KREMMLING - A couple with the mission of helping widows and orphans in a remote village in Africa is tapping into a Colorado natural resource to make a difference.Thaddeus Hargadine, who grew up in Kremmling, and his wife Kelsey Hargadine are collecting shed elk and deer antlers to help fund ROWAN, - Rural Orphans & Widows Aids Network - which Kelsey co-founded with African Pastor Paul Nyende in 2004. Kelsey discovered the village of Mawanga in the Bugiri District of Uganda in 2002 when she was just 19, having joined an Africa Inland Mission trip while attending Colorado Christian University. There, she met the villager Pastor Paul, an inspirational man devoting his life to bettering the lives of the people of his region. "I had the mindset, at age 19, to teach these poor, poverty-stricken helpless individuals, when the reality is they are not helpless, they are fully capable," Kelsey said. "They are bright and engaging and they were my teachers in living in joy and living with what you have, rather than what you don't have."Two years after her initial trip, having graduated college, Kelsey returned to Mawanga - a village of about 3,000 packed households not yet on the Ugandan map - and learned of Nyende's focus to lift his neighbors from poverty by finding self-sustaining sources of income and by bringing health care to those living with HIV."HIV is wiping out generations of people," Kelsey said.Nyende presented to Kelsey a bound document - "He must have driven far to get it bound," Kelsey said - outlining his vision and mission, and on the cover, he included Kelsey as a founding member, seeking her communication expertise and her ability to coordinate fundraising in the U.S."He could see where it was headed, but I could not see it at the time," Kelsey said. She eventually would come to realize it was her calling and has since committed full-time to the foundation.
To help community members, most whom subsist on just $1 a day or less, the pastor, Kelsey and the ROWAN staff are introducing micro-enterprise to the region as well as savings and loans groups, whereby villagers learn how to save money each week and invest back into their businesses, applying for loans among peers. The organization also strives to improve education for the lives of children and is offering free literacy classes for adults twice a week. Its goal is to one day build a community center and school. ROWAN serves 30 villages in the eastern region of Uganda, directly touching the lives of 350 widows, orphans and people living with HIV, and indirectly helping thousands in the community. The program includes exit strategies for individuals so those served "don't depend on ROWAN forever," Kelsey said.On Kelsey's last trip to Uganda, she brought with her 13-year-old West Grand student Emily Vance, who had helped to collect $1,000 in change for ROWAN at the school through the program "Let's Make Cents." According to Kelsey, Vance visited more than 30 huts, heard families tell stories, and helped operate a children's camp for orphans. "She was really a sponge," Kelsey said. "It was a life-changer for that girl."With ROWAN being the only active help organization in that region of Uganda, in the face of that country's lack of education for its children, its poor roads, infrastructure and lack of government assistance, "the burden can be heavy at times," Kelsey said. But, "it will always be a part of my life, if not all of it."
The Hargadines, who met each other in Uganda and married longer than a year ago, are now branching out their ROWAN fundraising methods to include donations from wildlife, so to speak. With a new campaign "Antlers for Orphans," the Hargadines hope to collect shed elk and deer antlers from community members and collectors, from which full proceeds generated will be donated to the ROWAN cause of providing scholarships and health care for 110 orphans in the program. Kelsey calculates 18 antlers can put one student through school. All antler donations are tax-deductible, and those who donate antlers receive an "Antlers for Orphans" hat and/or T-shirt. As Thaddius states on the Antlers for Orphans website, antlers can make a real difference in the world "one tine at a time."