Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me,â€ says Reverend Jackie Hodgkins founder of the Welcome Home Ministries Africa, when asked how she manages catering for all the 72 babies she has.
Having been raised up in an orphanage from the age of three herself, Rev. Hodgkins still has the love for babies, an inspiration from her late father.
Hodgkins has seen untold sufferings of children and mothers in Africa. â€œMost of the children I came across after my first step in Africa were in a very devastating state,â€ she says. â€œI had very big plans, for I thought of their future and decided to help them,â€
The soft-spoken woman was born in 1949, in California, USA, and raised in Moofeland Orphanage. Her father died when she was three years old, which prompted her poor mother to take her to an orphanage for proper upbringing.
She spent most of her childhood, in USA where she went for high school, later graduating in Divinity. She then enrolled in Melodyland University, where she graduated in theology.
Hodgkins was reserved, proud and conservative, but her stance changed after trekking to Mexico in 1983, and later Africa 1991.
Sitting on a huge sofa surrounded by dozens of babies yelling â€˜Maama Jackie, maama Jackie,â€™ some as young as three days old, Hodgkins gently narrates how she begun adopting children in Africa. She is ample in size and wears a kitenge and sandals.
Her home for abandoned babies is located on Jinja Main Street where she is popularly referred to as Maama Jackie Omuzungu Omunene, meaning the big white lady who caters for babies.
Hodgkins raises her hand and turns to the toddlers as she calls out to Drek her lovely parrot. â€œClear everything, the pressmen have come and stop making noise. All the kids leave the living room,â€ she says to them gently.
At the time, several volunteers flood the living room, each carrying a baby. Hodgkins then holds up one of the babies and declares,â€œThis one is HIV positive,â€ as she kisses the baby and begins feeding her from a feeding bottle.
â€œI have 72 babies in this home, 12 are HIV positive and two have defects that need immediate operation. I foster babies from one-day-old,â€ says the jolly Hodgkins.
Hodgkins says she gets the babies from hospitals. The fifth born in a family of six, Hodgkins did not have a happy childhood like other children in the neighbourhood.
â€œGrowing up as an orphan was one of the most challenging aspects in my life. I did not have the joy and happiness children deserve, and this is because my beloved father had passed away, Hodgkins narrates sadly.
By the age of four, she had already joined the school for orphaned children where her mother who is now retired, worked.
â€œI enjoyed doing domestic work and helping out with other children. I was so friendly both at the school for orphans and in the neighbourhood,â€ reveals Hodgkins.
â€œWhy did you opt to study theology? I ask. â€œI loved God very much and thought by studying theology I would be following the right path,â€ Hodgkins says. Her day begins at 6.00am and winds up at 10.00pm or mid-night.
At 53, Hodgkins has no husband and children of her own. â€œ I saw no man approach me willingly to look after the babies I had adopted at the time. Because of this I have never been married even for a single day,â€ Hodgkins proudly says.
Asked how she finds work in Uganda Hodgkins says: â€œI am grateful for working in Uganda. The people are nice. Their culture encouraging, and the climate here is conducive.â€
Hodgkins says that, Welcome Home Childrenâ€™s Centre began in 1983 when she and her sister Virginia, sold all they had, bought a school bus, took Virginiaâ€™s two children, cat and dog, and headed for Mexico as missionaries. Their only source of supply was God!
Having been raised up in an orphanage themselves, they were soon drawn into helping children who were in despair. â€œGod provided from our humble beginning in a tent, to a home of 12,000 square feet. â€œWe owed no one anything but a debt of love,â€ Hodgkins says.
In 1991, Rev. Hodgkinâ€™s diabetes doctor, Nelson, a missionary who had lived in Africa for 10 years told her about Africa and how AIDS was a big problem there, killing parents and leaving behind orphans who needed help. Within a year, she was on her way to check out the situation. She went to Kenya but in Kenya, she could not get NGO papers to permit her begin a childrenâ€™s centre, and the government refused to admit that there was a problem of AIDS.
During the 1994 Rwanda genocide, Hodgkins moved to start a home in Rwanda. But on the first anniversary of the genocide, Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) soldiers held her and her co-workers at gunpoint for three hours. â€œIt is an experience I will never forget,â€ Hodgkins says of incident.
At that point, the American board of directors asked her to move to Uganda and that is when she came and settled in Jinja in 1995. She began by helping children with AIDS.
â€œI look after babies that nobody wants. My smallest baby was only 750grams. She is now four years old,â€ she says.
She gets funds by writing brochures and magazines, which she gives freely in Europe and America. Her vision is to see homes established around the world for dying babies. â€œWith Godâ€™s courage, I will make it,â€ she states.
She helps children grow