Eddie Joyce is a colourful political character who is hardly ever reluctant to publicly express what’s on his mind.
When it comes to talking about recent work he has done for a humanitarian organization that started tugging at his heart strings a couple of years ago, he’s a little more modest.
Around two and a half years ago, the independent legislature member for the Bay of Islands met some people who were involved with a Canadian charity organization called LITA, which stands for “love is the answer.”
When they told Joyce about how they were raising money for kids at an orphanage in Uganda so they could go to school, he told them he wanted to help out.
After ensuring doing such charity work was OK for a sitting MHA, Joyce set about helping the group raise money. Last year, he raised nearly $60,000 for them.
Earlier this month, he joined some of the group members on a week-long mission to visit with the Ugandan children they’re helping. He had never planned to go until others in the group encouraged him to join them three weeks before they left.
“You hear about it and you see pictures, but they told me to see, firsthand, the projects the group is looking after is something you should see,” said Joyce.
He said the conditions these children live in was eye-opening and he said the experience of being able to provide them the opportunity to go to school and to improve their health was uplifting.
On the first day, he was befriended by a four-year-old boy named Jeremiah. The two developed quote a bond in the week Joyce spent in Uganda.
“After a while, when other kids would try to come up to me, Jeremiah would try to push them away,” laughed Joyce.
When it was time for Jeremiah to go to school for the first time, Joyce brought him there himself to meet his teacher.
“I just helped him put on his book bag and said, ‘come on, let’s go to school,’” Joyce said proudly.
Before he left, he made sure Jeremiah had a buddy who was a year older than him to help him out at school.
In all, the group’s efforts helped 26 more children join a group of what is now around 125 orphans being educated thanks to the efforts of LITA.
Joyce said the goal is to not only get every child at the orphanage to school, but to make improvements at the schools and at the orphanage itself. There are plans to build a library extension for a computer lab, among other things.
What struck Joyce the most about Uganda was the lack of footwear being worn and the prevalence of jiggers, a parasitic worm that infests bare feet. The pain, itching and infections that can result can prevent children from going to school and adults from providing for their families.
Part of the LITA mission as to support an organization called Sole Hope, which visits villages like the one Joyce was in and removes jiggers from affected people’s feet.
Joyce’s luggage contained lots of medical supplies, including antibiotic cream donated by local doctors for use on the feet of affected people who have jiggers cut out of their feet. The mission also gave away 300 pairs of shoes to those who have none as a way to prevent infestations.
Joyce, who helped wash the feet of people who had jiggers removed, bought 26 pairs of shoes the day before he left to give to villagers who had nothing to wear.
Since returning, Joyce has started a fundraiser on his personal Facebook account, he plans to spend the money raised to buy more shoes from the local shoe sellers in Uganda.
“I want to buy locally instead of bringing them with me because by buying 20 pairs of shoes from a local vendor over there will help that vendor feed their family for a month,” he said.
Joyce, who promised to return to Uganda for another visit this summer, said it’s not him who deserves any praise for helping these folks out.
He said it’s the hard work of LITA and Sole Hope that impressed him enough to want to help them and their incredible work.
“It’s a great organization,” he said. “It’s not me. The work they do to coordinate everything to make sure everyone there is OK and to deal with anything that comes up is amazing.”