How We StartedLearn the amazing story about the founder of our orphanage
THIS IS AYELLA DENIS, OUR FOUNDER AND MANAGING DIRECTOR.
He isn’t quite sure how old he is because of his tumultuous early childhood but he was probably born in December of 1988, making him around 27 years old. Denis was 9 years old when his family was attacked by rebels. He was shot in the arm and leg and his parents were bound. The rebels tried to make Denis kill his own father but he refused so both of his parents were brutally murdered in front of him. His life was spared on the condition that he become a soldier. When he agreed he was taken away, beaten, often starved and forced to commit terrible atrocities. He tried to escape twice; the first time he was caught, severely beaten and nearly died. The second time he was successful. He had been a soldier for 9 years.
During his years as a child soldier, northern Uganda was ravaged by civil war, nearly 2 million people held captive in mandatory Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camps until the war could be controlled by the government. After his escape, Denis found himself wandering the streets of an empty Gulu, homeless, penniless and without an education. He lived in the Unama IDP camp until 2007 when he met an American, David Pigott, who was a professor of history filming a documentary in Gulu. After Denis told his story to the camera, David and his wife felt compelled to get Denis out of the camp and into school. When the first school Denis attended was burned to the ground by some of the students not long after he arrived, the Pigott arranged for him to study in a school in Jinja in the south away from the conflict. Denis did very well in his studies but, because he was Acholi and the other students were from other tribes, Denis never fit in. Eventually, he abandoned his studies and made his way back to Gulu.
His first child came to him by accident when Denis was living on the streets. The camps were full when he got back to Gulu so he lived with a group of street kids and other homeless individuals, sharing what little food and resources they had. Denis also helped care for a neighbor, an elderly woman who had been trampled in a revolt. She was raising her orphaned grandson, a baby, named Sarfic. Because she was terribly injured, Denis brought her food and helped look after Sarfic everyday. Eventually, she was told by the doctors that she was dying. When Denis came to bring her food that day she refused to eat since she had no hope of recovery and food was so scarce. She begged Denis to take Sarfic after her death. Within the space of a few months Denis was caring for several orphans. Having no resources of his own, he turned to the Pigotts who provided the financial backing for Denis to rent a place to live in Gulu and eventually buy the land the orphanage currently occupies in a village ten miles outside of the city.
Today, with the help of the Pigotts and their non-profit organization, Enough to Spare, Denis now cares for 45 children and helps another 218 orphans in the surrounding villages and many widows. When money is very tight, Denis will do shifts as a day laborer in the quarry and spend all the money he earns to feed the children. He is often up with them all night when they are vomiting blood from various maladies and raging fevers from malaria. He works tirelessly to support them. They call him “Daddy.”