This is the second time the OXFORD hotel has highlighted art that was created by this unique group of accomplished, self-taught artists: all prison inmates, some who will never be released. The prisoners are creating these works for the benefit of a group of Ugandan orphans, children they have never met. Likely never will.
They are children like Patricia Anyango, whose parents were both dead by the time she was 10 years old. Patricia was abducted by the same rebels who killed her mother before her eyes. Life in captivity was so horrific that Patricia prayed she would die.
Stories like Patricia’s were heard 9,000 miles away at Snake River Correctional Institution on the Oregon/Idaho border, where an inmate like Pete Sostilio counts the days until he is released from prison. He has served 16 years of an 18 year sentence for kidnapping.
Here’s how it happened:
Patricia’s and Pete’s paths merged thanks to Bob and Carol Higgins, retired school teachers from Bend, Oregon. They had absolutely no interest in visiting a prison and even less in visiting Africa. Then in 1999, they were invited by friends to attend a conference in Uganda. They less-than-enthusiastically said “yes”, not realizing this trip would turn their world upside-down and enrich their lives in ways they never anticipated.
Fast forward to 2011. Bob and Carol have lived in Uganda for 11 years now and if you ask them how many children they have, they will say 260. They have built Otino Waa Children’s Village, a place that is truly more like a village than an orphanage. Eight children live in each house with local widows serving as house mothers. There are a first-rate primary school, secondary school, vocational school and even a café and gift shop where the older kids learn job skills.
Some of the Otino Waa children are former child soldiers. Others lost their parents to AIDS. One young boy was found living in a ditch. All had lost hope. They are among Uganda’s estimated 2.5 million orphans.
The funding for Otino Waa comes solely from private donations by generous Americans. But Bob and Carol never expected one unusual group of donors: those artist-inmates serving hard time at Snake River Correctional Institution on the Oregon/Idaho border.
The men heard about the Otino Waa orphans during a prison chapel service and were moved by the children’s stories. They wrote a proposal to prison officials: Could they create works of art to be sold with all proceeds going to the orphans? The officials said “yes”. This is what you are seeing around you. It’s important to note none of the prisoners are getting shortened sentences or increased possibility of parole for their work in helping the orphans. Their payback, say the inmates, is a sense of purpose they have not felt in years.
All proceeds from the sale of this art goes directly to the support of the Otino Waa orphans. By investing in a piece of this art, you will become a partner in giving these amazing children food, clothing, education and, most importantly, hope for their futures.
Sandy Cummings, a Bend resident, has produced a full length documentary featuring the story of Bob and Carol Higgins and the Otino Waa orphanage.
See a short sample of this documentary at www.lost-found-film.com
Sandy can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
“Lost & Found”, a documentary currently in production: