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Olivia Barker: social entrepreneur

By Debbie Wright | 17 October 2014 | Comments (2)

Olivia Barker, Kids Club Kampala - a blog by Stewardship

While most students on their post-A level gap year turn their thoughts to money – either the spending or the earning of it – Olivia Barker did something different. In the months before she started at Manchester University she took the first steps towards setting up a charity.

“I was in Uganda when a friend of mine told me about Katanga, the biggest slum in Kampala,” she says. “I had a day off, and despite the warnings that it was a really dangerous place, I decided to go. I wanted to try to help in any way I could.”

What Olivia found when she entered the slum shocked her. “The conditions were heartbreaking. There among the open sewers, the filth and the dirt was where malnourished children played and lived.”

Olivia was determined to do something about the lives of those children living in Katanga. Once she got back to the UK, she wrote and pleaded with various charities and churches, asking for their help. “I had no response from anyone. Maybe it was my age or the priorities of other organisations, but I hit a brick wall.”

Her experiences in Uganda had a life-changing effect on Olivia. Undergraduate life came as something of a culture shock, and soon she was saving up for flights back to Uganda.

“I had such difficulty trying to get others interested in Katanga, but eventually I was able to return with a friend a year after my first visit. But nothing had changed there, and I was really angry with God about it. Yet God spoke incredibly clearly to me, telling me that He had brought me here and that I could make a difference to this community.”

And so it began. With the help of two other friends – one British and one Ugandan – the three under twenty-year-olds set up Kids Club Kampala (KCK), their aim: to bring hope and love to children living in desperate situations in Katanga.

That was back in 2009, and their initial work brought them into contact with 200 children in one slum community. Five years on KCK has grown to reach over 4,000 children in 17 different communities.

The main focus is the provision of a weekly Kids club, which includes games, drama, football and a Bible teaching session. KCK is grass roots and community-based, and the vision has responded to other needs, growing to include feeding projects, education, clothing and now women’s and men’s cooperatives.

It’s hard to imagine how much of this would have happened without Olivia’s hard graft, steely determination and huge work ethic. “While I was at university, my parents saw it as a bit of a hobby, and in some senses university life seemed trivial and self-indulgent. Many of my friends didn’t really understand, but luckily my course was Development Studies and my fellow course-mates had a real empathy for what we were doing.”

On graduating, Olivia got a job working for an International Development Consultancy, a highly demanding job involving long hours. “I spent all my money and annual leave visiting Uganda, and my weekends writing emails and fundraising for KCK.” 

A turning point came last year when Olivia was selected as one of the winners of the 2013 Vodafone World of Difference Awards. “They funded my salary for a while so I was able to work full-time for KCK. It was a sea change in our organisation.” This was a significant boost up the steep learning curve that they had been on.

Though still tiny and in its early days, KCK is clearly having an impact. “In the last year we doubled our income and I and Corrie Fraser won the Global Champions Award at the Cosmopolitan Ultimate Women of the Year Awards.”

Olivia now works out of some rented space in her church in North London and divides her time between the UK and Uganda. “It hasn’t been an easy ride, and I have made some mistakes along the way. The biggest I think was not asking for help and the fear of not being taken seriously, mainly because we are all quite young and I always thought we had to prove ourselves and be independent and professional.”

Part of the journey that Olivia has been on has been one of self-discovery. “I have discovered loads about myself,” she says, “like the fact that I am very stubborn, very determined and refuse to give up. But more importantly we have all discovered more about God. God is incredibly faithful, He has answered prayers time and time again.  His faithfulness is not only all-encompassing but also personal. I know I am doing God’s work and I am incredibly blessed by that.”

Olivia and her colleagues are not stopping, and their vision is huge. “The big dream is to roll out our model to other places with much need. For example, there are thousands, if not millions, of children living in refugee camps. The key is that we are grass roots and community-led, using and enabling local people to run different projects.”

Splitting time between UK and Uganda presents its own unique challenges, as well as opportunities. “Here I am raising funds and awareness, applying for grants, organizing events and championing KCK within the church. But my heart is back in Uganda. Seeing how our projects are making such a difference and having an impact on individual children’s lives, gives me so much joy and pleasure. I am so grateful to God for that.”

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Posted by Debbie Wright

Debbie Wright is Stewardship’s Head of Content and is passionate about generosity in all its guises. Besides occasional blogging and tweeting she creates resources and campaigns such as 40acts and Advent Wonder to inspire, engage and motivate the wider Christian community. Prior to joining, Debbie worked for A Rocha UK as editor of their national magazine and in a previous life worked as a TV producer/director for the BBC for 17 years.  Debbie is married to Graham; they have 4 daughters and a springer spaniel.  When not acting as taxi driver, she can be found on a salsa dance floor. Follow Debbie on Twitter @debwright99


Shelley Godsell

October 18, 2014 6:17 AM
Well done Olivia. I so admire what you are doing. I completely understand the joy and drive you have as I am doing something similar in South Africa. We started a feeding project 11 years ago with just 60 children and it has grown to over 4,500 every day. God has been so faithful and we know that we are touching and changing the lives of children all the time. It is so rewarding. Please carry on with your wonderful work and know that God is using you mightily. Warm regards, shelley Godsell

Beth Wakeford

October 21, 2014 8:11 AM
This is so inspiring especially when you realise God had called you to do this and protected you along the way as you served him.You are making the difference and the children will be changed as you show them God s love for them through such a practical Charity.

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