sufficient.
Sierra Leone Branch
In November of 2016, The Lulu Tree expanded into Sierra Leone, having been approached by a pastor and his wife who desired to plant Lulu and its programs in the villages surrounding the Mambo Region. The Lulu Tree became incorporated as a national NGO in Sierra Leone in November of 2016, and began working with this pastor and his wife to care for widows and orphans, in addition to assisting pregnant mothers through a birthing center.
Pastor Sonnel Kamara is the national director of The Lulu Tree in Sierra Leone; he resigned from his role of overseeing 40 churches in January of 2017, in order to volunteer full-time with The Lulu Tree. By his own choice, he does not receive a salary, although Lulu does cover his monthly expenses. He and his wife, Mommy Christiana—a children’s minister—had been building a family home to retire in when they felt called to donate it to ministry instead. After visiting Sierra Leone in the fall of 2016, Emily Wierenga and her team of volunteers committed to helping Pastor Sonnel turn this home into Bethel Home, with the top floors being used to care for desperate widows and orphans from the slums of Freetown, and the bottom floor, to be turned into a birthing center providing free, compassionate support for vulnerable pregnant mothers in the area.
By May of 2017 the upper floors of Bethel Home were completed, and Pastor Sonnel and his wife moved in. Sonnel’s brother Daniel Kamara, who’s volunteered alongside the pastor for years, was hired as a Children’s Director. He will be in charge of connecting with pastors in the slums of Freetown to find out which widows and orphans under the age of 5 are in most need of assistance. Then, through a series of interviews, they will be invited to live at Bethel Home, with the widows helping Sonnel and Christiana care for the children.
It is hoped that the birthing center will be complete by September of 2017, at which time a local midwife and nurse will be hired to care for any pregnant mothers needing the center’s services.
Pastor Sonnel is a farmer by trade. The community elders of his home village, Kamassaralie, greatly respect him and offered him land, which he has begun farming, planting acres of rice and millet, in the hopes of helping to feed his people during the famine season. It is also his hope to use the farmland to assist in feeding the widows and orphans of Bethel Home. The Lulu Tree has partnered with Pastor Sonnel in these endeavors, helping him to construct a drying floor and build a storehouse for the grain. Lulu also purchased a power saw for the village to make school benches for the local schoolchildren—70% of whom were previously seated on the floor during their lessons—and to build school bathrooms. A soap machine was purchased for the village women to help provide an alternative source of income during the famine season; a bore hole was dug in April of 2017 to provide clean water for the surrounding villages; and medicines were provided to start the first clinic in Kamasarralie, servicing the 14 surrounding villages.
It is Lulu’s and Pastor Sonnel’s hope that this village will become a beacon of hope for surrounding villages, and once equipped, Kamasarralie will be able to assist its neighbors in finding hope and a future.