Photo courtesy of Allen Nunnally.
1012 Sozo Children
The Sozo Children team, including Lisa Bond, Suzanne Owens, Jon Brennan, Catherine Wise Lenning and Allen Nunnally, took children in the homes they started in Uganda to eat and swim for the first time.
On May 3, 2010, recent college graduates Allen Nunnally and Jay Clark noticed a Ugandan girl named Fetuma’s feet were raw. When they asked about them, she and her friends said it was the rats that ate at their feet at night. It was at that moment Nunnally and Clark knew they had to do something.
Fetuma was one of a group of children to whom Clark and Nunnally were bringing food after finding them malnourished and abused living in an orphanage outside Kampala, Uganda. The children were only eating every two to three days and had signs of physical abuse. They drank impure water, and some had malaria.
Ten days later, Nunnally and Clark welcomed 17 children into a fully furnished and staffed house staff in Uganda.
“Day one was great, but on day two we were asking ‘What in the world have we gotten into?’” Nunnally said.
Months earlier their life looked much different. 2004 Oak Mountain High School graduates Nunnally and Clark had grown up in youth group together and headed off to Auburn and Tuscaloosa, respectively, where they completed business degrees. But they felt called on a different path. Clark sold his truck. Nunnally quit his job, and they headed to Uganda for nine months with no set plan or agenda – all the while mentored by Suzanne Owens, their youth pastor from Asbury United Methodist Church.
More than two years later, Owens and Nunnally are consumed by the relationship with the Ugandans they have met. Sozo Children, the organization they run, supports around 70 children ages 4 to 18 in three different homes outside Kampala. Their name, Sozo, comes from a Greek word that means to save, to nurture, to rescue, both physically and spiritually. By “sozo-ing” these children, the organization is raising them to be leaders in their own country.
“You see people everywhere there without food and water, and these kids will be able to make a change that we cannot,” Owens said. “We went to equip them to go out and affect change in the world.”
In order to achieve this vision, the kids remain in the homes until they turn 18 and are fully prepared for a vocation or further schooling.
“So many orphanages in Third World countries phase out kids at ages 12-14, and they don’t know how to transition into society,” Owens said. “We don’t see them as orphans – we see them as family.”
Outside the homes, Sozo supports more than 300 children at Rays of Hope, a school in a slum area. There they have reconnected their electricity, provide them two meals a day plus tea, increased number of teachers—all things the headmaster could not otherwise do.
Sozo is filled with an army of servants from the area where its founders grew up, particularly Oak Mountain High School students and graduates.
2009 OMHS graduate Colby Ray works with media, art and web design. Catherine Wise Lenning and Lauren Bond, both 2007 OMHS graduates, first discovered Rays of Hope the summer before Clark and Nunnally started Sozo, and Lenning and her husband Jonathan were missionaries for a few months. 2002 OMHS graduate and current teacher Carrie Clark has been on numerous short-term trips.
Current OMHS senior Caitlin Owens (Suzanne’s daughter), junior Laurel Reeves and senior Kathleen Kinnebrew are working to start at Sozo Club at the high school this year to raise awareness about the children Sozo serves and advocate for them.
Many other students from Oak Mountain and Spain Park have been on short-term trips to invest in the lives of the children at Sozo and have stayed active with the group after returning. In addition to spending time at the orphanages, the teams go to the slums of Kabalagala to teach in schools, lead Bible studies for the adults, meet with families there and tell them about Christ.
“It’s a really broken but incredible place at the same time,” Nunnally said. “The Bible studies have grown faster than we can even contain.”
Though Sozo, Dr. Todd Reaves, a dentist in Greystone, and his wife, Aimee, are looking to partner with a dentist in Uganda to train people there. Their family has also adopted two children from the slums of Uganda and hosted another child who traveled to Birmingham for medical treatment. Lee and Cindy Kinnebrew host fundraising dinners at their farm. Dr. Michael Semon, a marriage and family therapist on Valleydale Road, has also been involved. Local churches including Asbury United Methodist and Christ City Church support Sozo’s work.
The Sozo team is planning to build a self-contained community of 28 homes, filled with 12 children each, where they will be raised and trained to be productive leaders of their society.
“We want to focus on the family unit because we believe the family raises a child in Christ, and that’s how a community flourishes,” Nunnally said.
The community will also house a school, church and medical clinic.
They have recently found a 75-acre plot that is a 45-minute drive from Kampala, and lawyers in Uganda are currently checking into the land’s titles.
“We are really praying that this is it,” Nunnally said.
Sozo is looking to raise around $500,000 for the land and to start building housing.
Even amidst fundraising and planning for the future, Owens and Nunnally remain focused on what they see as the center of what they do: relationship. In Uganda, washing dishes for 50 people is not a task but an opportunity for conversation. When short-term teams go, they start to see things how Ugandans determine what is important and what is not.
“We are all about the relationship,” Owens said. “You don’t go on a mission trip to fix something. You go to glorify God.”
When people ask why not just send money versus make a trip, Nunnally’s response is, once again, relationship.
“We absolutely need money, but the impact you make in their lives is so much more eternal, and when you come back you are so much more an advocate for them after seeing God work in their suffering.”
Ways to Support Sozo
- Sponsor a child. Child sponsorships are Sozo’s funding backbone and cost $140 per child per month. There is also an option to fund one or multiple $35 segments that cover medical, home, nutrition and education expenses. Sponsors stay connected to their child over Skype, letters, visits, report cards and more.
- Attend an event. Sozo holds an annual mud run at Hargis Retreat Center, fundraising dinner at the end of the summer and golf tournament.
- Go on a short-term trip. Upcoming trips are being planned for December and March and can be schedule any other time a team is interested.
- Intern. College students can apply to spend the summer working with Sozo.
- Buy jewelry. Sozo sells jewelry and other goods that their children make; contact Sozo to purchase these or other paraphernalia.
- Send supplies. Short-term teams take things like books, arts and crafts supplies, quilts, pillow cases and toiletry kits over to Sozo. Contact Sozo to talk more about its current needs.
- Share the Sozo story. You can learn more about Sozo and its work at sozochildren.org.